By Ronnie Saldarini
I was born and raised in the suburbs. After years of traveling on the open road, lined with green yards, picket fences, and the occasional squirrel, I was not looking forward to commuting in a crammed subway car that runs underground. For me, taking the subway seemed like a daunting task. I’m not a fan of crowded places and I was afraid I’d get lost trying to follow the twisted lines of the subway map. But after living in New York City for about four months now, I believe I have tamed the subway. So to all of you who are fearful of joining the rat race, here are a few tips and tricks to make your subway experience a quick and easy way to traverse this concrete jungle.
The subway is probably the best way to get around the city. You don’t have to deal with traffic or weather conditions, and it’s usually faster and always less expensive than taking a taxi. I know the subway map is intimidating, but apps such as Citymapper and Google Maps will give you directions for free. Literally type in a starting address (or use your current location) and an end address, and the apps will provide you with step-by-step directions on where the nearest subway stop is, what subway (or subways, if you have to transfer) you need to take, and what stop to get off at for your final destination. The apps also offer information about when the next subway will arrive, provide an ETA, and even note any delays. Unfortunately for all of us, delays happen often. Take it from me, it’s stressful being stuck on a delayed subway when you know your class starts in less than 30 minutes. Thanks to Citymapper though, I was able to find directions to another subway and made it to class with two minutes to spare. And on the off chance you get lost, remember that New York City is a grid filled with straight lines and right and left turns; you’ll be able to find your way. One thing I’m still trying to master is making the correct turn out of the subway. I often walk a block before I realize I’m walking in the opposite direction of where I need to go, but almost no one else has this issue (if you do, my next blog, “How I Tamed Right versus Left Turns and Vice Versa,” will be released as soon as I figure that out).
It’s easy to plan a subway ride, but riding it is a different beast. There is nothing fun about riding on a crowded subway during rush hour. The subway is loud, sometimes smells, and has many characters who do not care about your “personal space.” While you can’t do much about potential smells, listening to music on headphones lets you block out the noise around you. Just make sure it’s not blasting, which can annoy the people around you, and make you less aware of your surroundings. There have been numerous times where my music prevented me from hearing people get on the subway. Don’t do this to yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be shocked (and sometimes frightened) to see four extra people standing near you (who weren’t there minutes ago) when you finally pick your head up from your phone.
To give yourself room, I suggest packing light and standing near the doors of the subway car. A small backpack or bag keeps you from bumping into people, and standing with your back to the door means no one can stand behind you. On my first day of class, I made the mistake of bringing most of my books and standing in the middle of a subway car. Every time I turned, my backpack hit someone, which New Yorkers do not appreciate (they didn’t yell at me, but their death stares made it clear that I had wronged them). Although you might have to step aside more often to let people on and off the subway if you stand near the doors, you’ll ultimately have more space to yourself and lower your chances of irritating people (like I did).
If you aren’t convinced that you’ll survive the subway, please read how my first subway trip went compared to my subway trip a week later. The first time I used the subway, it probably took me 7 minutes to figure out how to buy a MetroCard (you will be fine if you just follow the on-screen instructions, which I was incapable of doing for some reason). Once I had a card, it took me three tries to properly swipe it through the gate. Then I struggled to fit my over-packed backpack through the turn style and had an internal debate about whether I should head downtown or uptown. Once I got on the subway, I held onto a railing with two hands since I would lose my balance anytime the train would suddenly stop then accelerate. The entire subway ride, I constantly checked my phone for step-by-step directions to make sure the subway was going past all the correct stops. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (it was a 17-minute trip according to Citymapper), I arrived at my destination.
A week later, there is no subway story to tell. I had no issues. I swiped my Metro Card, got on the right subway, stood confidently during the subway ride, and arrived at my stop in a couple of minutes. Your first subway ride will most likely not go well, but you’ll be able to tame it in a week like I did (or probably less time). I always got to my destination in a timely manner, no one bothered me on the subway, and best of all, I felt like a real New Yorker.