If the face is the mirror of the soul, it could be argued that the subway is the mirror of New York. Or maybe his face. Or maybe his soul. The cliché that it is the city that never sleeps is, in part, thanks to the fact that its main public transport is open 24 hours a day.

It was in their wagons where that New York crystallized, in which all social classes lived together, even if they were on their way to jobs with very different remuneration. The graffiti-filled subways were the showy postcard of inequality sponsored by Ronald Reagan’s neoliberalism. And thanks to the subway, New York is the great American city in which its citizens walk down the street and interact in a way that is so different from Miami or Los Angeles.

After the harshest stage of the covid-19 (when the metro closed at night for the first time in 115 years, between May 6, 2020 and May 17, 2021), the city outlines its new identity, and it is not It is no wonder that the chosen measuring rod was him. The iconic, anachronistic, adored and reviled New York subway. Now in alarmist headlines about violence (“Next stop: purgatory”, read on the front page of the New York Daily News at the height of the pandemic), now in the ring for the political debate between Republicans and Democrats for the recently voted midterm elections . Faced with alarmism and politicization, EL PAIS Semanal submerges 24 uninterrupted hours between carriage and carriage, platform and station, to take the human pulse of the city over which the shadow of dehumanization always hovers.

The trip starts at one of the highest metro stations in the world (26.7 meters above the ground) at 5:30 on a Friday. It is Smith-Ninth Streets, a viewpoint that offers a spectacular view of southern Manhattan for only 2.75 dollars (about 2.60 euros). Also from a scrap yard if you look down. The views inside the car are not detracting either, starting with an elderly Chinese man with a fishing rod. He goes to see him take the bait at Coney Island. He does not speak English. He doesn’t want a photo. He puts the surreal touch against the realism provided by Ky, an African-American born and raised in New York who has already spent two hours in transportation on his back. He can almost see the crane he works on from his Rockaway home, but the “Manhattan-centric” structure of the subway system makes commuting difficult. “I would get there sooner by swimming,” he jokes. He got up at three in the morning and left three children sleeping at home. If the subway commuter is the quintessential New Yorker, there is no one more New Yorker than him. But the image that lately accompanies the subway is also in that car and does not want to leave when the train reaches the end of the journey. “People are very wrong in what they believe that he is a homeless person. They consider them practically non-persons,” says Olga, 45, who works for the Department of Homeless Services. “Sometimes I see them more than once and greet them, and they are surprised that someone sees them and recognizes them,” she adds. The city, at the beginning of November, registered a total of 63,451 homeless in the reception centers. Another 3,439 remain without shelter, of which more than 2,200 have decided to settle in the metro. The city’s mayor, Eric Adams, promised, not without controversy, to “cleanse” the subway of homeless people. Olga cannot touch them or force them to leave the wagon. “We limit ourselves to informing them that they have other options,” she explains as a 60-year-old Latina woman who has been working on the subway in the cleaning brigade for six months enters that same car. She part-time here (from six to 10 in the morning) and the rest of the day (a whole day) she cares for an elderly person at her home. She is from Puebla, Mexico, and one of nearly 70,000 people employed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). explains a 60-year-old Latino woman who has been working on the subway in the cleaning brigade for six months as she enters that same car. She part-time here (from six to 10 in the morning) and the rest of the day (a whole day) she cares for an elderly person at her home. She is from Puebla, Mexico, and one of nearly 70,000 people employed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). explains a 60-year-old Latino woman who has been working on the subway in the cleaning brigade for six months as she enters that same car. She part-time here (from six to 10 in the morning) and the rest of the day (a whole day) she cares for an elderly person at her home. She is from Puebla, Mexico, and one of nearly 70,000 people employed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

At 5:30 in the morning, the subway heading to Coney Island takes this Chinese fisherman who doesn’t speak English and who doesn’t want to show his face. Ali CherkisKy, 33, is one of the early risers of travelers. At 6 in the morning he has already spent two hours on the subway to get to Coney Island on time, where he drives a crane lift. Ali CherkisThe violinist Heather dresses up as Wonder Woman for her 9-hour day at the Hudson Yards stop, where she welcomes Comic-con visitors with an ‘ad hoc’ repertoire. On mass event days she doubles her take. 

On the way to Manhattan, the subway is full of children going to school. A 33-year-old black woman gets on the train, with three children —ages 4, 10, and 12— who are already bathed, combed, and full of energy to go to school at seven in the morning. To two different schools. And she, after leaving them, follows her path to the university. She is in her first year of Medicine and studies when the children sleep. She talks a lot about the breathless lives of the great New York executives, but little about the daily frenzy of the less affluent classes, who combine children, more than one job, and studies to improve their social position.

At this time, the subway is active, but not bursting. The striking decrease in the number of travelers and the new habits and work schedules are manifested. Both have come together to leave the New York rush hour wounded. According to data from the MTA, the Friday in question registered 3,597,926 travelers, 38.7% less than it used to be on a Friday before the pandemic installed work from home. Furthermore, the fifth day of the week has become a limbo that is neither working nor festive, because, according to the Partnership for New York City, only 9% of Manhattan workers go to school five days a week. office. The emptiness in the great interchanges of the financial city is notorious: neither the World Trade Center nor the Wall Street or Fulton stations have the adrenaline rush that used to define them. In the absence of stock market investors, a black man appears with two bags full of bottles and cans. They have been called canners (from can, can in English) and, despite the atavistic shiver caused by the image of the bogeyman, they only try to make a living collecting recyclable waste that changes at five cents a unit.

Chris has been selling flowers on the New York subway for 42 years. “Indoor plants” qualifies. Ali CherkisAt 19 years old, Jeremiah animates the transfer in Times Square with three buckets of paint and some drumsticks. The MTA does ‘casting’ to ensure a minimum of musical quality in the busiest areas of the subway network. Ali CherkisA group of Orthodox Jewish adolescents have traveled to New York from Antwerp, in Belgium. Ali Cherkis

No sign of rush hour either in Times Square or Grand Central. The New York auditor’s office was clear in its message from him last September. Not only predicting a worrying deficit of 2,500 million dollars (about 2,400 million euros) by 2025 (another mirror: New York City’s debt by then will be more than 137,000 million dollars, equivalent to 133,000 euros), but ensuring that the data pointed to a correlation between the level of household income and their use of the subway for the first time in several years. In other words: the once super-occupied center of Manhattan is losing traffic (Penn Station, Grand Central or Times Square are between 64% and 70% of their occupancy compared to 2019) while other off-the-radar areas have almost tripled, such as Washington Heights, the Dominican neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan, and Brooklyn’s 59th Street, in the Mexican and Asian area of ​​Sunset Park. The class shaker is over, and if the Anglo-Saxon white population is already 31.9% in New York, on the commute to work it becomes an invisible minority. Is that what terrifies so much about the “new metro”?

The most ironic thing is that the few executives in suits and ties who do come to the office run and grumble as before, stressed by a mass and a non-existent rush. Trevor, a tall, blond young man, is the only one who agrees to speak, but he does so by going up the escalator that directly connects Grand Central Station with the bank he works for. He does not want to reveal his age nor does he want photos. He looks overwhelmed, even though his subway ride has been only 15 minutes. He represents an endangered species. It’s nine o’clock.

Rafy has been in New York for two years and has the name of his children tattooed on his chest, which he left with his wife in the Dominican Republic. Although she works in hospitality, she hopes one day to dedicate herself to audiovisual direction. Ali CherkisWhile other New York subway drivers run two full lines a day, Eddie, who runs the short S line, connecting Times Square to Grand Central, commutes 45 times during his shift. Ali Cherkis A Friday classic: the workers who come to the office with their suitcases for a weekend getaway. 

Another dress code gradually takes over the station. You can see elves, spidermen, manga characters… There is always a congress, an event or a summit in New York, and today it was Comic-Con. Many are masked like their heroes, others wear the mask that almost no one wears anymore but is still mandatory at the meeting at the Hudson Yards glass real estate mega-complex. 200,000 people are expected and they all get off at the newest station in New York, which looks wide, bright and with endless escalators that look like a cosplay parade. The fun and the proverbial exhibitionism give a rattle in the midst of the calm that still refuses to register in the census of the new New Yorkism.

As a soundtrack you hear Heather, a 42-year-old violinist who spends nine hours a day animating perhaps only 30 seconds of the travelers’ day. She has changed her outfit and is dressed as Wonder Woman. “One day at Comic-Con I raised double,” she explains. Like her, there are many artists who populate the New York subway. It is a right that anyone can enjoy, although since 1987 the MTA has been conducting a casting to select quality musicians that it places in 30 strategic places. Again, for only $2.75 you can enjoy excellent concerts. On this day, a 19-year-old named Jeremiah will appear in Times Square, offering a drum recital with just three buckets of paint and a pair of drumsticks while dreaming of studying Pharmacy at university. A veteran guitarist at West 4, in the West Village, will animate the nights Some in carriages, some on platforms or corridors. They accept cash and Venmo, the Bizum to the American. But if anyone has seen travelers pass by for years and has been able to raise their children with it, it’s Chris. This 61-year-old Greek is the owner of a flower shop in the corridors of the Rockefeller Center stop. “The media have ruined the subway. They have scared people. Those who say that it has gone back to being like the eighties do not know what they are talking about, ”he assures. He does know, and he says that the subway, which is also his office, is neither better nor worse than the surface. He has been selling flowers for 42 years — “all indoors, of course,” he clarifies — and the pandemic was about to achieve what 9/11 did not achieve. “Nobody wanted flowers in the midst of so much suffering. Only Valentine’s Day allowed us to remain open”, remember. The closure will come with his retirement in four years, since his children, over 30 years old, do not intend to continue the business. “They do well. It is very hard to get up early to go get the flowers at five in the morning, ”she explains.

The 1 train runs along Broadway street at dawn and, at the height of the Upper East Side and close to Columbia University, closes the night for many young students. 

Noon arrives and the swarm of those New Yorkers whose identity does not go through work begins. What will they do? This is the case of Rafy, a 34-year-old Dominican who barely speaks English and who does not stop chatting by video call with his wife, who is still in his country of origin. He comes from the gym, where he sculpts his muscular body, and on his pectorals he has the names of his children tattooed. He came to fulfill a dream, but for now his aspirations as a television camera director are on hold while he works in a hotel. “I don’t know if I like New York”, he sums it up without going into much detail. Fordham Road, the stop Rafy is at, has a nook and cranny that regular commuters know best to avoid at night. In daylight, about 15 syringes remain as witnesses on the train tracks. 

Another Dominican goes down from the Bronx to Manhattan. His name is Jeury, he is 24 years old and his name on Instagram is Divinamiel. This queer astrologer and spiritualist offers a very particular vision of gentrification. “I’ve grown up in a culture with all this bullshit about homophobia and toxic masculinity. I thank the gentrification that brought different people ”, he assures. And arriving at Times Square, the most striking diversity is that of faiths, since the station is literally a temple with preachers of all kinds. Special mention deserves the cult of the Japanese guru Ryuho Okawa, who mixes Buddhism and Trumpism in his ideology, but there is also a nice group of four orthodox Belgian teenagers spending the month of Jewish school holidays that contrast with the stoic face of Jenny, a 20-year-old undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant whose dream is to be a Christian music singer. At the moment she sells fruit in the underground of the big screens and Broadway shows. The five-dollar mango is her star product, but she says it takes her up to two weeks to recover when the police raid her and fine her between $120 and $250. “They throw away all the food we have prepared and take us up the stairs, they don’t let us use the elevator,” she says.

The once-crowded World Trade Center interchange, designed by Santiago Calatrava and known as The Oculus, on a post-pandemic Friday, oblivious to the adrenaline rush of rush hour. Ali CherkisIn Queens, the neighborhood with the most ethnic diversity in the world, the subway rises to the surface and leaves the ‘skyline’ behind it. Ali CherkisIn the Concourse / Moshulu yard, in the Bronx, the cars of the D line await their set-up. Ali CherkisThe 191st street station, in the Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights, has in its very long underground passage, the closest thing to a graffiti museum that can be seen in New York.Ali Cherkis

Times Square also keeps faith in tourism. Although during the pandemic it fell 67%, it is recovering slowly but surely. The official predictions for 2022 are 8.3 million international tourists, 5.2 million less than in 2019, but triple that of 2021. On the way to JFK airport, the subway is full of suitcases and clueless travelers with half a sleepy face cumulative half fulfilled. But to leave the city behind, Buster, a 73-year-old architect, doesn’t need to take a plane, but continue to Far Rockaway. He swaps wealthy clients who want an indoor pool in Manhattan for, 90 minutes away, a middle-class residential area on the beach that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but appreciated during the lockdown. Also this is New York. “I like it because I get away from the noise, but I’m close enough if I miss him”, he sums up. His father, a Filipino, emigrated to the United States during World War II and was in charge of giving his two children very Anglo-Saxon names. “I wanted to save us trouble,” she says. Buster studied at the Pratt Institute, a prestigious School of Architecture in New York, and raised seven children. She now lives completely and happily alone. The evening light and the way in which the subway, when crossing the bay of Jamaica, remains suspended between the waters, give a magical touch to her story. prestigious School of Architecture in New York, and raised seven children. She now lives completely and happily alone. The evening light and the way in which the subway, when crossing the bay of Jamaica, remains suspended between the waters, give a magical touch to her story. prestigious School of Architecture in New York, and raised seven children. She now lives completely and happily alone. The evening light and the way in which the subway, when crossing the bay of Jamaica, remains suspended between the waters, give a magical touch to her story.

The presence of homeless people in the New York subway (more than 2,200 of the 3,439 registered by the City Council) has grabbed headlines, starred in the controversial social policies of the mayor, Eric Adams, and opened the debate between vulnerability and the dangerousness Ali CherkisIn the vicinity of Wall Street, where the economic power of the city is concentrated, a man collects used bottles that he can take to an official recycling point in exchange for 5 cents per unit. 

Back in Manhattan, casino players board Aqueduct Racetrack, also in these confines of the A line, and upon reaching Grand Central the clamor of the last mass bastion is felt: a baseball game. It’s at Citi Field, in deep Queens, and fans of the bat coexist in the express car with the rich variety of races and ethnicities that make this county one of the most diverse in the world. As Manhattan recedes into the horizon (the subway surfaces in large stretches in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx), some commuters get off early to transfer to the local train, which takes longer but is less stressful. There’s Amy with her four-year-old son Calvin. “My relationship with the subway has changed since I became a mother,” Amy explains. “Now I am aware of all the obstacles it has for someone with a stroller or with a disability.” While accessibility is undoubtedly a pending issue on the New York subway, she’s in luck today, as upon arrival at the stadium station one of the MTA employees redirects her through a different corridor to avoid the hordes. Bad luck awaited them on the field: the San Diego Padres gave the local team a good beating, which lost 1-7. The end of this essential line for so many workers is on Main Street, in Queens’ Chinatown, an intense cultural immersion that has been chosen by Joe to celebrate his 29th birthday with four other Asian friends. today she is lucky, because when she arrives at the stadium station one of the MTA employees redirects her through a different corridor to avoid the hordes. Bad luck awaited them on the field: the San Diego Padres gave the local team a good beating, which lost 1-7. The end of this essential line for so many workers is on Main Street, in Queens’ Chinatown, an intense cultural immersion that has been chosen by Joe to celebrate his 29th birthday with four other Asian friends. today she is lucky, because when she arrives at the stadium station one of the MTA employees redirects her through a different corridor to avoid the hordes. Bad luck awaited them on the field: the San Diego Padres gave the local team a good beating, which lost 1-7. The end of this essential line for so many workers is on Main Street, in Queens’ Chinatown, an intense cultural immersion that has been chosen by Joe to celebrate his 29th birthday with four other Asian friends.

Four teenage cosplayers pose as Kodomo, Rengoku, Kuja and Mettaton. The mother of two of them accompanies them. Ali CherkisWhen late Friday night meets early Saturday, Danielle and Valyn head to work, but are caught up in the romantic spirit of a party weekend. Ali Cherkis Shakenah, a 27-year-old fashion designer, returns to her house at 3 in the morning, after having attended some literary talks for Muslim women in New York. Ali Cherkis Wonder Wheel, Coney Island’s iconic Ferris wheel, still sleeps while the tireless subway continues to bring passengers back and forth 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Ali Cherkis

It is already night and the border between work and play is more than demolished. And what better way to celebrate than by having a cocktail in one of the few bars in the metro stations. It’s called Nothing Really Matters and it’s in one of the passages of the 49th street station, on line 1. Adrien, the owner, opened just when all his tunnel mates (a barbershop and a Dunkin ‘Donuts) closed . His bet contrasts with the spirit of the subway: a cocktail is worth almost eight trips adding tax and tip. But it also offers something that the metro no longer has: bathrooms. The MTA closed them during the pandemic for safety reasons. The bar, with its 2022 inflation prices, is doomed to an adult crowd, unlike the African-American student couple from Juilliard School of Performing Arts, cuddling while waiting to go down to Washington Square. Her name is Morgan and Kevin. They are both 22 years old. They have been dating for a year and a half and, among the city’s 8.8 million inhabitants, they meet two fellow students as soon as they get on the wagon. Chance animates the conversation and warms up the promise of the night. The West Village rarely disappoints, and on Christopher Street, a few meters from the Stonewall bar, the founding stone of LGTBI pride, it is impossible not to look at the artistic couple Dragon Sisters, queer performers who, with more than 20,000 followers on Instagram, pose with a lot of attitude. they meet two fellow students as soon as they enter the car. Chance animates the conversation and warms up the promise of the night. The West Village rarely disappoints, and on Christopher Street, a few meters from the Stonewall bar, the founding stone of LGTBI pride, it is impossible not to look at the artistic couple Dragon Sisters, queer performers who, with more than 20,000 followers on Instagram, pose with a lot of attitude. they meet two fellow students as soon as they enter the car. Chance animates the conversation and warms up the promise of the night. The West Village rarely disappoints, and on Christopher Street, a few meters from the Stonewall bar, the founding stone of LGTBI pride, it is impossible not to look at the artistic couple Dragon Sisters, queer performers who, with more than 20,000 followers on Instagram, pose with a lot of attitude.

Terrence, a resident of New Jersey, crosses into Manhattan on Friday with his two children to buy DVDs. Ali Cherkis The smell of marijuana, which has taken over the city since it became legal in New York State, is also felt in the subway, despite the fact that smoking is not allowed in public spaces. Ali CherkisThere is always a congress, a summit, a festival or a sporting event in New York. On this occasion, Comic-con fills the subway with comic and cosplay heroes, heading towards the Javits Center, which used to be the mass vaccination center during the pandemic. 

A little further up, in the now blurred neighborhood of Chelsea, the L line leaves, which at eleven at night is a hipster caravan that leads to Williamsburg, in Brooklyn. It is the whitest experience (in terms of race) of the day, and Brooklyn is precisely the name of a 21-year-old girl who, like the boys at Juilliard, trusts in improvisation so that the night unfolds the magic of she. But, as usually happens as soon as the weekend begins, the metro also decides to improvise: the works change or interrupt the itinerary and the wait multiplies. And by the time it is possible to reach, with a non-functional shuttle, the deep and working-class Brooklyn of Broadway Junction, the other face of the night claims its part of the story. Getting there took almost two hours. Taking the train back to Manhattan, an African-American man of a difficult age to decipher shouts and accuses the whites he runs into of racism, who can be counted again on the fingers of one hand. On his side, 22-year-old True lives up to his name and confesses: “Going out in New York is always this. A fraud. I came all the way here for the birthday of a girl who’s not even that close to me and now I have to go back to the Bronx.” He is waiting at home for his non-binary partner. It’s two in the morning and I might arrive after 3:30. Those who decided to stay in Manhattan or the nearest Brooklyn return with a more positive spirit, although heading west to Washington Heights, the city that never). Maybe we have to go look for her back on 14th Street, at the Union Square station, one of those with a police booth and who sleeps contradicts itself. Among so many bodies present in absent minds, two sisters emerge who at three in the morning become enthusiastic about a literary meeting for Islamic women. Sakeenah and Firdaws, 27 and 25, are entrepreneurs: one has created a line of designer clothing for the modern Islamic woman, and the second sells Soba Hibiscus, a non-alcoholic drink with Nigerian ingredients. All travelers are arriving, sooner or later, at their destination. And on 191st Street, the station from which you can only leave by elevator, only two people cross the tunnel that maintains the essence of that nostalgia for the eighties subway, as it is a kind of graffiti museum. Loneliness can be confused with fear, but this is a good time to remember that the statistic is 1, 2 incidents of violence for every million travelers. It is true that it represents a notable increase and that dangerousness is the aura that currently pursues the New York subway (reaching its zenith in April with a shooting in the middle of the train that left 13 injured). Maybe you have to go look for her back on 14th Street, at the Union Square station, one of those with a police checkpoint and which congregates various profiles of social exclusion late at night. An African-American man sleeps while smoking marijuana (the smell of his smoke has become common in New York since it became legal in spring 2021). A young man is treated by the police for an apparent alcohol or drug intoxication. A passerby jumps onto the rails muttering… And the debate between the perception of danger and the real danger is opened. Of the confusion of crime with mental health, addiction and poverty. Of the order that does not correspond to the forces of order. Shortly before the elections, the mayor of the city, Eric Adams, and the state governor, Kathy Hochul, announced their flagship measure for the subway: 10,000 more hours of police patrol shifts and a reinforcement of 60 agents. “We must address both the perception and the reality of security,” said the mayor. How is perception changed?, one might ask. “We must address both the perception and the reality of security,” said the mayor. How is perception changed?, one might ask. “We must address both the perception and the reality of security,” said the mayor. How is perception changed?, one might ask.

At five in the morning, perception is clouded and all that remains is to return to the point of origin. Taking the only line that does not pass through Manhattan, the G, the day ends with two working-class whites who seem to have just met and are enjoying a night of passion, but in reality they have been married for 12 years and are on their way to work. They don’t look any older than they are either. “We met on OkCupid when hardly anyone was using it,” says Danielle, 39. Valyn, 38, wants to show her wife, on medical leave, her workplace, the New York City Health Department, where she works as a security officer. “I am sure that in the 24 hours you have been on the subway you have not found anyone like us”, she concludes. And she is right and she is not. 

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