Like most New Yorkers, I enjoy that other New Yorkers exist... but I prefer not to force chatter upon them, particularly not of the small talk variety. I respect my fellow New Yorkers' space, and they respect mine. Usually. It's a fragile system, this one of respectfully ignoring each other, but it is one that was put in place long before our time, and has held up for a reason. Recent technological advances have, of course, strengthened these barriers we have in place, but it was built upon our strong desire to be left alone. Particularly when we're on the subway, where there's no escape from others.

New York City is wonderful for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that we can be alone... together. We can get whisked away in a wave of pedestrians on the sidewalk without speaking a word to any of them; or enjoy a solo breakfast atop a weathered stool at the corner diner, befriending only the formica; or zone out on a jam-packed train car, not even speaking to the person whose elbow is inches from your face. The opportunity to make a connection is always there, hanging in the air, and knowing that is usually good enough.

Rarely do we break the silence by, say, sliding into a subway bench and chatting up the total stranger you've placed your body next to. Only monsters would do this, I think we would all agree.

If you do not agree, then you may be interested in learning about the Subway Social Club, a new project that is my own personal nightmare come to life. The club admirably aims to make our hellish transit system a little friendlier, but what if hell IS other people?

Courtesy of Subway Social Club

The duo behind this social experiment are mother-daughter team Wendy and Claire Feuer, God bless 'em. Wendy has deep ties to our subway system, and was the founding director for the MTA Arts for Transit. Her daughter Claire is a life-long New Yorker in her 20s, and told me over email recently that "the subway has always been a social place for me... I always rode the train to hang out with friends so it was just a social experience."

She also correctly observed that "nobody talks on the train," which made her think "it would be interesting to see what would happen if it was more acceptable to engage in conversation" while riding the New York City rails.


"I graduated from Binghamton University in 2014 [and] one of my majors was cultural anthropology," Claire told me. "I've always been fascinated by culture, how we connect with others, and self-identify... and I realized that having grown up in New York, I identify strongly as a New Yorker. I began to dig further and began to focus on where I felt the most comfortable and at home, and it was on the subway."


With that in mind, she has set out to make that comfort zone a friendlier place; specifically, she'd like to create "an environment that celebrates conversation between strangers." She believes that "through conversation, we'll learn more about each other, break down barriers, share our stories, and hopefully learn something new." Sure, it sounds like some generic "hopes and dreams" mission statement, but, to use the parlance of Carrie Bradshaw, I had to wonder: are New Yorkers leaving potential new friendships on the train every day?

Maybe we should be talking to each other more... you know, when we feel like it? Some part of the New York soul must crave that, else we'd live in Podunk, and this 1950s subway ad declares we'd hate that fate...

A 1956 New York Transit Authority ad trying to convince "long-suffering riders of the underground that they are happier than they would be in the sparsely settled country side."

A 1956 New York Transit Authority ad trying to convince "long-suffering riders of the underground that they are happier than they would be in the sparsely settled country side."

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A 1956 New York Transit Authority ad trying to convince "long-suffering riders of the underground that they are happier than they would be in the sparsely settled country side."
Shutterstock

Claire and Wendy are going to make it easy on you—they've created pins and, presumably, if you are wearing one you'll be signaling to others that you are open to conversation. It is very important that you never talk to anyone that isn't wearing the pin, however—this is not their rule, but my own, because while the Subway Social Club aims to bring us together through subway small talk, my aim is to stare at the floor and get through this podcast I'm really into right now, okay?

"The pin distribution is just the start," Claire told me, noting that they also have a blog where they'll be featuring future successful friendships. She added that they'll "be taking a holistic approach to studying the subway, because I believe that to truly feel comfortable in a space you should feel comfortable with the people who surround you as well as in the physical environment. For example, the more you know about a station, it's mosaic art and the infrastructure, the more comfortable you'll be (in my opinion)."

Of course, the success of the project is in the hands of New Yorkers, who, again, traditionally shut down and zone out on a train. But Claire offers this inspiration: "I've met so many wonderful people on the subway and I'd like to show others that it's possible to do the same. In a world where so many of us are lonely, a conversation, or even a simple smile, can go a long way!"

For those interested in those pins, Claire said they'll be selling them on their website and giving them away during subway pop-ups they'll announce through social media.