New York is a city for walkers. Or is it a city for subway riders? I think both.

My goal while visiting Manhattan recently was to learn the subway system. I planned to do this while Monica nested in our Airbnb apartment (which was rented to us illegally, by the way, but that’s another story). While she was writing and reading and presumably enjoying her alone time, I would do my adventuring. It’s the way we travel, and one of the ways we’re so complementary. 

 

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They say when one fears something, one should confront that fear head on. I don’t claim to practice this philosophy regularly, because I’ve also learned that the more you think something bad is going to happen, the more likely it is that something bad will happen. But I was determined to overcome my phobia of the New York City subway system. So with the fear of public transportation firmly in mind, I set out that first morning, in the fall mist of the city.

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In the first few blocks I saw a lot of people coming up the stairs and onto the sidewalk. That’s gotta be a subway station, right? I descended, reaching the station just as a train screamed away. Turnstiles dared me. Machines against the walls leered at me. I’d read that one could get weekly or monthly unlimited ride cards from these ominous machines, so I picked the least threatening looking one and spoke to it kindly. But it still didn’t offer me the card I wanted.

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I found a young man in uniform and asked him how to buy the unlimited ride card, and he said he couldn’t say for sure, but pointed me to the courtesy phone, where I could call the information hotline. I’m not exactly a germaphobe, but there was no way in hell I was touching that grimy brown phone (which I presume was once yellow) and then put it up to my ear and mouth. I imagined it a home for every bacteria and virus that had ever made its way to America.

 

 

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A commuter noted my confusion and kindly informed me that the closest station to buy what I wanted was five stops away. So, rather than spring for the two-buck single ride, I decided to walk to that station. It is a walking city after all.

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Arriving at this much larger station, my fear returned. I prefer walking over dealing with dingy subterranean chambers crammed with humans. When the masses cleared enough for me to find the machines, I spied one that looked newer and presumably more friendly. And it worked! Now I had my unlimited card in hand. “I’ll show that turnstile who the boss is now,” I muttered, hopefully to myself only.

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I didn’t have a clue which line to take or which direction I wanted to go. I just wanted to get my feet wet and go somewhere, anywhere. So I picked a turnstile and slid my new card through the magnetic reader. Nothing. Oh, silly me, there’s an arrow on the card. I slid it in the direction of the arrow, but still nothing, just a big “error reading card” message—and a growing line of grumbling commuters behind me.

Time to retreat!

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My guidelines included a self-imposed rule to limit my use of smart phone technology unless I really needed it. I really needed it, so I consulted Google. Turns out the card I bought was for the train system that runs to New Jersey. I’ve already been to Jersey. Spent a week one night in Newark. I wanted to explore New York City.

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With Google’s help, I got the right card and eventually learned my way around the subway like a pro. Well, probably not a pro, but not a complete idiot. And there was a happy ending. After I bought the wrong card (two, actually, I got Monica one as well), we learned at lunch that our waiter commuted from New Jersey daily. Here was someone who could put the cards to good use.

 

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Another happy ending was discovering that the Staten Island ferry is free. How cool is that? Mission accomplished, fear conquered . . . until I have to ride a bus.

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22 thoughts on “An Urban Safari

  1. Ahhha you are going to give Monica some competition with your writing skills! And love the photography. I am a regular commuter on the CTA subway system and you have given me greater appreciation to the guy who looks lost.

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    1. First, thanks for the compliment. Second, it’s not deserved and I have a confession to make. My writing, at least in this case, was much influenced and corrected by Monica…so I doubt I’d ever give her competition. 🙂

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  2. I was highly entertained and horrified by your tale Chris! The subterranean mass transit system…. A true nightmare for any claustrophobic with demo-phobia issues… my stomach was churning throughout the entire story! Congratulations on overcoming the fear (even the germs on that phone!) and for taking the time to write it all down with such a lighthearted touch! Loved it.

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  3. Thanks, Susan! I didn’t even know I was demophobic until I read your comment and consulted my dictionary. And now I find I’m ochlophobic as well. Who knew?! Anyway, as you might recall, my role is to provide levity, especially for fellow claustrophopics.

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  4. Ha ha. You remind me of my American born-and-raised nephew who had an absolute horror of public transport, and avoided using it whenever possible.

    Look upon it as an adventure, I said. But he wouldn’t.

    I, on the other hand, have no choice, because my degree of visual impairment is such that I’ve never driven. I’d probably be safe enough behind the wheel, but dogs and pedestrians in my vicinity wouldn’t do too well.

    So I’m a veteran of public transport in many parts of the world. It’s a great way to meet the locals, and also fellow travellers every bit as bemused by unfamiliar stations and spiteful ticket vending machines as I am.

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    1. Yeah, I certainly agree. Public transportation is a great way to experience a place. Maybe writing about the New York subway from the perspective of a rat would be interesting? Hmmm…

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  5. I loved my visit to the big city. Equally amused by the subway system. It’s truly a place and a thing everyone should do at least once. Thanks for the post Chris!

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  6. I suspect that someone more comfortable in the wilds of Montana could be a tad put off by the chaos of a NYC subway system. I’ve never taken on NYC, but have survived the Paris metro and damn near got stranded from a tour group in Munich by not getting through the crowd to exit at the designated stop, then getting off on the wrong side of a train on the return.

    Excellent photos, BTW.

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  7. Thanks, Dave. I love my new iPhone, it takes pretty decent pics. And yeah, the chaos was definitely intimidating, especially in contrast to the solitude of the Montana wilderness. Paris and Munich subways?! Impressive!

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  8. Chris, what an adventurer you (two) are–exotic countries visited, unusual foods consume,d interesting people to met THEN you went into the bowels of the Big Apple and came out enlightened. I smiled while reading your piece; but, my heart skipped a few beats when you described the crush of humanity. Now, tackle the bus. It’s such a delight to see the City from that vantage point. Can’t wait to see your next round of photographs. You are a gifted photographer with a great eye for capturing daily life.

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  9. Thanks, Anne! We are so fortunate to be able to have these adventures. Your comments remind me of that great quote from St. Augustine: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

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  10. I love NY! Your pics are great and glad you faced your fear! You are certain to see much more of any place via public transportation! Hugs to you and Monica!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love New York so much! Yes, it adds to the adventure to ditch the smart phone…if possible. Why not go retro and carry around a really map? I still enjoy maps and I still feel more connected to them than Google.

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