Bright Lights Bigger City: Tales of public transportation

In the past, whenever I had heard someone say they thought the New York City subway system was confusing, I had secretly (or openly) mocked them. Based on my tiny bit of experience going to Yankee games and visiting my mom’s office in Rockefeller Center, I thought I knew my way around pretty well, and always said, “New York is a grid, the trains go either uptown and downtown or east and west, how hard can it be?” Having lived here for about a month, I’m ready to admit it: the New York subway system can be incredibly confusing.

There goes my train...

There goes my train...
Photo by Jillian Timko/Gavel Media

First of all, there’s the express versus local debate. Not all the trains stop at every stop all the time, but this schedule can change by the hour, and you can never really be sure where your train will stop until you actually get on the train. At that point, you’ve either missed your stop completely, or you have to get off at the next station and wait for another train. So far, I’ve been a lucky guesser, but I’m sure my day will come where I have to do the subway walk-of-shame of exiting on one side of the station only to go back down on the other side because I missed my stop.


This normal level of chaos has only been compounded by construction, partially brought on by Hurricane Sandy and partially brought on by the summer season. Especially downtown in the financial district where I work, trains don’t run on their normal routes, and many parts of the southern-most Manhattan subway stations are still closed. Sometimes, the construction confusion can work in your favor. I was able to take the express 4 train straight downtown from Yankee Stadium to my apartment without switching to the local because the trains were running on different schedules for one Saturday. Other times, it does not, like when my boyfriend’s normal subway to work skipped his stop without warning because of construction, and he had to get off at the next one and backtrack by half an hour to get to his office.

Hurricane Sandy construction

Hurricane Sandy construction.
Courtesy of the MTA of the State of New York/Wikimedia Commons

The third layer to this problem is the amount of people trying to take the subway. I knew New York was crowded, of course. But the New York City subway at rush hour can push even my unconditional love for this city. I’m either getting hit by someone pushing through the crowd to get on or off the train, or I’m the one doing the hitting—my apologies to everyone who I smacked with my computer as I ran to get off the 2 train at 14th St. last night.

At least I'm not this guy

At least I'm not this guy.
Photo by Jillian Timko/Gavel Media

Despite all of this, I can’t help but think that there’s something very New York-ish about the chaos of the underground, and I’m ready and willing to forgive.  Hey, I could be taking the T every day.

Grand Central, the most beautiful subway station of them all

Grand Central, the most beautiful subway station of them all.
Photo Courtesy of Harald Hoyer/Wikimedia Commons

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