Have You Ever Experienced Solitary Subway Psychosis?

Astronauts like to talk about the feeling they get when they see Earth from space for the first time. The sensation has a name: the Overview Effect. I will never experience this and neither will you, but we might one day end up on an empty subway car, which is close enough.

What are you supposed to do when you’re the only person in a subway car? The possibilities feel endless and are therefore paralyzing. I sit absolutely still and stop whatever else I’m doing. No reading. No playing with a phone. A friend of mine used to walk-run from one end of the car to the other; he would send videos of this silent process to his friends as soon as he came back above ground.

The solitary subway ride, it turns out, is a vibrant YouTube category. It’s a secret genre concealed under the much more common and popular “crazy people doing crazy things” subway videos, but it is certainly different. The mode is usually testimonial; the content is urgent and confused.

“This goes down in history. I’ve never been on a train by myself in New York City.” Keith felt the need to justify his taking the subway in the first place: “Well, whatever. My flight doesn’t leave until like five,” he says, “but I don’t want to pay $30 to get to the airport.”

“I am completely alooooone in this subway car. That never, ever happens.” Pacing, smiling, laughing, yelling. “What can I do here? Oh my god, so much freedom.”

This performance of Madonna’s “Holiday” followed by a near-miss stage lick up the subway pole captures a common secondary condition: If you are alone on the subway, there is a good chance you are alone and drunk on the subway.

The most staged of these videos (and technically not solo) is easily the most relatable. Climb. Swing. Run. Scream. This car is yours for one stop, maybe two. This is a pure expression of Solitary Subway Psychosis, aka Tube Time.

“This is the first time this has ever happened,” is something a lot of these people think to say, not knowing that the second time it happens is as consuming an experience as the first.

“When is the last time you’ve seen a subway with nobody on the damn car. I could do anything I wanted in this joint. I could have sex in here.” But then you wouldn’t be alone?? Not worth it, but this is the effect SSP has on your cognitive abilities.

“Woooo,” she says, switching to English, swinging halfway around the pole. “Getting crazy all over the place.” This is an expressive case; it is no more or less felt, however, than the subtler ones: