The NYC subways are interesting places. I ride the subways quite a lot but I have certain self-imposed survival rules that I follow and am happy to share. I will rarely ride the subways after 10:00 pm. My subway curfew has actually been dramatically extended in recent years as memories of the ‘bad old 1970’s’ in the city recede from memory. Many of us remember the headline in the Daily News in 1975 that read: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” I would limit my subway riding in that era to daylight hours.
It’s certainly better living here now and taking the subways, if you overlook the occasional random beating over the head with a metal pipe (that happened to someone last night on the #2 train near Chambers Street) or the occasional pushing of some random stranger onto the track by a deranged person or the odd stabbing.
The best approach is to try to never look at anyone, or, in any event, never look for more than a second or two.
I bury my head in a newspaper or focus intently on reading my Kindle. I always have an existential struggle when someone gets on the train to make a loud and impassioned appeal for money about whether to look, or not look, at that person. If you look, he or she might expect a donation which I don’t usually give. (A fellow on the #1 train last week made just such a loud and impassioned appeal for money or food, saying he was “extremely hungry”, but had on what looked like the nicest new pair of sneakers.) However, if you don’t look, maybe he or she will reach for a metal pipe.
That said, my advice is simply to keep your head down and look as though you absolutely must finish whatever you’re reading. Then, when the announcement comes over the train loudspeaker encouraging you, “If you see something, say something”, you can report with incredible precision any activity you might see on the subway floor.