A Word on NY Homelessness and Subway Culture

This is the third day in row and I am still blogging! Yicks! Who would have thought? I already noticed that I am developing a slight addiction as I was walking down the streets in Midtown and vividly considered a few topics to talk about on here. There are just so many things that are still new, still interesting, still so different than from what I am used to.
Yesterday I almost bumped into this guy who appeared “normal” at first but, in hindsight, was probably another one of New York’s homeless people. He did not slow down but rather sped up yelling “Move out of the way, you horky” after me, while I was making my way to the subway. I surely do not know what a “horky” means and I still refuse to see this word as an insult, even though I am sure it was intended to be. I think it rather funny in hindsight, since the guy was about 30 inches smaller than I was. At the time, though, I thought it rather frightening to see such manners from a random man on the street (so not gentleman at all, but then, it’s New York) who I had meant to do no harm to at all. New York definitely teaches you to not take things too personal at times. But at others it also makes you more insecure and doubtful about your appearance and outer performance. Some days are going well, some are just there to make you feel uncomfortable and not at ease with yourself. It is the anonymity of this city that gives you a good feel about yourself when walking the streets and not recognizing a single face you pass by, feeling like a complete stranger and making you believe you can do whatever you want without too much future damage. At the same time it can also make you feel very lonely and isolated, believing you are the only one on Earth who is experiencing things the way you do and that no one will ever understand you. Some people make it out of this black hole but for others there isn’t too much hope. They end up with the wrong people, sleep on the streets, and have no long-term-goal in sight.
After doing some research online, I came up with a figure of an annual estimate of 100,000 individuals experiencing homelessness each and every year… This is an estimate, meaning the dark number could be significantly higher (or, giving it a possibility, lower, of course, too). I currently work not too far from Penn Station and every time I get off the blue subway line, I bump into a few groups of unsheltered bums who are starting off their day by getting together, chatting, blocking the entrance of a fast-food-chain and begging for money for a coffee or breakfast. At first I thought this to be rather disturbing but I surprisingly got used to it fast (as it was with many other things). I still consider it a bit awkward to run across these figures in an area which is mostly dedicated to office buildings and tourists, meaning wealth, work, and fun. I’ve heard people around me say that it is your own fault when you end up on the streets. It seems that most don’t know how big of a role psychological factors can play in this circumstance. I am not going into the depths of this but a high amount of people living on the streets has schizophrenia, personality disorders and other, hard to cure, mental diseases. I consider New York an interesting city not only in terms of living, having a good time, and meeting new people but also in terms of research. After studying psychology for three years of my life and going over the basic concepts without any real model to observe, I have come across so many living examples of pure “craziness”, it was quite a “pleasure”. Take, for example, the older black guy who was sitting on the floor at the Canal Street stop on the Q line. He got interrupted as soon as our train rolled in, but then got distracted again with his own little play of shoving a few empty paper cups around and talking to someone/something imaginary. I could literally sense the form of hallucination this man was going through, possible suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, when he was maybe imagining that by-passers wanted to snatch his cups from him. He had his own party going on right there in his head.
Once in a while you stumble across some “madmen” in the train who yell at people without looking at them or feel disturbed when you get too close to them. I will never forget the eyes of this one woman, when she looked at me like I was an infected person just because I had slightly touched her arm when getting up.

In general, New York “subway culture” (I love this term) is a story by itself. Different lines, different people. It took me about 3 months until I had a moderate understanding of how the trains worked, which line was the fastest from my house to different destinations in the city, and how long an approximate wait would take. It took me another 3 months until I got the system to a fuller extent, meaning I was not consulting my handy, mini-sized subway map on a regular basis anymore. Even today I still glance at a map once in a while to get from A to B. In the beginning I therefore lacked the time, nerves, and efforts to study these different people on the train. I developed an interest, though, after noticing that some rides where significantly more enjoyable than others. Take the A and C line, for a great example of racial diversity not carried out to its fullest extent in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The people on there are usually of African-American, Haitian, or Hispanic descent. No, this is not my biased view of how things work – this is merely of what it feeds the objective eye. To their own credit, I have to admit that both trains commute through poorer neighborhoods and areas that are considered to be rather dangerous, not only at night. These two trains always tend to give me a weird vibe once I enter, especially coming from Brooklyn. I wouldn’t call it aggressive, but I definitely would not want to start an argument with some of its commuters. It’s funny how my parents noticed this right away on their very first day of their visit and since then refused to ride the train if it wasn’t necessary.
Then you have the “L” train crowd, which goes to Williamsburg and beyond and which switches as soon as most people get off at the Bedford stop. You see many hipsters, wanna-be-creatives, and rarely anyone who appears to be ordinary.
A striking contrast to the blue line is the F-line, because it usually goes past neighborhoods which could be considered more affluent once you enter Brooklyn: Carrol Gardens, Park Slope, and then past the Russian-Jewish community around Kings Highway.

No matter what train you are on, though, the level of rudeness in entire New York seems to be the same as soon as you enter those gray wagons. Of course New York is known for generally being among one of the rudest cities in the entire country, but subway rudeness is a somewhat different story. It is a mix between taking as much advantage of an empty seat as you can, running over everyone who is standing in your way, and trying to get the best spot on the ride. Of course not everyone riding the subway is like this, but the negative examples tend to stick in my memory more than the positive ones. I have to admit, though, that taking the subway is always an experience and an adventure by itself and that because of the chance to observe the variety of different people I would not want to miss out on too many rides.

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