New York: People ride in a hole in the ground

My favorite NYC tourist-attraction is used mostly by natives

Published: April 1 2014 | 4:28 pm - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:02 pm in

I've only spent time in one place where I could go to sleep with sirens blaring outside my window.

That's New York City. Put me in Minneapolis or Columbus or Cedar Rapids, and I need quiet to sleep. When I've had little choice but to pull over for the night and get a room in a motel next to a freeway, sleep never came easily. But put me in midtown Manhattan with fiber-thin walls in which I can clearly hear a conversation a woman is having with a man in the next room about how she pitched her novel to a publisher in the city and she got the distinct feeling the publisher didn't believe she could pull it off, it doesn't annoy me a bit. Well, not as much as it would in Bloomington, Ill.

In fact, I felt sorry for the woman even though she was loud and kind of shrill. Besides, I probably had my TV on a little too loud when I was watching the tail-end of the Wisconsin-Arizona game Saturday night, so we were even.

I just got home Monday from five days in New York, and it was a work trip. So it was a long way from five days of nothing but touring the city. Among the things I didn't do while there: Virtually everything that are considered must-dos for tourists. No Broadway show, no Statue of Liberty, no Times Square except to dance around the edges of it in meeting friends for dinner, no Central Park, no museums, etc.

That stuff's all great if you like it, and you'd have to be nuts not to like Central Park. But my favorite deal there is easy to do, and pretty cheap to boot. It's to hop on the subway, then hop off somewhere I haven't been, then just walk around.

The subway is great. I can't get enough of it, mainly because I don't have to use it five days a week all of my working life. You don't know what you're going to get. You're usually going to be squished against people. Sometimes they're good-natured and funny. Sometimes they're grumpy. Often, they just look weary. Sometimes they're speaking Japanese or Portugese. Sometimes they're holding onto a bicycle or a skateboard. Sometimes they're wearing a coat that identifies them as a boxer and happily tell you that they're 12-2 with 10 knockouts when you ask them their record, and they encourage you to come see their next fight. And you 'd do it if you could, but you can't because you'll be back home.

In one subway stop Sunday, a guy was on a platform playing a xylophone. When do you ever see anyone playing a xylophone anywhere?

I was riding in the subway one day on this latest trip when three men in their 50s or 60s entered and immediately started slowly walking down the car, singing a cappella doo-op. It was -- and I'm not exaggerating this a bit -- beautiful. But nine out of every 10 people in my car kept staring in their phones or gazing straight ahead as if it weren't happening, this wildly entertaining live performance close enough for them to touch.

I know, I know, it's everyday stuff to them. But how you could have seen and heard them and not smiled, I can't imagine.

I offered up a dollar bill as they passed me. One of them stopped and said "This man is more effective than Congress. He can pass a bill!" I'm glad to say I wasn't the only one in that train that laughed.


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