I hate the subway. I hate its ugly cars. I hate the obnoxious and endemic man-spreading. I hate its skipped stops and unannounced alternate routes. I hate its sticky vinyl flooring. I hate the trails of unknown liquids which spread across the cars. I hate the people who are forced to beg for money, the laws that forbid donating, and those who won’t spare a dime for a brother. I hate the fares which increase at the same rate as unexplained delays. I hate pole-hogs and people who won’t give their seat to a pregnant woman. I hate the way everyone averts their eyes when fights break out. Most days, I hate the subway.
But on other days, I love the subway. I love the way is arrives, gliding down the rails smooth as butter – doors open, doors shut, blink your eyes and you’re in a new neighborhood. I love the parents who spend the commute reading stories to their kids. I love listening to new music blast through someone else’s headphones – though I worry about their own damaged hearing. I love the artists who sketch their fellow passengers quickly and confidently. I love watching women apply their makeup without hesitation or a mirror. I love watching the graffiti flash by the train windows late at night. I love seeing old men with canes try to give their seats to young women with children. I love spotting a friend from long ago in the next seat over, and catching up as we chug through tunnels and over bridges. I love reading Poetry in Motion and studying the MTA-commissioned art on the subway walls. I love the subway.
I have never loved the subway more than when I fell – thrown off balance by a sudden jolt. With a book in my hands and a hefty backpack weighting me down, I was destined to fall like a turtle onto my back. But the guy standing behind me, someone I didn’t know and hadn’t noticed, saw what was happening and reached out a helping hand. He put his hands on my shoulders and didn’t let go until I stabilized myself and turned around. “I got your back,” he told me.
The subway might be an awful place. But it’s also a wonderful place. Because as long as you’re on the subway, someone’s got your back.