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This post originally appeared on Medium on July 27, 2013

When the train pulls into a station and you see a whole bunch of crowded cars, followed by a solitary empty-ish car, and then some more crowded cars, you know something’s not quite right.

On Friday’s commute home, at around 6pm, I was standing on the platform at Chambers Street as the 2/3 glided by me. Like many New Yorker’s I know where exactly to stand. Seventh car, second door on the 2/3 heading back to Brooklyn drops me off right at the base of the stairs at the Grand Army Plaza stop in Park Slope.

I watched the first six cars scream by, each car getting progressively more crowded. The sixth car, however, was intriguingly jammed with straphangers. The seventh car was rather empty. The doors opened and I quickly looked left, then right, looking for the culprit. The culprit is almost always a person who’s been down on their luck, made some bad decisions, dealt a band hand. But the biggest tell is the smell. New Yorker’s know that smell. It’s vile.

The doors opened and there was no smell. Instead, a wave of hot barreled me over. It was like walking into a walrus’s mouth. I stepped inside and the handful of people sitting, fanning themselves, looked at me. They were thinking, ‘Will he step in or run?’ I know this because I had the same thoughts for the next 25 minutes on my commute home.

Of course, Friday was the first day in six weeks that I wore jeans and a button down long sleeve shirt instead of my thin convertible pants (you know, the ones with the detachable legs that let you go from pants to shorts in 30-seconds) and a button down short sleeve shirt. Plus, I have an obnoxiously long and thick beard at the moment. It was hot on the train.

But I rationalized the following. One, it’s only 25 minutes. Just long enough to play a game of baseball on my phone. Two, I’d rather be in an empty car, even if it’s 100 degrees, than a crowded car. Three, I was interested to see how others would react when the train pulled into their station and they hopped on board the sweat train.

Most people ran. The train doors would open and I’d look up from my game. I’d make eye contact with the people in my section of the train. We’d knowingly smile at each other when inevitably a new rider would pop in then pop out of the car.

After 25 minutes I was ready to depart. I just lost my baseball game. Computer Mariano Rivera gave up back to back home runs in the ninth. I was hot. I was hungry. It was Friday and I just wanted to put on sweatpants. As the subway doors opened and I exited, I heard the audible gasp of someone getting in the hot car. She said, “Fuck the MTA. Can’t get their shit together.”


About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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