By Lauren Dillard
I don’t always succeed.
For those who make mass transit part of their daily commute, it’s a religious experience. Brendan Truscott makes a three-hour (each way) commute from Connecticut each weekday.“You know the tricks, right?” he asked me one day as we shared the start of our journey home. Instead of walking the length of the train to make a connection, it’s smart to position yourself for the connecting stop. If you’re riding rush hour, heading toward the front or back of the train will give you a better, though not guaranteed, shot at a seat.
I pleaded with him to leave me behind as he sprinted to make our connection. I’ve worn athletic shoes and carried a change in my backpack ever since.
Without cell service underground, you are subject to your own preparedness. Whether or not I’ve downloaded a podcast for the trip, I cram headphones into my ears signaling that I’m not available for conversation or cash. I can politely ignore the preacher shouting at Manhattan-bound morning passengers or the gentleman playing his music out loud — again.
Once we arrive in Manhattan, the passenger demographics change. Black and Latino passengers disembark and a wave of mostly-white, clearly affluent passengers board for a few stops.
A friend who grew up in Queens — riding the subway when her parents thought she was staying with friends — advised riding in the first car near the driver during late-night travel.
“White girls won’t help you,” she said. She advised finding a clean-cut Black man if I need help.
According to the Metro Transit Authority, there were 677 million boardings at 421 subway stations in 2013. New Yorkers are very serious about Subway etiquette and safety, dedicating whole websites to the cause. Solicitation is not allowed. Neither is gambling.
I have been doused in sticky sweet coffee as an exiting passenger shouted and threw her cup toward another passenger. I have made abrupt decisions to change train cars when exiting passengers left me alone with another passenger. I have walked many miles after mistakenly boarding the wrong train.
There’s something about shared vulnerability that makes the subway authentically New York. Even in coffee-stained pants, I’ve always made it home. Lauren Dillard is a Portland native who recently moved to NYC to pursue her interest in product development (read: mobile apps and more) and to be closer to her recently relocated partner, Andy. Her hobbies include hiking, science fiction, knitting (poorly) and sour beer.
Editor’s note: Lauren was part of the inaugural group of writers who helped me launch Voices of August four years ago. Back then, she was 18 months removed from The Oregonian newsroom, where she had done an internship following her graduation from Oregon State University. Aside from being a smart and witty young woman with experience as a search and rescue volunteer, she’s also something of a human Swiss Army knife, with writing, graphics and multimedia skills well suited to the digital age.
Tomorrow: “From Portland to Paris” by Patricia Conover