Ever since following Laura from VivereNewYork on Instagram, I’ve been wanting to do some of the cool things she grams about in New York City. Riding the Nostalgia Train was one of them. Last year, she posted some pretty awesome Read More »
It’s always an experience to get back to this city even when gone for just a few days. Every time I witness my return differently. Mostly I am not at all pleased but sometimes I am happy to be back. Yet, coming back from Canada was different in so many ways. When I saw the skyline from far away, I was thankful at once. Away from the awful greyhound bus, away from the travel on the bumpy road. It almost felt like home to embrace a city I’ve been in for so long. Home – a very tangible word.
However, my initial euphoria changed quickly after entering the subway. First, the endless wait for an express train at 3 AM around Times Square. I had forgotten how drunken people can act on a Tuesday morning out. Being stared at by random guys when you absolutely do not feel like meanly glancing back at them until they finally look away. On top of this, of course the N-Train that decided to switch over to the R on the last stop in Manhattan. The long walk over from Canal Street to where the Q stops. Having the Q shut its door right in my face. Fidgeting around for another eternity. It takes some long 20 minutes for another train to come when it’s the middle of the night.
Looking up when an aggressive group of teenagers walks up to you and the rest of the tired commuters. Spanish yelling, waving of the arms from their side. Everyone is staring in disbelieve rather than reacting sensibly. I even got pushed by one of the
fat mildly overweight Puerto Rican girls. At least she said “excuse me” after striking my upper body. I was too startled to think of much to do. I thought it rather a bad idea to pick a fight with a group of four when all I have to defend myself is my heavy bag of souvenirs. So many underage people out on the streets and of course I ran into another group of chicks on the train, once it came. This time I kept my calm. Ten minutes later I was finally home. The thought I had when falling into bed was that this city is hideous, the people have ugly personalities and I want to get out of here right now.
The next morning. A beautiful day. The people still being a bit weird but manageable. I felt more like an anonymous commuter that day than someone who has to stand up for herself in New York. Peace of mind. But the ride back home complete chaos – again. A tunnel in Brooklyn that decided to catch fire, leaving the entire subway system turned upside down. Walking down the steps to the Herald Square underground I started wondering why there were more masses than usual accumulated on the platform. The B and the D were only running to W4. Even after heading over to the N and the Q, I was in no luck. The first one stopped, spat out a chunk of evening commuters and then announced it would be backtracking straight to Times Square (42nd St). The R came and announced that 14th -Union Square was its final stop (it usually runs to Bay Ridge). No one knew what to do. I decided to squeeze into an overpopulated subway car and try my luck towards downtown. I gave up after being held in 23rd St for ten minutes straight. A crackly voice over the intercom blared that all trains were currently held in the station due to the high volume of traffic ahead of us. I was one freaking stop away! And then the conductor laughed into the speaker. He actually cracked up! It made me smile. If people can still make fun of such an absurd situation, no matter how vicious their intentions are, you still have to see the comic of the circumstances. And how ridiculous is it to be stuck in Manhattan on a random weekday? Squeezed against hundreds of other commuters? I got off and wandered the streets of the Flatiron district. Eventually I made it to the 4 and 5, which thankfully ran underground and were unaffected by the sudden fire in Downtown Brooklyn. Of course a few
thousand other people had also been forced to dodge towards this alternative. I have seldom felt so happy to get off the train than during this day. Atlantic Ave was jam-packed with masses. And I’ve seen it during a normal rush hour; yesterday was three times as many people.
Today I was more confident in the way of how to handle matters. I didn’t feel like an awkward piece sticking out of the grey masses of the City trying to fit in. Today I actually did fit in. And instead of feeling frustrated as I had before this trip, a different feeling overcame me. Happiness comes when least expected. It may come when you are sitting under a roof of leaves in Madison Square Park, clutching an umbrella with one hand, writing your thoughts down with the other. It may also come when jumping from puddle to puddle, finding your reflection in one of those. It’s an abstract concept but it brings back the memory of a time when everything used to be easier.
December 2011: My friends and I on our way back from a Post-Holiday-Christmas-Party. Chit chatting and laughing away, we randomly take a seat on the R train, which is running late again on another typical Sunday night. Or so we think. Mistake #1.
Completely absorbed in our conversation, we at first did not notice the ugly stares from a hunched over woman across from us. Mistake #2.
All of a sudden my friend looks up and notices that something is wrong. By then the female is practically attacking us with her bare looks. We are all three creeped out but try to nervously laugh it off. Without further warning, the woman-like creature yells and curses us out. No apparent reason, obviously. We slide over all the way to the other side of the car and continue our talk. Just another random madwoman on the train, we think.
Fast forward 5 months:
I am running late to an appointment at my friend’s house and am happy to snag a seat on the overcrowded F-Train form 14th St on. It can be quite an unusual thing to have, a free spot on a Saturday afternoon. I then glance across from me and see a tired female-like person with chopped off red hair. She is slouched and taking up a whole bench for herself. At first I am startled, unsure as to why exactly she looks familiar. As far as I know I am not yet friends with the homeless of New York and that is pretty much what she resembles.
Then it hits me: It’s the madwoman from back in December! At first I am hesitating, my desire to switch seats immediately almost takes control of me. Or rather: Taking the chance of not having a seat but standing again seems all of a sudden attractive. Anywhere far far away from this woman. Then I chill. It’s been almost half a year and I am dressed completely different, I think. No way on earth she would remember me from way back then. How wrong I was….
She happens to wake up on once every so often but I become more and more confident that I am out of the limbo. So I start getting my cell phone ready as I just have to take a picture for those two other friends I was with when she flipped on us in the winter. My phone is wrapped in a cassette cover, making it less evident that it’s a cell phone.
I even manage to shoot three pictures of her until she gets what I am doing. And this is when hell freezes over. Her loud cursing begins again and is aimed directly towards me. I think she was also mad because of the guy who sat next to her without her permission, to be honest with you. I try to ignore her screams for a bit but then have enough. At the next stop I pretend I am getting off – and flee to the other end of the wagon. Everyone is aware of her yells by now and doesn’t know where to look. Still, the crowd is pretty tolerant of the madwoman, even though it is a Saturday afternoon and not everyone is wasted or too tired to think.
Overall, you have quite a few people on the train that are out of the norm. For instance the girl that peed her pants when taking the Q Train home at 2 AM during a Sunday night. This was back in the days, around 2 years ago, but I still have to think of it on occasion. We were all tired and wound down from a night out and a long week. All except for this one girl, who just couldn’t stop dancing to her music and was wiggling around in her seat. Or so I thought. And then I noticed she wasn’t wearing any head phones or holding an iPod close to her. Her peculiar behavior caught the attention of pretty much everyone sitting close to her by now. Except for the guy on the far end of the bench, who was almost asleep. She jumped up and was dancing up and down on a spot close to the door. Then she was holding her pants. This must have been the point where she gave up because she sat back on her spot and pretended she was sitting on a toilet seat. All of sudden we hear a gushing sound and, sure enough, there she is, peeing on a NYC subway. Not even standing but sitting.
We were all taken by surprise and didn’t know how to react at first. The next stop was close and she got off right there. The guy who was half asleep noticed that something was wrong and jumped to another bench far away from the scene. As soon as the girl got off the train, we lost it. Hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time. The situation had been just too peculiar and strange and completely weird and I am sure not everyone witnesses this even in the Big Apple. She tried to hide behind a map outside – a cop was also patrolling the station. He didn’t know what we were laughing about but that was when the train doors shut again. I really wonder what was going on in this girl’s head and why she did not at least open up the doors in between cars to pee there (which would have been the more sound solution, as my friend pointed out after hearing the story).
And not to forget the bipolar girl who at first complimented an Irish couple with their baby on how sophisticated their European accent sounded. But the next minute she turned around and yelled at a guy who was holding on to the same pole to better get his magazine out of her face or otherwise something bad would happen. The poor man did not know what to say at first (his magazine was way out of her reach, not to say face), and the Irish couple crept far away from her (not to be beaten up next).
Wheeew, the subway in New York – it’s definitely a circus going on beneath the city. Since almost everyone takes it at some point in time and since almost everyone relies on it as a means of travel, you have quite an accumulation of characters on one small speck of train. Every once in a while you get the crazies. But as soon as the funnies board the subway you see how much worth it is taking. For instance this picture I took yesterday: Flower girls with the widest hats possible addressing Cinco de Mayo in their own special way. Things like these brighten my day and make me love taking the F or Q or A or anything else all around town!
And back to the red-haired lady: I am still wondering what would have happened if I had yelled back at her. She never tried to physically attack me, only with her looks and screams.
Yell at me once, your fault. Yell at me twice, my fault. Yell at me thrice, be prepared for a nice loud REVENGE! AAAAW!
New York –the epitome of creativity and artistry. Not surprisingly also the dream destination for many singers, musicians, break dancers, and other creative minds. Canadians, Europeans, Asians, South Americans, even US Americans find themselves on their way of travel towards the metropolis of the Northern continent. Filled with hopes and plans of how to start out with the right teacher, meet the right producer/director/manager and eventually become “famous” when swimming in that pile of gold…. Well, those would be the dreams of many!
But no matter what the initial plan was, everyone will soon enough find out that the Big Apple is certainly not a “piece of cake” and that you have to scramble to get your gigs together.
Also not astounding the fact that to become famous, sometimes you have to start at the very bottom.
Now street performers cannot be necessarily called “the bottom” of the ladder. Indeed some very much enjoy the roughness of the subway station, the authenticity of the performance, the proximity to the crowd.
However, it doesn’t take much to wrap out the music gear in a train station or above ground and start performing. It’s more about the emotional willingness and courage it takes to really do this in front of the faceless crowd.
I used to live with a street performer when I first moved to the City. She was originally from Canada and had moved here 8 years prior. While I am not sure when exactly she started taking out her musical talents on the street and in the subway, I believe at one point in her shattered career path she met someone who knew someone who introduced her to someone who told her to try it out. So she started in her early 30ies with a group of teenagers who were break dancing around her while she sang along to tunes of mixed tracks.
Gradually she became accustomed to performing in front of strangers and for money, and started coming up with her own “shows”: Songs mixed with a funky beat which were played on her own boom box and to which she provided the necessary vocals. Her shows grabbed everyone’s attention alright, as her songs were well-known (classics such as “Stand by Me”) combined with some new creations. I am not sure if it was her voice that peeked out more or the level at which her stereo sounded through the station of Lexington Ave and 53rd Street. Either way, as it is so common in New York, some days were good, some not so. I think the best days brought in a good 200 bucks within the time frame of 4 hours, which relates to $50/hour – not bad at all. The best time to perform, according to her, was from late morning or during the day. She never performed at night, as she thought this to be not only worthless but maybe even dangerous for a lonely woman.
I didn’t even realize the problems street performers have to deal with until she told me about a normal day at work. The occasional rivalry between spots and time struck her as annoying. I guess there is no order as to who plays when but it is dealt with according to first-come first-serve rule. When someone had been performing for a time considered too long, they were scorned upon by the other candidates who desperately wanted to get their show on. So a good day could quickly turn into a rushed half hour performance out of the blue.
Other dangers to look out for are the occasional arrests the NYPD likes to handle. My roommate called Tuesday “Undercover Cop Day” and tried to stay away from the subway station during this time. She had her share of hours spent in jail – in her opinion due to “cops who have to make their quota meet and take it out on the people they consider low-class.” Stories from arrests of the famous Mexican trio showed up at the same time all of this went down, which provoked a big wave of protests among the people of New York. I guess the officers try to take away the money the performers had “rightfully” earned before the time of arrest and this made many persons angry. The absurdity about these arrests is not so much the reason but the inconsistency paired with the current mood of the law enforcement, which seems to be an even measure throughout this city.
To clarify, individuals performing on the streets or in the subway legally require a license to do so. However, I haven’t run across one musician or dancer who has had a license, ergo I consider the percentage who is legally allowed to play to be very low or non-existent. Many cops know of this, of course. It is most likely to see performers at the same spot during the same time almost every day. If police officers truly wanted to bring their point across and arrest for the purpose of law enforcement only, they would simply arrest the artists every single day until no one would dare to perform anymore (this is also known as “cleaning up” as seen with jaywalking under Giuliani). However, the fact that there are only a few arrests made every other week or such contradicts the purpose of “fighting illegal street performance” and, therefore, does not make too much sense.
Enough of the political side, though.
There are many motivations why people perform on the streets and in the subway. Another brief roommate of mine had taken out her passion for the guitar at the Union Square station for sole purpose of re-uniting with other performers and entertaining the crowd. I am unsure as to how many street performers really perform to make ends meet but I would assume the percentage to be very high. Sometimes you see how passionate the musicians are, though, and you can see the glimmer in the dancers’ eyes when they move around on their floor, motivated by the enthusiasm of the crowd. Two of my favorite performers are indeed two very different groups: A group of musicians from Eastern Europe who go by the name of Moon Hooch and a group of pantomimes dancing to soul-touching music. Both perform at Union Square: The young guys are down at the L-Train and blast out their trumpets and horns in such a lovely manner that it makes me forget where I am at. They recently had a show in Williamsburg and I hope it went well for them.
The dancers perform on the upper level, the most common site. They grab the crowd’s attention by putting on black clothes and white masks, thus disguising their origin and unifying for the sole purpose of the show. They then climb on and swarm around each other in ghost-like manner, capturing everyone’s looks when passing by. I believe it must be tough to divide those hard-earned dollars between 4 performers, but I am sure they make much because of their ability to fascinate the people.
Another common spot for artistic performances is Washington Square Park, with their oh-so-common jumpers: A trio of black men who lure six women into a row and then jump over them, but only after an endless-seeming amount of time. Sometimes they don’t even jump, because they consider the “donations” given in advance not high enough (too bad for whoever gave more tha $5). Tricky group, indeed!
A great dance floor is the top level of Union Square, of course, and Herald Square close to Macy’s. Breakdancers, native Mexicans, and other musicians like to play beneath Macy’s. I even once saw a harmonica in the stations of the “posh” Park Slope, but I suppose the performance didn’t make enough money to come back.
An artist who I consider very talented and also sad at the same time is the probably ten-year-old child who is masterly hitting the keys of his transportable key board. He captures everyone’s attention, of course, but I am not willing to put a dollar in his bucket as his father is standing right behind him and most likely the driving force to all of this. Child labor or not, the boy loves to play, as can be seen in his face, but I don’t think it ethical of his parents to drag him down to the subway station and make money off his talent.
And one last thing to mention, a thing which always aggravated my former roommate: People who stand by, take pictures, shoot a video but never pay. It is common courtesy in New York to give the artists a symbolic dollar whenever the music or dance is appreciated. I myself didn’t know of this until being here for well over three months. Many Europeans do not follow this rule, either, as in Europe street performers rarely go on the streets to pay their bills (and thus don’t necessarily perform for money). Over here they do. A difference in mindset. So if you ever find yourself entertained by street music, please step forward and hand over that green bill. It will be well appreciated.
Oh, and those huge bands who tend to play around every big holiday in the underground station of Times Square? Highly commercialized groups of people and not entertaining in comparison to others. Walk away fast and go make your way to another station!
Street performers in New York: They can turn a gray commute into a colorful ride. They can feed your hopes on many artists who have not yet been discovered and who exist in the underground of this city. They are indeed an entire group of artists by themselves.
A few days ago I was on the Q-Train again – after 8 months of abstinence. I used to live on one of its stops but then I moved to an area which is on the F-Train. I had almost forgotten about the Q-train’s crowd and the people who board the subway every day. I remember how I really hated getting into the B and the Q in the morning or during rush hour after work because of the people on it. However, yesterday it was a nice change to take the line again and it made me compare the persons on there to the ones riding the F-Train.
The Q-train was basically my very first stable and standard train I took from my first month here until December (that’s when I moved). It goes from Coney Island all the way up to Astoria in Queens and takes commuters from the deepest point of Brooklyn to the heart of Manhattan, if desired. Its tracks lead past the Russian neighborhoods around Brighton Beach, the Jewish communities in Midwood, the Haitian families around Prospect Park, and Brooklyn’s richer elite in Park Slope all the way up to Central Park in Midtown. It gives its travelers the chance to get to work on time or to stop by at some of New York’s best sightseeing spots. Directly from the depth of Chinatown at the Canal Street Stop it takes them to the Latin neighborhoods who are enriched by their own exotic culture in Queens.
But the very best part about the Q-Train is the view you have when crossing the Manhattan Bridge. Words cannot express it as this picture will but it is definitely the sight of the Manhattan skyline so close by that still, after over one year of being here, makes my heart pound faster once the trains exits the underground tunnel and steers toward its destination. It continues to give my journey to the City sense and to take my breath away once I rest my eyes on this unique scenery. Night and day will give you two completely different views, but both are equally exiting.
As you can tell, the Q-train is originally diverse. I have seldom seen so many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds than on this train. And surprisingly, I have even less witnessed a fight on the Q despite these different backgrounds being squeezed into each other each every morning and evening, forced to look a complete stranger in the eye or being exposed to a body distance that can be regarded as uncomfortable in other circumstances.
The F-Train hosts a very different crowd. Forget about the Haitian, Russian, and even Latin groups. What you have left is a standard ride on this transportation. Just like its yellow counterpart, it also leads from Coney Island all the way up into Manhattan. It doesn’t stop at the border of Queens, though, but goes even further and hereby forms the train that leads the furthest into Queens with its final stop being Jamaica. From here you can access a bus or take a taxi to get to the airports LaGuardia and JFK.
I live close to two of the stops the F makes in Park Slope. When I enter the train in the morning it is usually already crammed full and I can barely get a seat, of course. On my way to Midtown, the train makes several interesting stops: Cobble Hill, Dumbo, the heart of Chinatown at East Broadway, and along the Village and Chelsea up to Herald Square. The Park Slope stops are home to people in their twens or parents with younger children. You get to hear French fathers practicing conversation in their native language with their stubborn childs or dark nannies taking care of blonde infants. The snobbish and stressed people get in at Cobble Hill and they take almost every single standing spot left in this train. From there on, the ride turns into an adventure of trying to find your balance while searching for something to hold on. A crowd from the midst of Brooklyn joins at Jay-St Metrotech, coming from the A and C lines. Even though both blue lines don’t have a great vibe, the F train is not affected by this through its newly-gained commuters.
Some creative people walk into the train in Dumbo at York Street. If you get off here, you should take a nice stroll down to the Brooklyn Bridge and the two parks around it. The commuters who are the most interesting come into play in the Lower East Side: Unique looking, younger artists, bartenders, or simply people who have the air of enjoying their lives.
At W4 the madness starts as travelers are jumping out of the car to either dive into an express orange line or to run upstairs to catch the blue lines, which are running along 8th Ave.
During the entire ride you don’t see any skyline or view on Manhattan. You get to know Brooklyn better from Smith-9th St on, because the train sometimes runs above the ground from then on.
A positive thing about the F is that its energy is decent. The Q was transmitting angry vibes on most mornings I took it. I hardly even wanted to bump into anyone because I was scared this might make some Haitian woman yell at me. From Parkside Ave on the doors let in socially disadvantaged mommies with their not-very-well-behaved children. I hated it! I didn’t know where to look and what to think of these people. On the F I feel more like where I belong. Sure, you got your share of rude people, I’ll give you that! But as long as you don’t experience the fear of being harassed or screamed at, you’re good on your commute.
When I took the Q again earlier this week, I felt that their crowd might still be very much interesting and it is definitely still unique in my eyes.
Trains in New York- they tell their own story.
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.