The best morning commute on the New York City subway is the silent one. Unfortunately, that's not very common. It's difficult to go a week without sitting by at least one person with a way-too-loud iPod.
But on the hierarchy of morning subway annoyances, inadequate headphones are on the minor end. Here are the three things that start my teeth grinding before the workday even begins.
3. People Asking for Donations.
I'm not even talking about the homeless or others down on their luck. The people I have in mind always enter the train and loudly announce that they've got peanut butter sandwiches for anyone who's hungry, making sure to clarify that you don't have to be homeless to be hungry. (That part always makes me roll my eyes. Does any well-dressed, white-collar worker on the way to Wall Street select a sandwich to make up for a skipped breakfast? Yeah, right. For that matter, I wonder if anyone takes a sandwich at all.) Oh, and they also accept donations, of course. Of course.
Frequency: Almost every commute.
The most common musician on my morning commute is a man with one leg, two crutches and a harmonica. He always plays two songs: one that wouldn't be out of place in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" followed by Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence." He shakes a plastic container that at one point surely must have held take-out soup from a Chinese restaurant, now replaced with coins. A few people tend to add to the collection as he expertly moves down the aisle. I admire his fortitude and very specialized skill, but it's still annoying.
Even worse are the mariachi bands. I actually like them in the afternoons and weekends. But before 10 a.m.? Not so much.
Frequency: Each and every day, almost without fail.
1. Students on Field Trips.
The absolute worst: 30 school kids with a handful of teachers and chaperones who pile onto your train. The younger kids can be cute, but with the older ones you have to listen to awkward flirting with each other. All of them are loud. And unlike the musicians and donation-seekers, who move on to the next subway car at each stop, the schoolchildren are in it for the long haul. My subway line goes to both the Statue of Liberty ferries and the 9/11 Memorial, so I can generally count on them messing up a good portion of my 45 minute commute.
Frequency: Once every month or two.