I don’t take off my headphones often when riding the subway trains. My headphones are used as shields against strangers who might want to start a random conversation or to drown out loud unpleasant noises. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this and I know this should change for everyone. Focusing on our phones and music may be the easiest thing to do on trains, but it's not always fulfilling.
Riding trains is a soothing experience when it isn’t too crowded. The swaying of the train car as it moves from station to station, dropping off and picking up riders, is calming. Since I have a short commute to school I don’t get to enjoy my train rides like others. Once I sit down it’s time to transfer trains. But when I do find myself on a train ride longer than 15 minutes I enjoy sitting down and looking out the window, even when it’s underground and there’s nothing to look at except dark tunnels that wiz by.
If I have my headphones on I fumble with my phone to find my favorite song or read the news. I become absorbed in the small world in the palm of my hand and I miss what’s going on around me. But when I decide I’m brave enough to not be attached to my phone, it’s a great experience studying people: their clothes, their belongings, their jewelry.
When I see a person reading a book I know they must be special. I wonder if it’s a good book and if they’re enjoying it. When I see a person with grocery bags I try to imagine what kind of amazing food they will make. It’s common to see people dozing off on the train. I wonder what kind of jobs they have that leave them so drained. I hope they’re OK and that their home isn’t the train.
Even during rush hour I try to find the positive in crowded train rides, where elbows are hitting my ribs and people knock into me every time the train jerks to a stop. It’s important to stay calm and understanding especially when a 6-foot man almost loses his balance and ends up stepping on my foot. It has happened multiple times.
I will admit the subway isn’t the best, far from it, but it doesn’t take away from the peace I find during train rides. It's a common sight to see tourists looking confused at a train map and they can even be a bother sometimes. But their confusion is what unites New York train riders.
We spend a good portion of our time riding trains, getting from one place to another. Some of us know the trains better than others, but it's a part of our livelihood. It's where we come together for brief moments and then disperse. It's difficult to say you've seen the same face twice on a train.