Subway Story

He smiled at me and caught my eye as I stood a few minutes before the subway pulled into the Union Square station.

“Have you ever seen so many people not look at one another?”

I laughed.

“Ever live in a small town or a place where people talk to one another?” He continued, looking me in the eye.

“You don’t understand. This is how we create private space in a crowded city.”

“So it’s a defensive thing?”

“No, it’s a good thing. It’s just what we do.”

He was cute and his smile was wonderful, but he misread the calm detachment in the subway car as the loneliness of a hostile environment. Until the train approached my station, I’d been happily reading on my Kindle. The quiet car wasn’t crowded. It was a peaceful ride. What I saw as a refuge, he saw as a mean, hard place.

We come to every experience with the baggage that creates our point-of-view. I’ve seen a great deal of kindness and friendly interactions between strangers in New York and other large cities. I’ve also seen rude, crude, obnoxious behaviors. The trick is not to read too much into any single incident. If you draw quick conclusions based on limited data, you may as well conclude that the world is flat because it appears to end at the horizon.

I hope that when the man with the great smile goes home to his small town he remembers that I smiled back, engaged in a conversation, and offered him a differing opinion without anger.

Me? I’m going to think about how a character’s POV informs conclusions…. Lots to think about!

Musicians of all kinds play at designated spots in large subway stations.

Musicians of all kinds play at designated spots in large subway stations.


  1. Um…don’t you ever worry about getting mugged or something on the subway? Sorry to sound like such a wimp but I don’t like taking our trains in the evening either.

    • Candy Korman

      I’m glad you asked that!
      The image of the NYC subways that most non-NY’ers carry in their heads is based on the 1970s. It was replicated and movies and transmitted around the world. It was pretty bad. It was a dark, crime-ridden time, financially trying, drug-y place. (It as also a great time to be in your teens or 20s and living in NYC because of the music, art, street scenes, etc. the bad old/good old times for many locals.) But even then, it wasn’t all-crime all-the-time.

      I now ride subways at all hours. Yes, coming home at 1 or 2am—not a problem. You just have to be smart about the subways. One, know your stations. Coming home to my closest station—Union Square—is fine all the times, even when I’m alone. Two, be alert. NEVER fall asleep, doze, etc. That’s an invitation to a pick pocket. Three, even if you don’t stare at the other people, know that they are there. If you have a problem… like the time I was about to faint after donating blood during a heat wave…. I was aware of people around me and just as I was about to say that I was fainting, people stepped up and helped. Gave me a seat. Talked me through the dizziness. One even walked out of the subway with me and offered to take me up to the street level if I thought I was still unwell.

      People aren’t actually polite—they hog seats, man-spread (men who open their legs and take extra seating is a big thing now), eat smelly food, etc. There are also homeless people occupying subway cars. This is a real problem. It’s not dangerous. It’s just a problem for everyone as subway cars aren’t designed for people who need a home. They just take you from here to there, very quickly.

      The train car with the astonished out-of-towner was clean, quiet, full, but not packed, not overly heated or cold… He wanted people chatting? I’m not sure. Maybe he wanted people to tell him what a terrible lonely place NYC is… and I didn’t tell him that.

  2. The Idaho country bumpkin in me is always fascinated by public transportation. I’ve been on subways in a lot of major cities, and I thinking keep one’s wits about them is the best and most practical advice. It only took a couple of days of riding cabs around Manhattan for my ex and I to realize how insane it was to spend that much when a subway ticket was way more affordable.

    • Candy Korman

      I’ve helped plenty of tourists on the subways & in subway stations and people have helped me use public transportation around the world.

      Yes, you have to be alert and aware of what people are doing around you but it’s also important not to wear your fear like a coat. It actually makes you a target. The same could be said about walking into any place outside your comfort zone. Just picture me, big city girl, walking into a cowboy bar (yes, Texas a long time ago) and not knowing how friendly I was supposed to be, or what to say to anyone, etc. If we travel at all, we’re always walking into unknown territory. The trick is to NOT make assumptions based on too little information. In fiction, on the other hand, those erroneous assumptions can become great plot points!