Subway, Butts & Fear

About six days ago, I rode a subway train. When we reached a crowded stop, and the train doors opened, all of a sudden, a flashbulb went off from the passenger side. Some folks looked for the photographer. Most didn't, despite the "no photography on subway trains" rule now in effect since September 11. [La Mai's edit: I was incorrect on this, and fooled by many MTS station managers on this "rule"! See reader's comment below]

The photographer quietly and quickly put away his camera in his waist-case. He was dressed preppy-like, clean, nice. A professional on his time off. His movements seemed calculated, and if he knew that we were looking at him, he clearly had no interest in letting us know that he knew. Unfortunately, those of us who did notice that the photographer was Middle-Eastern looking, felt uncomfortable. I stared, and I know several others did, too.

Please note, La Mai has spent some time in Middle Eastern countries. I do not discriminate. This incident, however, was just too weird. In my 2 1/2 years living in the Big Apple, I have never reported "suspicious activity" and I consider myself a pretty alert kinda gal. One African-American passenger seemed clearly unnerved by what had happened, and stared the guy down until I got off the train.

Once off the train, I attempted to file a report with the station manager. The ridiculousness of what ensued was...well, just ridiculous. "Oh, he was probably just taking a picture of somebody's butt," she told me. No, really, this was not a butt-taking venture. There were no butts. At least not any sexy ones. He was taking a picture of the station platform and the door and the traffic there. I went into detail of his appearance, the camera used, the number of people at the station, etc.

She shook her head and wrote something down and did not ask for particulars of station or train car, did not ask for my name or contact info, although I had initially offered that information to her.

So much for citizen alertness. Sigh.

post-edit: It was not the photo-taking activity by the passenger that prompted me to speak to the station manager, but rather the context of the photo-taking activity. Tourists take photos on board subway trains all the time. So do I. It was something that you had to personally experience in order to understand. See my comment in the comments section.


Anonymous said...

Escpecially in light of today's events in London.

Thank you for following the rules.

-- Heidi

L said...

It was a year ago my brother had a similar experience. Mr. Meek and Mild surprisingly notified the conductor and the man was pulled off the train.

And I'd been looking forward to popping into the city on our trip up there in a few weeks.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop...

Anonymous said...

I guess you all didn't realize this, but it is *not* and never was illegal to take photographs on or of the NYC subway system. The proposed ban never went through. Thank goodness, because such a ban would be ridiculous. So you weren't really "following the rules" at all. And by the way, Heidi and "I", the events in London , while tragic, were not caused by photographs. You don't need a picture of a subway train to plant an explosive device in one.

One reference about the dropped ban: http://tinyurl.com/aylsg

Anonymous said...


There may not be rules, but there is common sense, and since my elderly parents still live in NYC and continue to use the subway daily, I thank you, Maitresse. Sometimes, living here on the farm, these things seem awfully remote to me, but the recent tragic events in London bring all the feelings of a few years ago back. I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop in NYC ever since September 12th.

And no, photographs didn't cause the recent tragedy and you don't need a picture to plant a bomb, but there's no denying that they could come in awfully handy in the planning stage.

Kudos to Maitresse and L's brother for exhibiting some common sense and the courage of their convictions, and for all those who bother to sign their comments.

Becky in Alberta

Anonymous said...

Great! Why don't we ban taking pictures of buildings, and pictures of people? Let's all just phone the police whenever we see anything we don't understand, or anyone we don't recognize! Why don't we just make it mandatory to report in 3 times a day, so that everyone knows what everyone else is doing at all times? That'll stop those terrorists!

The only way anyone can possibly display "courage of their convictions" [that other people are up to no good] in these times is by ratting everyone else out, right? Yes, that is the very definition of courage.

James in Florida.

la Maitresse said...

I am in agreement that a ban of photograph-taking is a dangerous thing. However, I run several other blogs, one for which I take photographs. A lot. Even in subways. Several times in the subway, I have been stopped and cited the "rule" about photographs in the subway. Perhaps every working NYC MTS station manager is mis-informed? Possible.

Ratting people out? No, I did not rat anyone out. I did not pull the emergency brake, nor did I advise the conductor to stop the train. I did not have a name; I had a car number, a description of clothing, and an activity that made several people, including me - and I live near a string of Egyptian hookah bars - uncomfortable.

I suggest those who feel I rat on random folks, to do further reading of this blog.

la Maitresse said...

and anonymous: thanks for the link. I can rest easy with my photo-taking; I'll just have to bring the article with me the next time another station manager attempts to stop me...

"In the same story The News also quotes NYPD deputy commissioner Paul Browne who says, “We are not pressing for a ban. Our officers will continue to investigate, and intercede if necessary, if the activity – photo-related or not – is suspicious.”