I’m about to share some wild experiences. But hey, at least after reading this you’ll be kind of an expert, and you won’t have to learn things the hard way. You’re welcome.
This summer I had the wonderful opportunity of interning at a non-profit with an impactful mission. The internship was great, I learned a lot about myself, and it helped me become less confused about what I do and do not want to do in my career. My supervisor was awesome, my co-workers were beyond kind, and there was $1 pizza across the street. But you know, things are never complete in this world. And that’s why the one thing that truly sucked about the experience was my draining 1 hour and 15 minute commute to and from midtown Manhattan.
Normally, I never mind the commute into the (sometimes) magical place called New York City. And that’s because I wasn’t doing it on a full-time basis. And I certainly wasn’t doing it for work. That completely changed when I was swiping that metro card 3x a day, everyday of the work week (and sometimes on Saturdays), for 8 weeks straight. It was hell. And I have the stories to prove it.
So if you’re new to this concept or you’re a pro and you just want to laugh at my misery, then stick around for my tips and tricks on surviving the mess that is the NYC bus and subway system.
Tip #1: Always stand at the bus stop 10 minutes earlier than you need to be.
This might seem obvious and very elementary to a lot of you, but I’m Arab, and I am not wired to be 10 minutes early to anything. You can imagine how this interfered with my morning commute. I kept missing the bus… repeatedly. And the thing with buses is they’re mostly scheduled for every half hour. Unlike the subway which has 5-10 minute intervals. So let’s say I missed the first bus, then I was automatically 30 minutes behind on my commute – and in NYC, time is literally a privilege you do not have.
Also, the whole first half of my internship was during Ramadan, and for those of you who have seen me uncaffeinated — well, you know it’s bad. No caffeine = no ability to function properly. (Holler if you feel me.) That morning commute was such a struggle … I want to cry when I get flashbacks.
Lesson: learn to get there early or be stupid and miserable.
Tip #2: If you miss the bus, just let it be.
Continuing from tip #1, I thought I would throw in this very important and comedic (read: horrifying) little story. So I was on my way back home, and for once, there were no delays on the subway. This excited me because then I could grab the earlier 6:05 bus (part II of my daily commute). The subway arrived at the station at exactly 6:02pm and by the time I got to the nearby bus stop, it was exactly 6:03. However, to my dismay, the bus was also leaving right as I got there.
A lot of you know that I hate running. But all of sudden, God granted me this bolt of energy, and there I was, chasing the bus down the street trying to beat it to the next stop because there were reasonable street lights on the route. And all I could think was, “I still had a whole 2 minutes you mother******”
I was also holding a Magnolia’s bakery bag that conveniently just ripped while I was running. So instead of chasing the bus, I was chasing my banana budding. And then I missed the bus. And did the walk of shame going back to the initial stop. From that point forward, I made my sister pick me up from the station every single day. She agreed out of pity. #siblinglove
Lesson: if you miss the bus, just let it go. Make peace and move on. You are not Dash from The Incredibles.
Tip #3: Understand that the subway system it out to get you.
When I think about my subway experience, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry, or do both. From being delayed underground –repeatedly– with no service, to losing my metro card twice (I swear I’m not ditzy), having my stop skipped 3 days in a row, and then someone passing out on my lap — so many stories, so little world limit.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us,” is a sentence I never. want. to. hear. again. in. my. life. Because it is beyond me to comprehend why there’s supposed “train traffic” every damn day when everyone is supposed to operate on this magical thing called a “schedule.”
Oh, and personal space is a concept that exists everywhere in NYC, except inside the subway car. This is especially exemplified during rush hour (aka, the only time I was commuting), when you’re stacked in there like sardines in a can. Truly, this was the only time I hated being 5’1.
And a note on schedules: as my good friend Audrey put it:
“You have somewhere to be? Train starts going LOCAL. You need to get off at a local stop? Train starts going EXPRESS.”
Lesson: life is unfair, just buy a new card because you’re not going to find it. Stand facing the direction of the air vent during rush hour and pray that people wore deodorant/brushed their teeth and no one “accidentally” touches your butt. If the subway skips your stop, get off, take a downtown train, then an uptown one (or vice versa).
Tip #4: Bring hand sanitizer everywhere.
I’m serious. Bring it everywhere. Keep it in your bag. Keep it in your pocket. I don’t care. But don’t leave the subway or bus without using some until you can properly wash your hands. Why? 8 million people have touched that pole. If not more. Disgusting is an understatement.
Tip #5: People are crazy. Trust no one. Remain aware.
I remember on my first day of commuting, my mom said “keep your headphones out of your ears and don’t stand near the platform.” This was a first from my parents. No, they’re not heartless – but they don’t have that overprotective Arab parent persona either. My mom’s fear and concerns were totally valid though. There are countless stories of people being pushed in front of moving subways, others experiencing harassment, hateful rhetoric, etc. It’s a crazy world, and in NYC, it really feels like every man for himself sometimes.
I got on the subway everyday feeling like some sort of amusement. Gosh, you’d think people would get used to seeing hijabis by now. Then there was the catcalling and street harassment which was beyond frustrating. I’m aware this exists everywhere and not just outside/inside the subway station. But for the sake of this piece, ladies, please be careful. Trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling about the guy next to you, then move.
There was a drunk man next to me once that kept mumbling weird things — not to me, but to himself — while sipping on a beer at 8:30am. I silently moved to another seat. He followed me and continued talking to himself. Once I finally got off the bus and made sure we walked in opposite directions, I got on the subway only to find him sitting next to me again after a few minutes. Mortified, I changed cars and finally lost him. Sure, I might be paranoid and it could have all been a coincidence, but it’s always better to be safe. Plus, besides the crazy drunk, there was the crazy “Jesus will save you” guy, the crazy pizza guy and the crazy construction guy. All true stories and encounters. Thankfully, you’re most likely in the public eye on public transportation. But still, carry pepper spray, be aware of your surroundings, and read Ayatul-Kursi before you leave the house.
Tip #6: New Yorkers are HELLA rude. Just accept it.
Every single time a non-New Yorker threw that statement my way, I would get super defensive. New Yorkers? Rude? There’s no way. We’re too cool to be mean. Well that theory went to hell when I discovered that New Yorkers are pieces of shits majority of the time. I don’t know why I always denied this, but growing up just outside the city, is definitely different than growing up inside the city. I hate generalizing, but this was my honest experience.
The people I interacted with on the daily had two expressions: RBF and poker face. Not even a baby smiling at them could break that streak. Also, no one says “excuse me.” Like ever. (Yes, this is a big deal to me.) By my third week of commuting, I already noticed my behavior and attitude towards other people changing. And I was devastated. Being kind is my mantra and the transportation system was taking that away from me little by little. It’s no wonder New Yorkers are rude. The subway seriously sucks the life out of you.
I remember once seeing an old lady on crutches at the Times Square station, looking down at the staircase in front of her, and then to her left and right. I guess the elevators weren’t working. So I walked up to her and kindly asked if she needed any help, and I think I got frostbite from how cold her “NO” was.
Lesson: defy the stereotype and continue to be kind even when everyone around you isn’t. Understand that everyone is going through a personal battle — even you are at times. And always, always, always give your seat up for the elderly, disabled, pregnant, and kids.
My privileged self was used to getting around everywhere in my car that was available 24/7. Without a doubt, this experience was good for me in a really odd way. I built up some serious endurance and worked on my time-management skills. I still think it’s extraordinary that with one swipe you can go down the street or all the way on the other side of any borough — NYC really is as beautifully chaotic as it sounds.
Do you think your crazy, funny, or terrifying public transportation stories can beat mine? Feel free to share them below or tweet them at me! 🙂