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The 9 types of subway riders you see during rush hour in NYC

If you know, you know.

Written by
Kristen Perrone

As the melting pot of the city, the NYC subway promises unique people-watching every time you swipe through the turnstile. If you hop on during the morning or afternoon rush hours, the typical sights and sounds escalate to countless “you had to be there” moments.

The next time you’re straphanging on a packed subway car, look out for these standout riders like tourists with poor timing, post-happy hour co-workers, and more who encapsulate New York rush hour.

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1. The students traveling in packs

Who even knows what the school day’s typical hours are anymore? If you’re on the train any time throughout the afternoon, chances are that you’ll encounter groups of students ranging in age and causing mayhem with their enthusiasm. Nothing will make you feel more nostalgic for your high school years than forced proximity with teenagers gossiping about people or venting about homework. On the downside, they take up a lot of space, so fingers crossed that you manage to board before they descend upon the car.

2. The outer-borough commuters

Rush hour crowds are starting to resemble pre-pandemic levels again, so long-haul commuters are popping up on the subway more regularly. You can catch these folks hunched over with multiple totes, a change of shoes, and a water bottle the size of their arm. They park themselves in a corner seat (or settle into an admirable stance against the doors), stick in their AirPods, and tune out the rest of the world. They won’t let these defenses down until the train hits the overground rails of Queens or Brooklyn.

3. The tourists using the train for one stop

If your train route includes a major hub like Times Square or 14th Street, strong congestion is a guarantee for at least a few stops. In addition to any local commuters, this journey has an influx of visitors unfamiliar with the subway system and city navigation, often riding for what’s actually a short walking distance. Expect sprawling families or friend groups to sweep onto the car, fill any remaining space, and clear out almost as quickly as they arrived.

4. Singers or musicians

There’s nothing like fighting your way to the last free seat and finally relaxing only for a dance troupe, an a cappella singer, or a guitarist to break the peace. On a good day, these surprise performances can be a delight, but other times, you just need a moment to yourself before a loud distraction comes along.

5. An extremely happy group of co-workers

Depending on how late you’re heading home, you may run into a flock of co-workers who’ve indulged in one too many at their corporate happy hour. Constant interaction with your officemates isn’t guaranteed anymore, so the joy of cheap drinks alleviating awkward small talk is hard to pass up. Unless this crew’s night took a horrible turn in between complimentary tequila shots, watching them is typically harmless fun.

6. Someone with an unusual hobby

Subway riders pass time in a variety of ways, but not everyone resorts to an e-reader or games on their phone. Look out for someone sketching other people, painting their nails, crocheting a blanket or rearranging a bodega bouquet until they reach their stop.

7. A person with unlimited phone access

Do you ever wonder about those people who always seem to have full cell service on the subway? Underground tunnels are no match for these techies. If you snag a seat next to them, you’ll get a tour of their social media feed, catch a glimpse of their texts, and involuntarily eavesdrop on their phone conversation detailing their day. Meanwhile, you can maybe send out a delayed text once the train pulls into a station.

8. The next fleeting love of your life

In a packed subway car, you sometimes have no choice but to disturb someone else’s personal space. Getting up close and personal with attractive riders at the end of a long day may conjure daydreams of love at first sight. If you happen to catch the train around the same time every day and see the same people, you might as well pen your own recurring rom-com to stay occupied.

9. That one indescribable passenger doing indescribable things

Every busy ride has a standout moment where you catch a stranger in the middle of inexplicable actions. It might be so bizarre that you can’t even describe it to friends later. Don’t stress if you don’t feel like watching this curiosity, because there’s bound to be another anomaly on tomorrow’s subway ride.

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