The three words that every New York commuter fears most are “Please swipe again.” (Maybe even more so than “Help! We’re stuck!”) Ostensibly a formal invitation from a computerized turnstile, the phrase is neither particularly polite nor inviting. When the request flashes after a failed MetroCard use, it’s far more ominous. “Better get comfortable, buddy,” the turnstile seems to say. “We’re gonna be here awhile.”
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After being asked to please swipe again, you can expect to do said action—on average—about 1,000 more times. But the worst part of being stuck in swiping purgatory is not the repetitive, wrist-straining physical action but the feeling of false hope and, somehow, shame. With every swipe, you tell yourself this could be the one: This one just might let you through to catch your delayed train. (It never does.)
Of course, you could always just give up on your clearly malfunctioning turnstile and try the next one over. But in what is truly fate’s cruelest twist of all, whenever you make that leap of faith, you’re immediately told your card can’t be used because it was just used at a different turnstyle. Oh, the soul-crushing irony.
Alas, until the long-awaited touchless subway payment system rolls out over the next few years, we card-carrying members of the underground commuter class will just have to keep swiping. And swiping. And swiping.