Ah yes, the great New York City subway system. It’s one of the oldest and most extensive rail systems in the world. It has more stations than any other on the planet. An estimated 4.3 million people ride the trains every single day. Unlike many others in the U.S., the New York City subway runs 24 hours a day. Except in cases of extreme weather or terrorist threats, this transportation beast never stops.
The majority of commuters riding on the subway do so during typical business hours. Take the train during rush hours and you’ll have quite the experience. People scurrying about, bumping into one another, relatively quick trains packed to the gills, and overall, pretty quality service. But have you ever traveled on the train after midnight? Maybe you ride it on the weekends after midnight, but have you ever been on it on a weekday at say, 2 a.m. on a Tuesday? Now that’s another story. I’ve been a stand-up comic in New York City for over 10 years, and due to the nature of my profession, I routinely ride the subway well into the night. Let me tell you, it’s a whole different ballgame at 2 a.m. Here are a few things you’ll encounter if you’re ever sharing a car with me in the wee hours of a weekday morning.
1. Construction workers galore.
If you ride the train after midnight, this is probably the most common thing you’ll encounter that you rarely notice during the day. The reason is that after midnight is when a lot of the work on the rails is done. The city can’t shut down the subway during rush hours because millions of people have to get to and from work. If you are on the front car late at night, sometimes the train will stop in the middle of a tunnel, open one of the doors and a crew of workers will emerge and get on. It’s a real bizarre sight and you feel like you’re getting an inside look into the underbelly of the beast. It also gives you an appreciation for the work these people are doing to keep the trains up and running throughout the day.
2. The infamous trash train.
What ever happens to all that trash during the day that is left in the subway? At night, it’s time for the great trash train arrival! It’s basically a subway engine or two in the front and a bunch of cars following with rectangle bins full of trash! The best part about this is that a lot of people on the platform are excited because they think it is their train home, and the look of disappointment on their faces when they realize it’s not is unmatched. Regular night riders can easily spot this train as it usually blasts a horn before it enters the station, has a deeper sounding engine and is yellow (or sometimes red), as opposed to the typical metallic color of the commuter trains.
3. Rats, rats and more rats.
If you ride the train late at night, rats are also going to be your companions on your journey. Rats are nocturnal and they come out in droves in the wee hours in the subway. Also, since there are less people out at this time, it’s easier for them to carry out their search for food and tidbits, both on the tracks and the platforms, so be sure watch your feet! Remember the legendary Pizza Rat? That was actually filmed by a comedian friend of mine, Matt Little, on a late night commute. During these late times, so few people around + left over food = you’ve got the greatest rat combo of all time.
4. Doctors, artists and musicians.
The clientele you encounter on the train late at night is usually a bit different than your typical daytime commute. During daily rush hours, you’ll see pretty much every kind of person on their way to work, many dressed in business suits and other casual attire, as well as excited tourists looking forward to seeing the sights of the town. While many of these people exist at night as well, you’ll see very few tourists (if any) on the trains on a Wednesday night at 2 a.m. What you will see is a higher percentage of doctors getting off odd hour shifts, as well as artists and musicians carrying drums and guitars on their way home after gigs.
5. A fair amount of illegal activity, and just plain weird stuff.
Not that you don’t see illegal activity happening during the daytime rides, but I feel like there is a higher percentage of people doing bizarre activities late at night. This happens for a few reasons. Everyone is super tired and due to the construction work on the tracks, the trains don’t run as frequently (sometimes you have to wait up to 30 minutes or even longer), and there are fewer people in the train station in general, so things can get a tad strange underground. You’ll see people urinating off the platform, smoking cigarettes, littering on the tracks and passengers in the train car putting their feet up on the seats as they are just plain exhausted and trying to catch a few z’s. None of these are serious offenses, but nonetheless, they can all get you a ticket from the MTA and police. One time I was riding on a train at 2:30 a.m., and one guy stole a bag from a sleeping man and hopped off the train. I wish I could have helped, but there wasn’t much I could do, especially not knowing if the robber had a knife or gun. It was 2:30 a.m. in NYC, not a whole lot of options at that point.