"This is 110th Street. Next stop is 116th. Don’t forget to vote, if you haven’t already," a subway announcer told a full northbound 1 train at 7:30 last night. After a decisive pause—that he’d probably been practicing all day—he added: "Barack Obama."
Some perfunctory research and crude estimating reveals that he was addressing around 210 people, none of whom were obliviously talking on their cell phones. The mariachi men and legless war veterans have long exploited this captive audience, but somehow, I realized, the subway has remained a sort of promotional safe space when it comes to audio. The Obama pitch drew laughs because it was unusual.
Advertising over the MTA’s announcement system is not, however, unheard of. In 2006, subway conductors were hyping the Top of the Rock observation deck as part of their script when they pull into Rockefeller Center Station, apparently as a favor from then-MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow to Tishman Speyer, co-owner of Rockefeller Center. But they’re not doing it anymore.
When you think about how advertising has infiltrated every other minute of our lives—the TV screens in cabs and elevators, the links on Gmail related to your email correspondence, the giveaway breath mints on coffee sleeves—it’s amazing we’ve still got relative peace and quiet in a place where we’d be forced to endure anything they wanted to throw at us. We feel vaguely tickled, even, that a conductor actually broke the wall of silence and spoke to us.