Service of Encounters on Public Transport

April 27th, 2017

Categories: Conversation, Subway, Transportation

Photo: pinterest

Photo: pinterest

Just last week I had two pleasant encounters on the NYC subway. These tend to happen less frequently these days with people’s eyes fixed on messages and games in smartphones or with minds distracted by entertainments coming through ear pods. If they talk it is to others on the phone. Maybe people are increasingly afraid of confrontation with strangers.

Friday Night
I was late to a dinner party waiting for a subway on an unfamiliar line so I asked a man on the platform if the B and D trains stopped at 86th and Central Park West. The 30-something removed his ear bud and said “You want the B or C–don’t take the D or any train that stops on the other side of the platform.” [The crosstown bus driver had told me to look for B and D.]

As time went on, with no train –we were at a station without electronic notification of the timing of the next one’s arrival–he kept the ear bud dangling on his shirt and we began to chat. He worried that he’d be late for his 7 pm restaurant reservation and I said, “You’ll be asked to wait at the bar most likely.” He shrugged and agreed. I went on, “My father threw a fit when asked to do that. He’d point to his watch and he’d repeat the time of his reservation and would demand a table. He was correct; nevertheless those with him wanted to disappear.”



The young man twisted his face in a grimace, “My mother returns every dish,” he said. “She’ll say, ‘it’s not what I expected–there’s something about it that I don’t like.’” I noted that I miss my father and that I’m glad his mother is still here to do her restaurant thing. He agreed and as he left the car at 81st Street, he waved goodbye and wished me a good evening. I don’t know about him but the distraction was what the doctor ordered as I’d forgotten my anxiety both about being late and the potential confrontations awaiting me at dinner.

Saturday Afternoon
Weekends are the worst time to take a subway in NYC as nothing works but on Saturday, it was pouring when I had to get to the west side so I ducked in a station at Lexington and 51st. A middle aged couple came up to me and a young woman also waiting on the platform. The man, with an English accent, asked if this train was heading downtown. Turned out that we were going to the same part of town. We could have gone directly in one stop had the E train been working.

Photo: Brokelyn

Photo: Brokelyn

They were from London. We named our favorite cities–the wife’s was New York, said her husband, and we named London and Paris, but he didn’t declare his. We got out of the Lexington Avenue train at 42nd Street and on the walk to the Shuttle—the second of three lines we had to take–I mumbled that New York can seem like it’s falling apart sometimes. He snickered and mentioned our President followed briskly and politely by a reference to Brexit. Shrugs all ‘round.

One stop on the 7th Avenue subway took them a block from Radio City, their destination. I was happy I could do for tourists what countless others do for us when we travel.

Do you have any interesting encounters to share during train, plane or bus travels? Have you noticed, in NYC at least, that they happen less frequently than years ago?



13 Responses to “Service of Encounters on Public Transport”

  1. Nancy Farrell Said:

    I love these stories! Sure, most people just want to get to where they’re going but I’ve had some very nice interactions recently and in the past. A friend tells me I smile at everyone so people think I’m friendly. Or maybe they just feel sorry for me! One evening during rush hour I was waiting to meet someone outside of Penn Station in New York. The streets were packed with people. A man came up to me and asked me directions to Macy’s. I detected a German accent. I gave him directions and sent him on his way. 10 minutes later a woman with an American accent stood near me and looked around. Eventually she asked to use my cell phone. This is the part of the story where the person listening yells, “You DIDN’T!” Let me be clear. I have never ever given my cell phone to any stranger before nor since. I do not recommend anyone ever do such a thing. And I have no trouble saying no to requests all of the time. Yet I dialed the number with the Massachusetts area code that she gave me and handed over the phone. She began speaking into the phone in German and then hung up. She handed me the phone and thanked me. She said, “He’s at Macy’s!” It’s a small big city.

  2. Martha Takayama Said:

    Unable to book my reservation on line for an Amtrak Acela round trip from Boston to Providence for for a prifessional assignment, I was at the station and learned that it couldn’t be purchased anywhere but at South Station! Customer service and ticket sales had been eliminated perhaps in October, and there were 2 non-working machines that might have been able to process my ticket electronically. There was no information about these limitations on purchase anywhere on the site or in the station!

    I went down to the arrival track and a very pleasant middle-aged couple taking the same train to New York suggested that I download an app which I didn’t know how to do or because of the element of time that I get on the train and try to pay for a ticket. Very greatful to them, I rushed onto the train when it arrived and got incredible assistance from Robert MacRae, the conductor or as he said the “Train Man”. He furnished me with an Amtrak telephone number and oversaw that a phone agent processed my ride. (It cost at least 4 times what it would have cost if purchased on the computer, but it made me a legal paying passenger.) The conductor even made sure that I got off in time, without risking the chance of falling by rushing. I requested his name so that I could find a way to inform Amtrak about his outstanding service as well as the difficulties that exist for purchasing tickets.

    With respect to New York subways, my husband who grew up in Tokyo, and lived a long time in Manhattan has instructed me never to engage with people in the subway if possible, because you never know what might happen! Although it may be very provincial I have made many trips holding onto him wearing Ray-bans so as not to be misunderstood.

  3. hb Said:

    A couple of months back, returning from the dentist and shopping one afternoon, armed with a large paper shopping bag, I mounted a crowded 57th Street bus heading East. Most of the passengers were well past their prime, and most, myself included, would have benefitted from the stability of a seat, but there were none to be had.

    Just as I settled near the front into gripping the bus pull above me and concentrated on hanging on, a loud but friendly female voice with a decidedly New York accident, from the side bench in front of and below me said something like, “Here, sit here. You’re going to kill someone with that bag.” A nice looking lady, I thought not a great deal younger than I, started to get up.

    I said back, “No. Stay put. I’m fine.” We went back and forth at it for a moment, and it seemed like the whole front of the bus was looking at us, some grinning. Embarrassed, I took her seat.

    When we both got off at 1st Avenue and started to walk in the same direction, I said to her something like, “Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.” We walked together for three or four blocks, and she told me she was in show business and had inherited Carol Channing’s part in “Hello Dolly.” I guess I must not have seemed very impressed, because she further said, amongst other things, that people gave her complementary tickets to shows. I mumbled something like, “That’s nice.” We had reached where she turned off the avenue. Then as we introduced ourselves and shook hands, she asked me if I was married. I said I was. I didn’t catch her name.

    I’ll admit that it was an interesting encounter and that I did google to find out who she might be. However, as a general rule, I prefer women who don’t give up their seats for men to sit.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a wonderful story! Small world is right.

    Some of our dearest friends we know because I had to borrow a phone on the train years ago to give my husband a quick “I’m on the 5:19” when I’d left my phone on my desk at work. We’d chat if I saw them on the train, and the rest is history. [They also had a sweet cat who spoke in loud tones and I couldn’t help remark on her voice.] Thank goodness for people like you and John who lent me his phone! I’ve done the same, on the train, when folks were in a pinch.

    On the street, as you did it, is a different matter but great that you did!

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Amtrak has some nerve. When you write to them they should refund the surcharge to you. First of all, if you are over a certain age you can buy tkts on the train on Metro North for no surcharge. But even if this isn’t Amtrak’s policy, you couldn’t buy a ticket because they’d cut back on staff and their machines didn’t work! When you praise the great conductor, I hope you demand some money back. Such treatment of customers puts me in a bad mood.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I hold the door for men if their hands are full or if they are dragging in a pile of boxes on a hand truck just as I’d hold it for women. Why shouldn’t a woman give her seat to any person of any sex or age if they look as though they would be better off sitting in a chair and not flying through the air landing on the floor of a NYC bus. No matter how crowded, this happens and I’ve seen it. The air brakes are something else. Good for that actress for being observant and NOT a diva. And if she’s who I’m sure she is, she’s at least 10 years younger than you are. Time flies.

  7. Nancy Farrell Said:

    hb’s story reminded me of something that I saw a few days ago on the PATH train. There was a 20-something young man who was sitting on an end seat, near the door. There was an empty seat on the other side of him. A 20-something couple got on the train and they stood, presumably because they wanted to be together and snuggle. Trouble is, her backside was hanging a bit over the bar, right at eye level with the seated young man. He couldn’t help but notice, not just because she was beautiful but because she was in his space. So the seated man looked at the woman, then glanced at her companion. I was afraid something bad was going to happen over this. I was mentally willing him to avert his eyes. The seated young man handled it brilliantly. He jumped up and said, “Here, sit with your girl.” The couple sat and while I saw the woman glance over at the man who offered the seat, he did not return any of her looks.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    This reads like the intro of a movie script.

    Amazing what fun an observant person can have on public transportation!

  9. EAM Said:

    To HB: You must know that if she is the person who inherited Carol Channing’s role in “Hello Dolly,” then the friendly lady you are speaking of is BETTE MIDLER. “Hello Dolly” opened last Thursday to a glowing review. Bette Midler is also an advocate for New York Restoration Project and helping to clean up the Fort Washington area. I’m so glad to hear of your encounter.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    He figured it was Bette. I didn’t see the Times review but Terry Teachout at the Wall Street Journal didn’t care for either her performance or the show. That’s what makes horseracing. But I like her for how lovely she was to hb. He didn’t get any tkts to any shows though!

  11. hb Said:

    Actually, EAM, I’m so out of it, that while I recognized the name, “Bette Middler,” spoken, I didn’t know what she did or looked like. I now know who she is. Try me on early 20th century Italian opera stars, I do much better.

  12. Lucrezia Said:

    Fun encounters with strangers range from chatting with a guard at a historic cemetery in New Orleans to saving a bundle thanks to an airplane seatmate who knew her way around Cleveland. People don’t change, despite ongoing moans of older generations at the expense of their descendants. Saints and stinkers, along with those in the middle, continue to arrive on the planet, with fluctuating communication skills. There is no reason for this to change, unless the antics of the US administration and those of North Korea result in blowing Earth to Kingdom Come and beyond!

    Just learned, some 1,300+ days left, courtesy of a concerned US Senator.

  13. jmbyington Said:


    I had a similar experience. I was on a plane meeting a friend in Huntsville. A woman next to me suggested a house tour that was going on that day and we had a great time as we raced to join as soon as I landed. We’d never have known about it had it not been for my seat mate!

Leave a Reply

Clicky Web Analytics