Is the L train the worst place to be in NYC while on crutches?
Our injured writer discovers firsthand which subway lines could use a dose of basic human empathy
This week's mag takes a sunny-side-up look at just how friendly New York City can actually be, with heart-warming stories from real New Yorkers. But of course, this being New York, every tale has a bittersweet lining—and you'll find no truer test of human integrity (or lack thereof) than the MTA subway system. Here's what happened to one of our writers when she had to tackle the trains one-footed…
If approached incorrectly, New York City can convince you of the following horrible things:
1. The world is an overpriced monster.
2. Your anxiety level is normal.
3. Anne Frank was sadly—but blatantly—wrong: People are not good at heart.
Eventually, of course, you realize that the problem’s not New York itself: The problem is the people. Although, let me narrow that down: The problem is the people on the L train.
I’ve lived in New York City for 16 years, ten of those as a resident of Northern Brooklyn. The L train has been my most relied-upon mode of transport during that time, and it remained as such when, a few years back, I broke my ankle. I spent four months on crutches, and during those months, I took the L train every day. Up until the point in my life, I didn’t really have strong opinions on this subject of Man’s Goodness, but following that experience, I became thoroughly convinced: Man was patently un-good.
I was rarely offered a seat. My fellow riders averted their gaze. Headphones on, iPhones in hand, they appeared unconcerned that there I was above them, one unexpected lurch away from tumbling angrily atop them. I’d be given a seat if I asked, although my point is this: I would have to ask. In this scenario, disengagement would give way to guilt.
“Oh. Sorry. Sure.”
There was usually some variation on that theme, although the operative word, sadly, is usually. There were a handful of people—all in their twenties, all dressed as though they liked to skateboard—who were not so quickly put to shame. If asked for their seat, these folks would roll their eyes. Do an exasperated sigh. There was one woman in particular who said outright, “Oh, Jesus. Yeah. Whatever.”
“I’m sorry to have put you out,” I said. “Oh. And by the way: I HATE YOU.” That wasn’t said out loud, of course—I was too stunned by the rudeness to do much besides hop into place—but rather in the confines of my head, in the land of cutting comebacks. So it was that I decided: People are not good at heart.
The shift in my thinking occurred—could only occur—when, finally, I got off the L. After that first month of crutches, I was assigned physical-therapy sessions on the Upper West Side, and so began taking the B. The first time I got on, someone stood up right away. I wrote it off as a fluke, but then it happened a second time, and then a third. Over the course of two weeks, I had several B-train riders say, “Crutches? On the subway? Oh, you poor thing. Take my seat.”
These behavioral consistencies continued through my remaining months on crutches, and led me to conclude: NYC hipsters, as a group, are very rude. They’re rude because they’re young, and often privileged, and the young and often privileged can struggle to be empathetic. It’s easy to get angry at this, but the point is not that we get angry, the point is that we teach by example. Hipsters: I know that those L trains are crowded. I know it’s annoying to stand. But you can be better than your baser instincts: You can watch for the old or the pregnant or the ailing. You can see them standing there, so offer your seat. It’s time we made our section of the borough a kinder place to be.
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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)
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