Getting Cozy on the Buenos Aires Subway
Thanks to my 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. work schedule in Buenos Aires, I have the pleasure of taking the underground subte (subway) to work during the busiest hours of the day. After living in New York and Beijing, I didn’t sweat the prospect of a 20 minute subway ride each day. That was before I realized how much I was going to actually sweat.
Buenos Aires is famous for its colectivos (color coded buses) but less known for its basic, functional subway system. The subte system in BA is composed of six letter and color coded lines that run in almost straight lines to or from the center of the city. Hence, in the mornings, the train only gets more and more crowded as it moves closer to the center, with hardly anyone disembarking until the last few stops. And lucky for me, I get off at the second to last stop. Forget carrying your cup of coffee on your morning commute, forget sitting down and beware of carrying large objects, there´s hardly space for riders.
My mornings typically go something like this: Arrive on platform, begin to remove layers of clothing before sweat strikes. Wait approximately three minutes. Train arrives. Grimace at the crowdedness and decide to wait for the next. Three minutes, train arrives. Take the plunge and push my way in with the crowd, aiming for a corner or safe place with something to grab on to. Unsuccessfully getting close enough to a bar, I rely on the crush of bodies around me to keep me vertical. We begin to creep and reach the next stop where a piercing wave of heat and human bodies hit me until I’m semi-lifted off the ground. Now my face is inches from the leather-jacketed chest of the man in front of me and legs awkwardly grasping for the ground, with only six stops to go. Then, strangely, people start pushing and shoving toward the door, even though there’s no sign of stopping. Everyone shuffles and attempts to let them through. My cheek is now stuck to the man’s jacket. As we slow for the next stop, I lurch forward with all the other bar-less people who appear completely unperturbed by their body parts touching strangers or the fact they are being crushed toward the floor. Train stops. Pushing and shoving ensues as a person or two gets off and a wave crams us in deeper into the car. You get the picture.
Even though I get frustrated with the subte on certain mornings and evenings, on good days it is a speedy, safe and enjoyable way to get around. My advice would be to avoid rush hour (7:30 to 9:30 am, 5:30 to 8:30 pm). If you do happen to take this form of transport, here are my Subway Secrets for a smooth and ideally sweat free ride.
1. If there’s room when you enter the train, move into the center. Farther from the bustle of the doors, the better. Try to position yourself above seats for the hope that someone will get up.
2. Scope out air vents/windows and position yourself in the breeze. This will help you look less like a drowned animal when you arrive to your destination.
3. Be forceful. If it looks like there´s no space to enter, as they say in Spanish “poner huevos,” or “have some balls.” Barrel in with the crowd and don’t be afraid to push a bit. A smile sometimes yields a couple centimeters, too, if you’re lucky.
4. Ladies, hold your bags over a shoulder and in front of you, zipped at all times. Gents, do the same. These safety tips are good rules of thumb for any public transport situation.
5. Be vocal. If the train is slowing down at your stop and you are three large men away from the door, proclaim “permiso” (excuse me) or ask “Bajas?” (are you getting off?) to the person in front of you to help plan your escape route.
After a few months, you grow accustomed to smaller personal space bubbles and daily close proximity, and the subte commute becomes just another part of the lives we love in Buenos Aires.