I ride the train a lot—two hours a day, five days a week, for the last 12 years (and counting). So, in the interest of science—and as a way to pass all that time—I have compiled this handy guide to a wide variety of commuter species. The next time you ride the train, take this field guide along and see how many you can spot.
A high school student who cuts school to go into the City with his buddies, usually for a Yankees day game, a Yankees parade, a Yankees pep rally, or St. Patrick’s Day, all of which involve underage drinking. These riders are not hard to spot. They wear authentic team jerseys and Uggs, nervously pool their spare change in order to pay the extra peak-rate tickets that they didn’t buy in advance, and then spend the entire trip talking about which direction is best to walk when they leave Grand Central station.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Pimples
A person who knits, crochets, sews, or does some other generally crafty thing on the train.
Distinguishing Characteristics: L.L. Bean canvas bag full of crap.
A person whose need to make small talk on the phone supersedes your need for sanity. I was looking through some old drawings of medieval torture techniques the other day (like you’ve never done that), and I came across one that was particularly disturbing. It showed a man whose arms and legs had been pulled off by horses, his eyes had been gouged out, and someone was laughing while pouring hot liquid into his disemboweled stomach. Now imagine that the guy laughing and pouring the liquid is me, and that one of the severed arms is holding a cellphone...
Distinguishing Characteristics: Look carefully for the numbers 666 somewhere just beneath the hairline.
Warning: This rider can be dangerous if antagonized with a sarcastic comment (trust me). Overheard phrases can include: “Nothing, what are you doing?” and “I am so bored.”
A commuter who boards the evening train with two 22-ounce, motor oil-sized cans of Foster’s beer. Yes, that’s 44 ounces of beer for a 45-minute train ride. If he drinks an ounce a minute, he still has an extra minute to pee! Subject also has been observed spilling various snack foods on his lap and not caring. Have you ever seen that scene in North by Northwest in which Cary Grant orders a Gibson in the dining car of the train and then charms the pants off of Eva Marie Saint? This is the complete opposite of that.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Untied tie, un-tucked shirt, sits near the bathroom.
A parent with a daughter who is carrying a doll dressed just like her, both of whom have hair appointments, followed by a reservation for high tea and a musical variety show, all at the American Girl store on Fifth Avenue. There are so many things wrong with this I can’t even begin to list them. Seen mostly on elementary school staff-development days.
Distinguishing Characteristics: A profound look of disbelief that asks, “Is this really what my life has become?”
The person who climbs into the metal trash bins on the Grand Central Terminal platforms to get a free discarded newspaper. That’s right, he’s sticking it to all the fat cats at the New York Times who are drunk on newspaper profits! The MTA trash police have mounted an 18-inch high metal barrier atop the bins to deter this behavior, kind of like how campsites try to keep bears from getting into dumpsters, but this specimen is tenacious and can usually mount the bin and reach in for his prize. Bravo, Sir. If someone is willing to go to this much trouble to save $1.50, I’m afraid the newspaper industry truly is doomed.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Long arms, no sense of shame.
The Two-seated booby
A person who spreads his or her stuff out over two seats, and then pretends to be asleep when new riders get on.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Very good at playing Twister.
He sleeps! He snores! He drools!
Distinguishing Characteristics: Open mouth.
A person so terrified of having to wait in line, that he is always the first person out the train door, into his car and out of the parking lot, thereby shaving precious seconds off the end of his commute while also (bonus points!) risking countless lives as he speeds through the parking lot.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Body-shaped dents in car bumper.
Of course, there isn’t enough room to name them all here. Please send us your field guide additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Korpics is the creative director of Fortune Magazine, and he lives with his wife and two daughters in Waccabuc. You can see more of his work at johnkorpics.com, and read more about his commuting woes at myeffingcommute.blogspot.com