No one wants to ride the subway with someone they know. When you ride the subway with a friend — or God help you an acquaintance — you have to talk to them. The problem with this is that since no one else is talking, they’re listening to you talk and wishing you would be quiet. No one has ever overheard a conversation and thought, “Wow those people sound smart.” Also, it’s a lot harder to get a seat if you have two people because you have to find two seats together, and if there’s only one the other person will be like, “No, you sit there,” and you will, but you’ll feel bad the whole time because they have to stand and you have to look at them from below. Then if you’re getting off at different stops you have to say goodbye on the subway in front of people so that the goodbye is likely rushed and not very heartfelt. This is particularly unfortunate if it’s the end of a date. There’s no worse way to end a romantic interlude than a subway hug as someone rushes off at the Lorimer stop.
People like to complain about the subway, but the truth is it’s mainly enjoyable — at least for those who aren’t extremely claustrophobic or obsessed with being productive all the time. It’s like an airplane before they got WiFi and people started using them as offices.
You’re moving, literally, between one activity and the other, and there’s nothing you can do to make this transition faster or slower. Briefly cut off from communication, incoming texts are forced to be “sent as text message.” The sender wonders if you are underground.
In yoga they say that the transition between one move and the next is as important as the moves themselves, which could make you think differently about how you spend your subway. There aren’t a lot of options. You might read, which is a great way to spend the ride, you might write in a notebook or practice your answers for a job interview. You might listen to music and stare straight ahead at the blackness speeding by, which is punctuated occasionally by a bare bulb and poorly drawn graffiti. You may be passed by another train, which is a treat, because watching the people in the other train as they go by, only a few feet away but somehow on an entirely different plane, feels like seeing yourself from outside your body. You might feel like this is an illustration of something you already knew about life, but would find difficult to put into words. It’s a little bit deep, which is more than you might expect from the subway but shouldn’t be.