Biz Beat: The next stop is…
If you want some cheap entertainment in New York, go to the subway. It's crawling with plenty of interesting things to observe. It's also crawling with rats, so avoid those.
Your subway experience really begins by standing at the platform edge (against the better wishes of the voiceover lady in the "L" line stations) to see what kind of train is coming. On the "L," there's no point because there are only new trains, making it one of the best lines in the system, according to a recent study.
But on the other lines, it's critical. See a red circle with the train's letter or number, and you're in luck. You've got a new train! You'll be dazzled (well, I'm getting a little carried away) with the LED lights that tell you what stop is next, the fancy automated voice reminding you to "Stand clear of the closing doors, please," the well-lit interiors, and the lack of a putrid smell. It's wonderful!
On the other hand, you could see a large, off-center, lit circle barreling toward you. This is less good. These are decades-old trains, without the automated announcements or the signage to alert you of upcoming stops. There are also those awful 1970s-style, orange bucket seats. Some genius decided to put some seats facing toward the front and back of the train, leaving others facing inward. This creates a snafu because, in order to cram as many seats in, they forgot people actually needed to sit in the seats. These trains are also dirty, and they smell awful. The "F" train, conveniently the one I take to work, is the dirtiest of all. When you get on a new "F" (good luck, because there seems to only be one), there's instant relief.
And then, the worst of all. If you peer into the black abyss and see a faint green light (and lots of clanging going on down the track), you're getting a 1960s train! It's quite fun. It's like you've emptied a giant soup can, plopped in a few ugly, painful-to-sit-on, green seats, and got inside to go to work! The seats themselves feel like they're made of reinforced concrete, so there are plenty of them available. The "F" line has plenty of these antiques, and the "C" and "E" lines are full of 'em.
In Union Square (which also has great musicians), the moving platform for the 4, 5 and 6 trains is very fun. Despite ceaseless announcements not to stand on it people nearly fall over when the platform slides out to meet the train.
People not thinking the rules apply to them is a theme. Remember the voiceover man who says "Stand clear of the closing doors, please" in the new trains? People find all sorts of ways to disobey voiceover man. They stick their purses in the doors (dangerous), throw their bodies into the doors to stop them from closing (awkward), and wave their hand out the doors to hustle a friend onto the train (as if the train is an elevator). This irks the train's conductor, who shouts at the offending party through the PA system. Voiceover man does not get mad.