Not everyone sleeps on the subway. Many people stare at those extensions of their hands with the ubiquitous little screens – although no more than the population at large. Quite a few read books, and a surprising number appear to be doing homework or cramming for exams. Still, it is remarkable how many people are sleeping – and the positions in which they seem able to do so. They sleep standing up and sitting down, leaning against a pole or simply propped up in the crowd. They sleep with their heads flung forward, pushed back, straight up or on the shoulder next to them. They sleep clutching their handbags. I live pretty far uptown, and if I get on the subway in the morning, the sleepers are already on board; and when I ride back in the evening, the sleepers keep on going after I get off.
Sometimes I ask myself why these people are so tired. I mean, being on food stamps can’t be that exhausting. And these folks are obviously on food stamps because they look exactly like the people whose lives Rick Santorum said he didn’t want to make “better by giving them somebody else's money." And they are surely the people Newt Gingrich said must learn to “demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps."
So why do I think that maybe these people are riding from someplace they can afford to live to the best – and maybe the only – job they can find? And they are tired.