Riding Out the Coronavirus New Yorker Style: The Art of Subway-Surfing

Image by Elizabeth Donohue


Let’s put it this way: New York isn’t exactly famous for its sparkling cleanliness. Moving to New York means becoming comfortable with the grime and grit that’s splattered on every square inch of this place. Spotting a street pee-er is not an uncommon occurrence. Most pizza places are right next to subway stations, placed perfectly for hungry commuters with no hand sanitizer. You don’t have to live here to know there’s a major rat problem, and roach problem, and unrelated—do any of us know how accurate restaurant ratings really are?


All it takes is one person to send every New Yorker into the MTA holding hand sanitizer and a medical mask like battle armor. 


And then rolled in the first coronavirus diagnosis. All it takes is one person to send every New Yorker into the MTA holding hand sanitizer and a medical mask like battle armor. 


To be fair, there’s a lot of mystery and confusion that surrounds this new disease. Doctors aren’t sure how easily it spreads, or how severe it is. And we live in a big, dirty city. We all have to get from place to place, and that method of transportation just happens to be akin to rodent tunnels, in cleanliness and infrastructure. Suffice to say, people are freaking out. Even worse, our government is handling this like Lena Dunham’s publicist during a controversy, if you know what I mean. And how do we even tackle the rising, racist, not-so-micro-aggressions towards Asian riders that are just trying to get from point A to point B??? I get it, invisible things like germs are scary! But come on guys, we’re panicking like a Southern state that just got an inch of snow during rush hour—commuting does NOT have to be this way!


If you are more wary of germs over the next few weeks, health officials have released information about the Coronavirus, as well as instructions and pleas for heightened personal hygiene. That includes inhaling (yes, inhaling) soapy water and not touching your face (sorry, not happening) but look around—something amazing is happening. Almost against nature. People are surfing on the subways, forgoing the poles in favor of self-trust and core strength.


You’ve certainly seen the incumbent New Yorkers do this. God, they’re like rocks. The rest of us… we’re rookies, teetering from 27th street all the way home. As a fellow commuter, I’ve gotten pretty good at balancing—one, because I get bored on the subway. The second reason is legitimately because, if I ever go to Hawaii, I want to seem unnaturally talented at surfing. I want to blow all the other amateurs away. And you can too! Whether you imagine yourself on a surf or skate board, if you’re interested in this special talent, please, read on. 


First, like any great educator, I must tell you this: Forget about looking stupid, about doing it wrong. You’re going to look dumb. Drunk, even. Falling all over the place. Think Gumby on rollerskates. Oh, and don’t do this in heels. 


Next, plant your feet firmly on the ground. For the easiest ride, face the wide, not narrow part of the car. This makes you more ~aerodynamic, probably~. The goal is not to counteract the train with your weight. Rather, you are the train. You yourself are a pole, planted firmly on the ground. Keep your weight as centered as possible, holding yourself between the arch of your foot and your toes. During your first few runs, use the wall or door as a safety to lean against, lest you go tumbling. 


Your weight is more likely to shift during curves and changes of speed. Again, center yourself and engage your core, thigh and calf muscles while keeping your knees slightly bent. While it’s a given to not be too loose, make sure you’re not too stiff either. If you can’t manage this balancing act, a pole isn’t going to kill you. There’s already e-coli, salmonella and a bunch of other hard to pronounce bacteria slathered all over that baby.


On average, subway cars are cleaned every six to eight weeks.


If the virus keeps pace, our hygiene habits will most likely change for the better. As you practice this germ mindfulness, remember that you will probably be fine, but children, the elderly and the homeless are at a much greater risk of infection. On average, subway cars are cleaned every six to eight weeks. Keep in mind, they’re cleaned by hand. So if you’re considering the Uber or wearing a medical mask (which scientists have proven is nearly useless) remember, some guy has it WAY worse than you. 


Also, be nice to your fellow neighbors on the subway, okay? We’re all on this train together, buddy, for better or for worse.