A Manila-based writer reflects on life in the NYC Subway

January 24, 2008

The MTA subway system–that claustrophobia-inducing web beneath our sidewalks– certainly encapsulates the grimiest, frenziest and the most democratic aspects of New York City living. Students, mothers, homeless snoozers and Morgan Stanley commuters are all crammed into the same steel tubes, often literally arm against arm, Birkenstock against patent leather. It’s also one place in the city where the performing arts, both sloppy and skillful, maintain a place, no matter how many regulations are tossed their way.

Browsing through Google News today, I came across a slice of life-story by Denis Murphy from the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Reading about New York’s notorious and endlessly described rush hour from a visitor’s perspective is always fascinating, because although the observations might be nearly identical from one writer to the next, they are always remarked upon with the same joy of discovery. Murphy notes contrasts between the young and the old, between the rich and the poor, and, like others, notes both the unique coexistence of classes and the oddly thriving artistic spirit.

Murphy writes:

“Does the subway influence the New Yorker character? Does it not only make people cockier, but also more tolerant of human weakness, less tolerant of arrogance; does it somehow put people on the side of the underdog? Do the long, silent hours in the subway drive people to write, paint, play an instrument, draw graffiti, compose?”

I’m not sure if it’s the silence–I only seem to notice the cacophony of noises–but the inspiration is perennial.

(Image from Wikipedia)

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