By Lyka Sethi
It’s no secret that commuting in any major city can be a huge pain. In NYC, we commiserate with peers about the trials and tribulations of rush hour subway travel: the screeching, crawling stop-and-go when “there’s train traffic ahead of us”, being elbowed, pushed, and leaned on, the horror of accidentally hopping into a curiously empty car on a summer day (it only takes once to learn your lesson), waiting for a delayed train on a packed platform… the list seems to go on.
But what we bond over even more is our collective disdain for driving — like, in cars. Imagine having to take the highway to get to and from work every day. Sitting in endless traffic in an isolated metal box. Facing ever-fluctuating gas prices. Enduring the constant stress of having to figure out where and how to park. Most born-and-raised New Yorkers don’t even know how to drive. As city dwellers, we pat ourselves on the back knowing that we can — generally — rely on public transportation for all of our commuting needs, despite the various imperfections of a largely outdated subway system. When it comes to commuting via train in NYC, there are plenty of silver linings that we can and should acknowledge. (A prime example: nothing compares to the elation of getting to the platform right as your train rolls in. Sweet, sweet joy. We can all celebrate these little wins.)
In the era of smartphone addiction, having up to an hour of time to just sit and self-reflect during the day is rare. While most major subway stations do have cell phone reception nowadays, those moments when you simply can’t scroll through social feeds or text your friends back are precious. That time can be used to focus fully on reading, updating your to-do list, meditating, listening to music or podcasts, and just being present. You might not realize it in the moment, but this forced time for introspection can be incredibly rewarding — who knows, your next “a-ha” moment might be waiting for you on that train car that’s approaching.
Commuting via public transportation can also be a chance to connect with other humans, even if only to advise a wide-eyed tourist on the best route to an intended destination. Indeed, we all mostly just want to be left alone, but people are kind and compassionate more often than not. And every time we choose to look up and be aware of our surroundings, we’re opening up the possibility of a positive encounter. Maybe on your next commute you’ll realize that you can help someone in need. You might notice someone reading a book that you just finished and have been meaning to discuss. Or you’ll see that there’s a kid making funny faces in your direction and you can return the favor. Interacting with others can ease a stressful commute and lift your spirits — you can’t deny that complaining about the MTA with someone else is far more enjoyable than complaining alone.
In a somewhat strange way, subway trains and stations are also arguably some of the most aesthetically interesting places in the city. Sure, the subway is primarily industrial and grimy, but there’s quite a bit of history and visible vestiges of old New York embedded in those tile walls and tunnels. Notable artists are also often commissioned by the city to further modernize and beautify the underground. Once in awhile, commuters themselves can contribute to this sense of artistry and community by taking part in guerrilla projects like “Subway Therapy,” which took place after the most recent presidential election. If this sort of thing doesn’t tickle your fancy, newer subway stations like the one at Hudson Yards and along the new Second Avenue line provide a fresh, minimalist aesthetic. And if you just can’t be satisfied by the subway’s interiors, look out of the windows on the above-ground lines to catch amazing views of our unique cityscape.
So keep it up New York — and keep in mind that the pleasantness of all of our commutes depends on the decency of each individual commuter. Think twice before manspreading. Don’t lean on the entire pole, rendering it inaccessible to anyone but yourself. Take your enormous backpack off. Wait until everyone gets off of the train before you get on. Smile.