Where else can you watch a man begging for mercy, listen to him say, you don’t have to pull the trigger to make me die, while another human two feet away quietly reads a short story by George Saunders. Meanwhile, I clutch a book on social theory while the subject of my reading stands clear of the closing doors and pulls away.
Where else can you see the fissures in our social fabric – the stitches and the holes, both of our own making, the daily workings of millions of industrious hands and minds.
We work in concert to make this – this city, a society of unions and breaks, of fierce bonds and immeasurable chasms between two humans seated side by side. Everything that comes together cleaves something else apart.
The importance of the subway cannot, then, be understated. Here, the explicit statement of need exists beside the need to walk away: humanity laid bare. The public space of the city makes visible our daily negotiation and contestation over space and resources. As a homeless person lays their body across several coveted seats on a crowded subway car, the upper classes are obliged to cede space. A rare occurrence.
The contestation must be visible, or we risk false reconciliation of real social rifts. But even as the rift appears before us, the doors of the subway car close, confining us: the city binds us together.