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Subway Rider, Writer

By William J. Dean / February 26, 1998



Writing can be a lonely activity. I enjoy writing in a public space. One of my favorite places is the New York City subway. Here I find no shortage of company.

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Rush-hour trains are not desirable. It is never easy to write standing up with a neighbor's elbow in your face. By midday, things are calmer.

I do not travel on subways for the purpose of writing. Rather, writing is an activity I undertake when going from place to place on business or pleasure. "Improve the flying moments" is my motto. Like Thoreau, all I need are pencil and paper.

The interiors of subway cars are surprisingly quiet, and the movement of the train is smooth as it speeds along steel rails. I have no trouble concentrating on a subway; indeed, I sometimes miss my stop. This is not true of buses and taxis. The potholes on city streets result in a bumpy ride, and concentration suffers.

Subways, however, are not without problems: like conductors who disturb the quiet by imparting too much information, and defective train announcement systems that produce ear-splitting sounds. When encountering either, I change trains.

The sounds of words are important to me. As I revise a piece, I like to read it aloud. Mumblers instill disquiet among subway riders. Not infrequently, the person next to me moves to another part of the car. I may be breaching subway etiquette.

This piece is being written on a Lexington Avenue subway as the train travels uptown beneath crowded city streets. I glance out the window; there is no view to distract me, only the dark, gritty bleakness of a subway tunnel.

I had planned to write another paragraph, but the subway is approaching the station near where I live. The time has come to vacate my writing room. And so, reader, farewell.