Thoughts on the way we spend our subway timeBy
Every day, Monday through Friday, I spend around 50-60 minutes on the subway, and I’m not alone. According to the Citizens Budget Commission, our commute times place us behind nearly every competitor city in the country and could be improved with a stronger commitment to transit investment. That we already know, but we’re stuck. I have no other choice each day I go to work.
Those 60 minutes a day is not my most restful hour. On Monday, for instance, my 2 train was packed and stiflingly hot. After a weekend of snow, no one expected temperatures in the mid 40s, and the heat was up for too high in my subway car. Meanwhile, one bench had five seats taken up by straphangers uninterested in making room for anyone else, and everyone was feeling that early Monday morning ride. The ride home was faster.
So what do we do with those 60 minutes? I’ve slipped into a regular routine over the past few years. I read the paper in the morning — sitting or not — and then read something else on the way home. Sometimes, it’s a magazine; sometimes, it’s a book. I don’t use headphones because, even as I know the subways are safer, I still like to be more aware of my surroundings while I ride home. I find the reading is a nice way to detach from the work day or the to-do list that awaits me when I get home. I can’t always accomplish much else on the subway, but I can get in some good reading time.
But what about the rest of my fellow riders? Even a small glimpse around one subway car can reveal the diverse interests of New Yorkers. Outside of reading a daily paper, I’d say the Bible appears most often, but a lot of people spend their time reading. Many others are listening to music — often at volumes far louder than necessary, and some sleep. Another large group is just, well, zoning out. I’ve never been quite sure how people can sit on a subway car for so long without a distraction, but I guess sometimes a brain needs a break.
I’m not alone in noticing the diversity of activity on a subway car. In a special issue on Straphangers, City Limits examined the way we spend time on trains. New Yorkers spend around 200 hours a year on the subway, and somehow, we have to fill that time. So how do we do it? Jordan Davidson and Alex Eidman offered up this take:
On a recent weekday, smartphones and tablets were popular choices of ways to spend time on rides, especially since most of the J line runs above ground, which allows for Wi-Fi access. However, some passengers pointed out they still prefer simpler pleasures.
“I definitely read books more than I look at my phone,” said Brandi Kutuchief, a guidance counselor who has a lengthy morning commute from Bushwick to East New York.”It’s really the only time I get a chance to do that.”
Meanwhile, a morning A Train was packed and quiet. Passengers wore ear buds, played video games or read. Riding the city’s longest subway line provides commuters with ample personal time. “Maybe we all choose distractions so we don’t have to think about terrorism and what’s in someone’s backpack and how to escape a fire,” said Mark Hayman, a commuter traveling from 207th Street to Columbus Circle. Hayman said he likes to read travelogues from the 1920s and ’30s.
Hayman’s take is a bit too paranoid for me. The subways, while porous, are protected by the country’s anti-terrorism forces which are hard at work. For me, it’s a time for something else. There are no cell distractions, no emails, no phone calls. There’s nothing I need to attend to other than waiting out my stop, and in a way, despite the headaches and frustrations, it’s almost a peaceful hour of the day, every week, every month. And it sure beats sitting in traffic.