What's The Best Place To Be On The Subway?

I’ll Give You My Subway Seat If You Promise Not To Urinate on Me

And other answers to questions you didn’t ask.

Image: Rich Renomeron

What’s the best place to be on the subway? I used to think it was leaning against the doors. But now I am not so sure.” — Subway Stan

This depends on what subway system you are on. The Green Line T in Boston has these bendy parts in the middle of every trolley that are great to stand in. But none of the other lines are at all bendy. In Washington D.C., you have to get away from those doors, man. They will close right on your face and drag you for miles by the face. Not a fun ride.

My two favorite rides is a tie between the Roosevelt Island Tram in New York and the Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh. Neither one of them goes anywhere in particular. But the view of New York is pretty amazing from the Tramway. It is like you are floating away past the bridge. The Incline is a house that goes up a hill. That is pretty awesome. I have always wanted to live on a house on a bridge, like the one in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But a house that goes up a hill is even better. You get a nice view of Pittsburgh from the top of the hill. Pittsburgh has lots of bridges. And they put French fries inside of sandwiches for some reason.

Most of the time, I’m not riding the subway for fun. I’m riding it because I have to go someplace. Like the dentist. Or court. So I’m really in it for speed and ease. And not for thinking lyrically about traversing the clouds. I used to be big about leaning against the doors. I used to think the doors were the only place to be. I don’t sit on the New York subway unless it is absolutely necessary. Like I’ve had a rough day in the dentist’s chair. There is just too much of an emotional battle for every seat, I can’t be a part of it. So much attention is paid to where are there seats, how can one get a seat, who should be sitting, manspreading, etc. The seats are basically like the Korean border. And I just can’t participate in that kind of tense warfare.

I will sit on the PATH trains that zip me to and from the city. They have this one-person seat that is sometimes right near where the conductor works the knobs and buttons and looks out the window to make sure no one’s face is stuck in one of the doors. So you have one seat to yourself. You can watch the conductor fiddle with the instruments. And you don’t have to worry about anything. Except falling asleep and waking up in Newark.

I usually get stuck in the middle between the two doors holding onto the ceiling for dear life. The ceiling I don’t mind touching. The bars I don’t mind touching. Everything else on subway trains I imagine has been recently urinated on. Everything in New York that’s shorter than 6 feet tall has been recently urinated on, according to my calculations. That’s not necessarily always bad. Urine isn’t sterile, but it’s not as bad for you as bed bugs or the clap or whatever else is on those seats. Why do people scramble and battle for those seats?

On the PATH train, the best place other than the aforementioned one-person seat is the one in the middle of the train car in front of the TVs. We have our very own train TVs, bitches. It is an informative version of NBC 4’s news cast. Except with no sound. Plant yourself right in front of the TVs. They have fun games like Scramble and Guess Who’s From New Jersey. Michelle Rodriguez of The Fast and Furious movies is. The Scramble is way too hard; they always put the first two letters so far away. There is also a guy that reviews new movies. He always seems to give them a silent thumbs up.

If you’re in the middle of the car, away from the doors, with a little hold on one of the bars, you’re OK on the PATH train. On the New York subway, I think the best place to be is the same place. Although there are no TVs. People would probably urinate on them. They tried to put TVs in the Boston T stations but Bostonians were pretty sure they were some kind of hideous thought-control experiments. I could get with thought control experiments if it would make people not urinate all over everything. Or to stop Showtime.

Is there any more dreaded word that could tickle the Subway riders’ ears? I always seem to forget my headphones on days when I have to go to Brooklyn for a poetry reading and then it will be Showtime, right on the bridge. If I’m in the middle, without TVs, I will probably get kicked in the face. These dudes have mad skills, don’t get me wrong. And usually they will not kick you in the face because they are so talented. But the feeling that you’re going to be kicked in the face is almost as bad as being kicked in the face.

Being in front of the doors is just too much. You have to get out of people’s way and still preserve your place leaning in front of the doors. You don’t want to be more than arm’s length from the doors. Then you’re nowhere. You’re being hit by people’s backpacks. You’ve got arms in your face. People want to get by you, even when the train is moving. You are rolling around the subway car like a discarded Mountain Dew bottle. Just rolling and rolling, belonging to nothing and no one. Alone and afraid and possibly the next thing to be peed on.

There is no 100% foolproof place to set up shop on public transit. There are just too many variables. You’ll get a seat and then you’ll feel bad for some lady and you’ll have to give it to her. You will be leaning against the doors and then the doors will open and you will fall out and have to live with the Morlocks who live in the subway tunnels. Never ever pull the emergency brake unless you want to create an emergency. And always remember, sometimes after a long day, there are worse things to sit in then dried urine.

Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works at a bookstore.