With a roar and a blast of air, the G train appears, pushing the housewives, pushers, and loons away from the platform. In minds across the station there is someone behind, patiently waiting for the right moment to hurl them under a train. Who wants to be the next day’s headline?
The subway is a frightening place. The stairways are often lonely, the slightest shuffle echoes eerily across empty platforms, train windows are bulletproof but have holes shot through, when an oncoming train's lights penetrate through the dark tunnel before it appears it looks beastly, and there are drunk travellers muttering to themselves. As a student there, I traveled underground. There was no other choice. Buses were too slow. The train was the popular, if feared, vehicle of transport. ‘Rule one for the subway is,’ Paul Theroux wrote, ‘don’t ride the subway if you don’t have to.’ Since hailing a cab was a luxury to be enjoyed only in the distant future, students rode the subway because they had to.
The universe of the subway and that of above are separated at the station’s entrance. Some New Yorkers have never traveled here, having heard stories as if it were a foreign place. Even foreigners who have not tread in America offer a word of caution about the subway. It may seem presumptuous, but the stories are somewhat true. The rats are huge. Commuters are routinely mugged. It is safer to travel in groups and blend in with locals. It is advisable to never get lost. Being lost could mean the difference between Manhattan and the Bronx. It is a big difference.
And yet one must travel by these trains. New York has its sights and clubs and museums and shopping, but where else does one see a system that runs parallel to the one above? Both live uneasily beside, and rely on, each other. It is another face of a many-faced city.