Death on an NY Subway

A New York native heard the following story recurrently during her high school years – mostly from fellow students but also from a larger population including adults and strangers:

“They were sitting on the subway and someone across from them was asleep. You know their head was bobbing along with the subway.

And apparently this person was on for many stops and so finally someone notices and gets up to check. And it turned out they had no pulse.

I heard this every once in a while not just from school but people in New York in general.

I wonder if someone just like imagined, ‘Hey what if the person on the subway across from me is dead’… and then the story just caught on?”

This story might be recurrent in New York’s subway system in particular because of the city’s notorious crowding. New York’s subway experience more use than those of other metropolitan cities, certainly LA, and it makes sense that lore would rise from such a distinctive method of commuting within the city for most residents. The concern with overcrowding spills out of just the subway system to the city in general. As the pseudo-farce political party to emerge from New York The-Rent-Is-Too-Damn-High suggests, overcrowding has become a serious problem in New York. This story reflects the fear that overcrowding isn’t only uncomfortable and inconvenient (often driving the rent ceiling way up) but also an interpersonal problem when residents stop interacting.  Even though the subway would likely have been packed during the dead man’s entire trip no one manages to notice he is dead for a substantial amount of time. The issue then becomes the isolation experienced by residents despite, and possibly because of, the overcrowding of New York.