No Prolonged Eye-Contact: An Empirical Guide to Subway Safety

Public transportation is a convenient way to get around most major cities and the subway is what makes the really big cities livable in the modern age.  However, there are hazards to consider when riding the rails and there will be times when you are confronted with a situation that you might not know how to deal with.  I’m here to offer helpful advice on how to avoid disaster in five of the most common dangerous situations.  They include diagrams of key avoidance areas (represented by a white field emanating from a black dot) and text on how to handle them.

This one’s bark is worse than it’s bite, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of a vicious stabbing incident.  If you let them argue with whatever invisible demon directly in front of them, you should be alright.  But get between them and their full blown craziness and you might find yourself getting spit on, eyeballed and even bitten.  The best case scenario is that you and most of the people on the train think that they are yelling at you.  They aren’t existing in your reality so don’t bother to try and exist in theirs.  There will be a time for them to calmly engage the real world again and this is not it.  I’ve routinely seen people having arguments with ghosts and once heard someone claim that “Abe Lincoln was a black robot lesbian” and then follow it up with a string of angry cursing.  You have no idea how much I wanted to be a part of that conversation, but there was just no way he was having it with me.  That statement was reserved for the burning giraffe breastfeeding thousands of spiders that also happened to be tenured at Yale.  I can’t even begin to compete with that.  I had a schizophrenic friend once and no matter how much you connect with them in your world, their other reality will eventually merge with yours and the end result can be pretty unpleasant.

The door opens, someone walks through and then you hear it, “Excuse me, ladies and gentleman.”  Most people tune out at this point but, if you listen in, you might hear a pretty good story about someone’s mom having asthma or a mental illness you were previously unaware of.  The good news is that this is usually the easiest subway hazard to avoid.  Standing out of the center isle as they pass through the car is usually enough but you might have to make brief eye contact.  If the story is good enough and they’re not a repeat on my train I usually give a little change but you’re not obligated to do the same.  They’ll probably make enough money to dine out somewhere nice that week and still make rent.

Some of the most dangerous elements on the subway are also the most difficult to spot, and this is one that can go completely undetected until you get a lap full of someone’s dinner from two hours ago.  While usually a lone male, it could just as easily be a woman or a whole group sitting in wait as the inevitable draws ever closer.  Notice the slow deep breaths, swaying motion and look of utter defeat.  Heed these warnings because it might be all that you get.  If you notice any of these signs, immediately sit at least three seats away to avoid spray.  Sometimes the passenger in question may try to communicate with god by whispering his name.  This is a countdown and you will not want to be around when they finally blastoff.  It is, however, recommended that you stay on the car to enjoy the potential show that could just be waiting just at the next bit of rough track.  If you find yourself in the midst of an incident and are unable to escape the full fury of their internal evacuation, take advantage of the handrails along the top of the train.  You can safely pull yourself along most of the car without having to touch the floor.  Although if the person seems to covering their face and crying, you can relax because all is clear.  That’s how they signal that they have finished.

Alone they pose no threat, but combine them into groups of three or more and one of them will start doing pull-ups and shouting while the others exchange made up stories about girls they’ve had sex with.  If, for whatever reason, there is a young woman with them, one of them will seem to be holding her against her will.  Sometimes they will even try and force her to kiss them and she will struggle and complain.  Every fiber of your being will tell you to save this poor defenseless girl but you must not do this.  Each time I’ve spoken up on behalf of this girl, she has told me to mind my own business or the group began to threaten me with physical violence.  The peer pressure to appear tough makes them extremely aggressive and they will be more than willing to cut you with their dad’s knife to impress their friends.  If you’ve attempted to help the girl or told them to stop cursing and laughing so loudly and find yourself about to get your head kicked in, back off casually and do not show fear.  Act like you’re getting off, go to another car and wait until you can follow one of them.  Follow them all the way home and tell their parents or, if you’re pressed for time, just follow them part way home and then beat them within an inch of their life.  I can also not recommend taking an ear or one of their teeth as a trophy highly enough.

At one point this used to be a fully functioning human being but cruel fate has twisted them into their current state.  Now that they are on the streets, normal societal rules do not apply to them so their behavior might seem strange to the layman.  This includes the smells that they give off.  Average people might find this unappealing but it serves a strictly functional purpose as a signal to anyone that might disturb them while they sleep to stay away.  “Normal urine” has the ability to stink up a bar bathroom a moderate amount but the stink of derelict urine is several times more concentrated than that of a cat.  Even a few drops would be enough to disorient every single person inside of a space the size of a football field.  If possible, do not share the same car with a sleeping bum fermented in his own piss.  However, if you do find yourself trapped near one, take small short breaths through your mouth while covering your face and get off at the next stop.  Like radioactivity, a small dosage isn’t dangerous but prolonged exposure can cause you to lose teeth and hair or even be fatal.  Not every bum sleeping on the train is going to smell but, when the whole world is your toilet, the potential for them to drop their pants and just go is still substantially higher than that of any other type of human.  Steer clear unless they seemed bright eyed, happy looking and alert.

About You Monsters Are People

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39 Responses to No Prolonged Eye-Contact: An Empirical Guide to Subway Safety

  1. Finally some help with these big sandwiches.

  2. drawandshoot says:

    Posky, you seem most taken with the underbelly of society. It intrigues me.
    Rules of safety from a professional observer. Makes me wish I lived in a big city…

    • Posky says:

      I do and I don’t think it’s fair for people to ignore it. We try to sweep a lot of society under the rug and pretend it isn’t there, but it is there and we don’t really understand it. I’ve always tried to engage life fully, whether it’s the ivory tower elite or the seamy underbelly. I think I am sometimes judged harshly for this when people ask me what I do with my time. I see nothing wrong with who, where or what you spend your time on–provided that your conduct is above reproach. I try to come off as polished and professional sometimes and, perhaps, people are just expecting me to watch golf and go wine tasting.

      • drawandshoot says:

        I agree, we don’t really understand it, and I think that’s why we are fearful of it. People are complex, it’s beautiful thing actually, but not an easy one.
        It makes me pause about my own work, because I am an observer also and although I live in a good sized city I am on a greenbelt, surrounded by nature. It’s what I tend to observe. Although there are times when I think my observations are universal, as are yours.
        I find there is wisdom, wonderment and weird here. I like how you challenge me.

      • Posky says:

        I just don’t want life to be too easy or boring for anyone, least of all myself. I’ve lived in a somewhat rural area with miles of farms and woodlands, a near college town utopia, post-industrial Detroit and now New York City. They’re all very different but they are also all surprisingly similar.

        At any rate, I don’t think it matters what you see as long as you are actively looking. And I think you always are.

  3. Having lived in New York I can attest to the truth of these characters.
    God, I can still smell the stench of the “Sleeping piss pile” and how the stench gets “stirred up” and travels when he shifts in his sleep. Thanks for reminding me Posky.

  4. agent337 says:

    Reblogged this on Agent 337's Blog and commented:
    This is why I ride a bike

  5. But…..Lincoln WAS a black robot lesbian.

  6. Cara Olsen says:

    Well, having never ridden a subway before, I can tell you for certain that I never will. Not after that incredibly detailed inventory of potential personalities I might encounter. *shivers* Have you really followed one of the rowdy teens and beaten one of them within an inch of their life? I sincerely hope not. That could very easily turn out poorly for you . . . I would stick with narcing.

    The drawings, however, are quite clever. Did you do those yourself? I’m thinking so, as one of your categories up top is “comics”. They are splendidly accurate, I must say. :)

    Good to meet you.

    • Posky says:

      This was not meant as a means to keep people from riding the subway but encourage them to deal with some of the more colorful elements. These are few and bar between but they do happen.

      You’d be doing yourself a disservice by not riding, at least once.

      • Cara Olsen says:

        In my humble opinion, colorful is word we use for rainbows and flower gardens — not urine stains and belligerent lunatics. I think I will go ahead and proceed with the disservice.

        Take care,

  7. abbyandthenew says:

    Reblogged this on Abbyandthenew's Blog and commented:
    Thanks for the advice

  8. NecroKitten says:

    The trains here aren’t as bad but there are the same key avoidance’s. Especially the rowdy teens and the about to throw up guy. Just the other day I was on the train, and it was unfortunately on St. Patrick’s Day. So it’s both entertaining and just a little horrifying. At least for me, good ‘ol anxieties.

  9. …brings back memories of my subtravelings to college in London!!! Nice one Matt!

  10. For some reason, I always attract the Raving Lunatics.

    I once had a man tell me, in less than 2 minutes, that his uncle was once president of the United States, that he worked for the CIA, that he broke his spine in 4 places but is able to walk perfectly, that he detests the Polish, that his favourite food is curried chicken, and that he learnt how to play the guitar in less than 2 hours.

    I then told him that he was the most interesting man I’ve ever met and that I can’t believe our Prime Minister won’t take his calls. “Unbelievable,” I said, “Just deplorable.”

    He then walked to the closest Wal-Mart where, I’m certain, he applied for a job.

  11. saradraws says:

    Now I feel better prepared for the adventure that is Public Transit. Thank you.

  12. Byron says:

    I like what you’re saying here; a life of living in Detroit has taught me to mind my own business, keep my head down, and keep my eye on what I’m doing and where I’m at. When I got to college, I was blown away at how clueless some people can be. My friend Jim and I have a saying between each other that I would like to impart on you: “I’m just trying to get my kids back”. Neither of us have children of our own, but the statement is reflects the above mentioned sentiments. I hate having to ignore fucked up shit, but chivalry just doesn’t work in cities, most times.

  13. gingerjudgesyou says:

    As an inhabitant of a pretty big metropolis, I think I’ve met every one of these characters. There are also the frotters, who you neglected to mention in this article, that I think are just the most disturbed public transit users. I think the worst that I encounter daily are the ones who smell like urine, I can’t deal with that smell .

  14. Peter Orwa, Junior says:

    My country has no subways; but I can tell you that the bus rides can be pretty much the same!
    …except for the rowdy teens. People no longer care about their made up sexual conquests. Or people probably have problems of their own

  15. Good of you to take the time to catalogue this stuff. It actually seems to work the same the world over and it’s great to see it can be fitted into London Tube etiquette as well. Thank you!

  16. neverreadit says:

    So funny! Have you considered putting it on film as a documentary? I think there’s some sort of journalism prize in it for you somewhere.

    I like the idea of gathering victory trophies from the various rowdy kids I come across as well. I’m clearing a shelf as soon as I get home….

  17. Where was this post when I lived in NYC? I could also see this as a TV show… Think of all the write offs you’d get doing research. ;)

    • Posky says:

      Now that you mention it people should give me money for my ideas.

      Move back to New York and we’ll get started on this.

  18. ilhamzah says:

    Reblogged this on Ilhamzah's Blog and commented:
    huh seremmmmm

  19. I don’t know how i survived the NY Subway system prior to reading this informative post. I love how you incorporate original illustrations into your essays, which really help to bring your point to life. I love reading these.

    • Posky says:

      Good. If you paid me, you’d never have to go without them.

      Although I’ll just take you spreading the word about them instead.

      Thanks for the kind words.

  20. Makes me miss DC… different city, same transportation hazards. I feel its only right to warn people that these potential landmines exist not only on the subway cars themselves but also nearby… waiting on platforms and riding on escalators, sometimes even camped out near station entrances. I’ve found that giving them a wide berth and just saying “no” to every person who asks to touch you works well :-)

    • Posky says:

      As something other than a very attractive female, I don’t get asked to be touched all that often. If I did, I’d still probably refuse after critiquing the person thoughtfully.

      At any rate, the real problem people are the ones that don’t bother asking.

      Good point on this stuff not being isolated on the Subway, though. We need to remember that these types do eventually wander out into the real world.

  21. This is a wondrous list, and wholly accurate to boot!
    Some other of my favorites include: the thug who has no concept of ear-buds as he listens to horrid music through a crappy phone speaker, The religious nuts who just want me to be right with Jesus, Children (not old enough to be riding alone) who’d like to sell me overpriced candy, The Lady with the God awful blow-up piano thingies and no sense of rhythm, and the wanna-be acrobats whose fast flying feet never quite hit me but always manage to make me jump.

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