For better or worse, I spend a lot of time observing people and their behavior in the subway. Much as Matt Flegenheimer did for his Times piece Thursday on above-ground access to cell service, I like to look for the quirks of the subway. How do we ride and behave in a public space while simply trying to get from Point A to Point B in our private lives?
By and large, New Yorkers try to keep to themselves in the subway. We have shared experiences and knowing glimpses that can pass between passengers during pregnant moments. But all it takes is one person to stick out like a sore thumb and lead to groans, eyerolls, thrown elbows or worse. On Wednesday, for instance, when I got back to Brooklyn and climbed a crowded staircase at Grand Army Plaza, I encountered a familiar and frustrating sight we all know too well.
The early 21st century is plagued by an epidemic of people who stop walking at the top of subway staircases to check their phones.
— Second Ave. Sagas (@2AvSagas) January 16, 2014
As an off-kilter post for a Friday morning, I want to run down nine other subway regulars that seem to throw a wrench into anyone’s plans for a quiet ride. This is a non-exhaustive list, and I know that fans of the group that claims my top spot are vocal. We could call these my pet peeves; we could call these my own etiquette tips. Either way, here goes.
1. ‘What time is it? Showtime!’
I spent some time talking about Showtime kids last week when we ran a poll. Right now, the anti-Showtime! factions have a 72-28 lead. There is nothing quite as disruptive and annoying as a bunch of teenagers shooing people out of the way so they can attempt to avoid kicking you in the face at 6:15 each night. Nothing can stop by anti-Showtime! crusade.
2. Seat hogs
Don’t spread your legs; don’t plop your bags down on that empty seat next to you. Courtesy is contagious, and it starts with…never mind.
3. Leaky headphones
This is almost as bad as the people who stop at the staircases to whip out their phones. Headphones these days are just so cheaply made that sound leaks all over the place. I’m glad you’re enjoying Ke$ha at 8:30 in the morning, but does everyone in a five-foot radius around you have to also? I guess this is better than the 1980s boombox phenomenon, but these days, subway cars are filled with the faint sounds of music dripping out of headphones.
4. Cell phone games…with the sound
I don’t begrudge anyone a cell phone conversation on the phone. Those are generally either easy enough to tune out or intriguing enough to eavesdrop on. But why, oh why must a grown adult — or anyone old enough to own their own phone — play a cell phone game with the sound on while riding the subway? Why? Why! Why.
On Thursday, on the way to work, I had to scoot into the 2 train as the doors closed behind me, and at first, it wasn’t too crowded. But by the time we passed Atlantic Ave., the train was packed, and I kept feeling something rub up against me. When I turned to look at the offending passenger, lo and behold, I spotted a backpack. The proper place for a backpack on any train is either held below its owner’s waist or placed on the floor between its owner’s legs. This is a matter of both anatomy and courtesy.
6. Nail clippers
This is another with proponents on both sides of the argument. Some people point out that New Yorkers don’t always have time to eat a proper meal. Maybe that person on the subway chowing down is in between two jobs and won’t have a break until 2 a.m. On the other hand, I read this Metropolitan Diary entry earlier this week and wondered how not one but two people thought Lo Mein was an appropriate subway food. Eat something that won’t make a mess and won’t smell if you absolutely have to eat on the train.
8. People who get up too early
Yes, you want to get out at the next stop. What a coincidence; so do I. Wait your turn. The train won’t leave with you still on it.
9. Door blockers
I have to admit that I’m guilty of this offense on a somewhat regular basis. Take, for instance, my Q train ride home. I board at 42nd St. and can stand in front of doors that won’t open again at De Kalb Ave. Not too many people get off there, and I can easily get out of the way of those getting off. Then I can move further into the car before the doors on the other side open at 7th Ave. I’m not a door-blocker per se; I like to think of that as strategic standing. But there are straphangers who stand in front of the doors, won’t move and then get upset when other passengers brush past them. Why? I have no idea.