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Things I Have Seen on the New York Subway

Things I Have Seen on the New York Subway

The New York subways are home to the most insane characters and sights you will ever encounter in your life. There’s always a story every day. Here are some of the ones I remember.

Man Cuts His Nails

Sitting right across from me, I saw a bald white guy in his mid thirties who looked pretty educated and well dressed, calmly take out a pair of nail clippers and chop away at his fingertips. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing but the disgusted look of the fellow commuters confirmed it. It wasn’t even like he was collecting the clippings somewhere. He let them fall to the floor, flying off in all directions. I’ve seen plenty of revolting sights on the train but this was by far the worst. I spent the next three minutes agonizing over whether I should tell him to stop and deliver a sermon on personal hygiene or just get out and go to the next car. I kept trying to will someone else to stop him. But no one did. Every single click was loud and obnoxious even through the roaring subway noise. Eventually he stopped, dusted his nails off and got off at the next stop as everyone exhaled dramatically.

Woman Fights Back Against Juvenile Robbery

Coming back to Manhattan from Brooklyn, the train was fairly empty until three loud and obnoxious teenagers got on the train. Instantly you knew something was up, because their body language was aggressive and threatening, like they were looking for trouble. I had my back turned towards them when I suddenly heard this girl yell, “HEY! YOU TRIED TO STEAL MY PHONE! BACK THE FUCK OFF.” I turned to see a girl in her 20s holding an iPhone in a blue case yelling at the boys. Apparently one of them had tried to grab it out of her hands and make a run for it into the next car but she held on and was now spitting fire at them. The kids were clearly intimidated even though they kept calling her a bitch and telling her to “SHUT UP HO!” But credit to her, she wasn’t backing down. She buzzed the train’s intercom and alerted the driver while they continued to yell variations of “bitch” and “ho” at her.

The train finally came to a stop but the doors didn’t open. By this time the boys were starting to panic as they realized the authorities had been alerted and they were cornered. The doors stayed closed as other people grew impatient. The boys started yelling and squealing, each blaming the other one for the crime, claiming their own innocence. It was amazing how much of their street swagger had gone. Not so gangster anymore.

Instead of exiting the train, the boys started walking up and down, crossing the different train cars till they were out of my sight. After 10 minutes the train doors finally opened and people exited. I don’t know what happened to them. But I hope they didn’t escape.

Homeless Men Engage in Death Match

Homeless men are a common occurrence on New York subways, usually reeking of piss and alcohol. They’ll get up and recite a carefully memorized speech about being down and out and then holding a hat out for spare change. Most New Yorkers barely notice them anymore. You can tell who the out-of-towners are by the horrified expressions on their face for having to come into direct contact with such a foul section of humanity. So while coming back from work one night, a homeless guy gets on my train and starts his spiel. Then at the next stop another homeless guy gets on the train and starts giving his own spiel before he spots the other guy. Without warning he yells “THIS IS MY TRAIN MUTHA FUCKA” and lunges at the other homeless guy shoving him up against the wall. The previous homeless man who had carefully been cultivating a shuffling walk, hunched back and generally weak disposition suddenly springs into action whaling away on the other guy with a series of slaps and shoves while everyone else on the train simply looks up and makes the kind of face one would if you smelled a mild fart. I wasn’t waiting around to see who won. I got off at the next stop and walked the extra 10 blocks to get home.

Hilarious musician who sings songs about people he sees

Subway musicians are also pretty common but they’re usually pretty mediocre. When one old black guy got onto the train with a tiny amp and a bass guitar I rolled my eyes thinking here was another guy who was going to disturb my book reading while expecting money for a pitiful performance. The guy looks around and spots an attractive girl on the train and starts riffing on how gorgeous she is and how he’d like to marry her. She icily ignores him until he starts singing “Pretty Woman,” and then she allows herself a smile. He’s charming and funny gently ribbing people on the train. He spots a Wall Street type who’s reading the Economist and starts singing “Money” by the Beatles which gets a chuckle from everyone. Then when he points to an Asian guy and starts to sing “Kung Fu Fighting” everyone on the train damn near loses it. Even the Asian kid.

A sad couple fight

A pretty dark haired girl got on the train with several little suitcases and a trash bag filled with clothes. As she sat down, you could see her tear-streaked cheeks still glistening as she turned her face away from a scruffy young man with a designer stubble who had followed her inside. He spoke softly to her, imploring her to look at him but she was having none of it. He was begging her, trying to touch her face but she kept swatting it away. He would sit quiet for awhile looking around the train, embarrassed, before he would try to engage her again. Then without warning she jerked her head towards him and angrily spat out sentences at him through grinding teeth in an effort to keep her voice low. He hung his head but started talking again. She picked up her bags and dramatically walked away from him to the other end of the train. He followed her. She ignored him icily. Then she got off at Grand Central Station and he followed her out, with outstretched palms and a repeated, defeated calling of her name.

Drunk hipster can’t handle 50 Shades of Gray

This young guy dressed in typical Brooklyn hipsterwear leaned close in to me and said. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure” I said.

“Have you read that book 50 Shades of Gray”

I replied no. I had not read the best selling erotic romance book that tells the story of how some girl gradually falls in love with a man who introduces her to the joys of BDSM.  Wasn’t quite my thing I said.

Hipster dude lost his footing as the train jerked to a stop scaring the elderly black woman sitting near him. Then he continued. “I mean why is it so popular? Do you know? Like I mean…why is everyone and their mom reading it? Is it good writing? Like is it the story? or haha…do people just like reading that shit?I heard it’s like porn for moms…hah… I mean fuck man…why…why is it everywhere man? I don’t know…I don’t know…but what the hell? Have you read it man? Why is it so popular?”

I was sad that I had no answer for the existential crisis that was clearly taking over this young man’s life.

About Omar Akhtar

Omar Bilal Akhtar is a business writer in New York and former singer/guitarist for the band the "Aunty Disco Project". He plans to contribute media, culture and business pieces for FiveRupees as well as fresh insults for any member of the Akmal cricketing family.

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