Travels and Travails on the Subway

Frum people will often give me a funny look when I tell them where my school is located and how I take the train there everyday. Then they give me the anxious questions or comments of my bravery. Whenever I maintain how non-scary the ride is, I always get small sympathetic smiles usually spared for those who have gone off their rocker.

So just to set the record straight – yes, I take buses and trains through neighborhoods where I am likely to be the only or one of the only white people, and no, I have never had a frightening experience. I’ve never been mugged, assaulted, or harrassed. In fact, I have a much better time than when travelling through the financial districts in Manhattan. Riding the train near my school is far more entertaining – the people are friendlier, more laid-back, and you meet all sorts of interesting – but non-frightening- folk.

First there are the Candymen. Not to be confused with the roly-poly white-haired guy in shul, the candy guys I’m talking about are a group of teenage young men who sell M&Ms and Jolly Ranchers on the subway, all making a variation of the following sales pitch: “Attention ladies and gentlemen, sorry for the interruption, I’m here today to sell candy, not to no basketball team or football team, just to have some money in my pockets to stay in school and out of trouble…” My favorite is the dude who says “I’m selling candy because it’s better than selling drugs…” How often does a bag of chocolate come with such a feel-good public service announcement? But seriously, these guys are often really sweet, even if a buck for M&Ms is a total rip-off.

Next are the hiphop gymansts. Every once in a while I run into these guys who play hip-hop on a boombox while they do all these cool dance and acrobatic moves on the subway pools. You gotta hand it to anyone who can do flips and somersaults on a crowded train. Not to mention anyone who can get a trainful of strangers laughing, clapping, and conversing amongst themselves about a common spectacle. Naturally they walk off the train with their own public service announcements, “Stay in school!” and “Don’t talk to strangers on the train, this is New York!”

Then there are the musicians.  For one thing, there are a few groups of Mariachis who play traditional Mexican music on their accordions. Then there is a barbershop quartet of middle-aged black men who sing spirituals or gospel songs with three different harmonies.  Yesterday I met a new musician who boards the train with an electric guitar and announces that he has come to serenade the Lovely Woman with the Gray Suit. He then starts singing “My Girl,” substituting some of the lyrics about the Woman in the Gray Suit, how she looks like a manager and probably gets to boss around lots of men at work, etc. He dedicated his next song to the Woman in the Yellow Shirt. At the chorus he calls out, “Come on, sing everyone! Even white people!” People then gave him money while he announced that he would accept cash, travellers checks, clothes, food, weed, and college credits. “I have three kids at home, and they all need iPods,” he said finally. Hopefully he was kidding, but in any case he seemed like such a sweet guy that I think I would have been willing to pay for one song off of iTunes for his kids. Yes, I’m a sucker. As is anyone who enjoys hours of subway travel.

But at least I don’t spend those hours biting off my nails, scared of all the frightening people with their carriages and children and packages who don’t hurt anyone.


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  1. * Mak says:

    Incredibly entertaining post! Sounds like you have an interesting ride.

    Posted 11 years, 2 months ago
  2. * Lion of Zion says:

    “Frum people will often give me a funny look when I tell them where my school is located and how I take the train there everyday.”

    city college?

    Posted 11 years, 1 month ago
  3. * Snarkodox says:

    Nope. It’s a school in the Bronx.

    Posted 11 years, 1 month ago
  4. * tooyoungtoteach says:

    You’d get those comments no matter what train you take.

    When I take the train at night, early morning, anytime, or any train that doesn’t take me straight to 34th street of 5th ave, the entire community is concerned for my safety.

    It’s ridiculous, it just feeds into “the goy” stereotype.

    Posted 11 years, 1 month ago

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