back to

Subway Series Vol. 1:

The Heart of New York

by Rachel Jacobs

march 8th, 2021

Subway Series Vol 1: The Heart of New York

by Rachel Jacobs

When questioned about growing up in New York City, there is one thing I tend to notice regarding the activities and attractions about which my friends are curious: basic. They typically ask about famous buildings, street food, restaurants, parks, and yellow taxi cabs. These are all things you would be able to see roaming the streets of New York. However, half of the City lies below the busy streets packed with people, stores, and sights to see. When I think of home, one of the first things that pops into my mind is the New York City subway system. 


Over 5.5 million people in New York City ride the subway every day (MTA). There simply isn’t enough space in the City for everyone to use a personal vehicle as their primary method of transportation. Take me for example, I am 19 years old and have no idea how to drive a car. To get to my high school, I rode the 4 train for 45 minutes every day. I visit my friends who live across the river by quickly hopping on the N or R train. When I get ready for a night out on the Lower East Side, I board the downtown 6. I can visit my grandma in Brooklyn by taking the Q train, or go see a Mets game by getting on the 7. To an outsider, these numbers and letters are gibberish, but to me each one is bursting with meaning.


The subway is undoubtedly an iconic symbol in popular culture. From JLo’s album On the 6 to an episode of Seinfeld literally dubbed The Subway, to movies like Little Manhattan, you can find the subway in many media or art forms involving the City. What non-native New Yorkers don’t understand, however, is the extent to which so many of us rely on the subway system. I truly would not have been able to experience the City in the way that I did for 19 years if the subway did not exist. Both of my parents work full time jobs and typically don’t  have the time to take me everywhere I need or want to be. Luckily I could just take the train, which I’ve been riding by myself since middle school. 


As a frequent passenger, I had to remember many train routes while simultaneously paying attention to everything going on around me in order to reach my destination in one piece. This sense of awareness that developed from concern about my own safety also made me incredibly observant. I find myself taking note of everything that happens on the train. I notice who gets on at each stop and when they leave. I pay attention to the faint music coming out of the many pairs of headphones. I admire everyone’s very unique fashion choices, and overhear bits and pieces of telephone conversations. I have become quite the “people-watcher,” and I say this in the least creepy way possible.


I truly believe that observing others on the train has taught me a lot about human beings. On the train, it’s nearly impossible to be in your own world. Even if someone is blasting music through their noise-canceling headphones or is engrossed in a novel, they can’t ignore their surroundings-- there is way too much going on. It’s interesting to observe how people choose to occupy a crowded public space, and more specifically, the extent to which they decide to interact with others. The subway forces people to be in close proximity with strangers that would likely be strange or uncomfortable in any other context. However, on the train it is completely normal, resulting in some of the most unexpected and fascinating interactions. 


If you think about it, there are so many possibilities that arise when taking the subway. There are 5.5 million different people I could potentially see-- that’s a hell of a lot of potential looks, gestures, and even conversations. This is why I don’t think of the subway as merely a method of getting from point A to point B. Some of my fondest memories of growing up in the city took place on the subway. I have met some incredibly kind strangers, bonded with friends, experienced the diversity of my city, and learned more about myself without even having to set foot on the streets of the concrete jungle we all know and love. Taking the subway is truly an experience, and I’ve had some really really great ones. 

Keep your eyes out for vol. 2

Meet the creative

Rachel Jacobs

Hi Everyone, my name is Rachel and I’m from New York City. I’m currently a sophomore at Cornell University studying business and communication. I’m still not exactly sure where I’ll end up professionally but I am super passionate about reproductive justice and sustainability. When I’m not doing school you can probably find me going on long drives and walks with friends, listening to Led Zeppelin, or drinking a redbull (I’m addicted). At mntn I am part of the instagram team for @mntn_co and I’m so excited to be writing for human!

human contributor