It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

Laura’s Team Pick:

Subway tokens? Check. Headphones? Check. Book? Check. Sunglasses? Check. As a frequent user of public transportation, I know the best way to ride the train is in full-on isolation gear. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m one of those stoic people who never smiles on the train; being a Friendly and Kind Commuter can put you at risk for harassment, a stolen dead dog or, at the very least, set you up for disappointment when everyone else is flustered and rude.

London-based artist Michael Landy’s new art project aims to explore the world of the subway-rider by looking at instances that bring people out of their bubbles of isolation. His project, Acts of Kindness, will appear all over stations and trains in the tube’s Central Line. He invites passengers to submit stories of acts of kindness they’ve witnessed while riding the train. Think of it as a combination between those gold stars you got in kindergarden and an advertisement for friendly people in London (ha!) (jk people in London are nice!). Naturally, I’m in love with this idea.

Running down the stairs to catch the train that had just pulled in, I hadn’t noticed my iPod falling out of my pocket until I was inside the carriage, watching a stranger pick it up off the wet platform floor. He looked up at me through the closing doors (while I had already assumed that I probably wouldn’t be seeing it again) and mouthed the words ‘I’ll wait here!’ through the glass. And he did.

If you live in or are planning a trip to London anytime soon, I’d suggest carrying extra water with you as an alarmingly large number of these stories end with very cheered-up people receiving bottled water from strangers. Who knew all it took to be someone else’s guardian angel was some Dasani?

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 308 articles for us.


    Use Scottish Highlands (nice and cheap), Evian or Volvic.
    If you’re posh San Pelegrino.

  2. I don’t remember any acts of kindness on the tube, but I did once see a sticker reading ‘Anti-gravity switch’ next to the emergency call switch. Someone had clearly gone to a lot of trouble to make it look official, I almost believed it for a second xD

  3. The kindest thing on the tube/night bus is me when I’m drunk. On separate occasions I’ve attempted to give away half a sandwich and cigarettes. No takers for the former.

    • Yeah, I once went to a meeting which was cancelled, and had bought lots of mini brownies from sainsburys.

      They were surprisingly hard to give away. One woman got quite angry at me and said “Wot, do you think I’m stupid.” Eventually I just put a sign on my back saying “Ask me for a free brownie.” which amused a few people and did result in me giving away a few brownies.

      Eventually I think I gave the remainder to a homeless dude.

      • I had the same problem with the cigarettes. People were totally sketched out by me. Some random guy ending up taking them; smart man, knows a deal when he sees one.

  4. London is good for that–once I got sick and was sitting down in a stairwell trying not to puke and some nice stranger did come up and ask if I was ok and offer an unopened bottle of water and a walk to the train so I could get home safe. That has never happened in Chicago or New York, no matter how sick I’ve looked.

  5. Last time I was on the London underground a man came up to me dressed head to toe in black with a big stick and told me I “had a gift” and he knew I could “see people”. That was kind of him.

    The time before that, a man was crouched down behind a seat staring at me. Then he’d smile quite sinisterly and laugh at me, before continuing to stare.

    Needless to say, I stick to the overground.

  6. THIS IS SO NICE. Nice things are nice. Nice people are nice. I wish there were more of them. Perhaps now there will be! Side note: BART is fucking depressing as hell after taking the tube for a little while.

  7. I had a very nice guy come and chat to me about politics, music and the theatre once. I still remember that because it was so random for someone to just talk to me, but it left me with a smile all day. I’ve had other people tell me I’ve forgotten my bag, help me up when I fell over…

    Then there were the drunk guys who serenaded me with Bohemian Rhapsody on the ukelele (interesting) and the guy who tried to steal my friend’s suitcase (bastard).

  8. Twice this summer I have had people sprint on to L trains behind me in order to return my wallet after it had fallen out of my pocket. Thus helping me avoid having two epically shitty work days.

    • While this is indeed a testament to the kindness of strangers… I think you need a bigger pocket or a safer way of keeping your wallet before a third stranger has to give it back.

  9. We need more nice people on the nyc subways. Whenever I see someone crying on the train, I offer them tissues, but the one time I started crying in the middle of rush hour everyone around me did that thing they do when homeless people ask for money.

    • Ooh, see, if I were crying in public I would definitely want everyone to kindly pretend I didn’t exist. Do people want tissues?? I never even have tissues myself.

  10. This past winter, my roommate tripped down the stairs going to a NYC subway. She broke her arm (and later needed surgery). While people were walking on top of her, a kind gentleman (whom she calls her knight in shining armor) waited with her for the ambulance.

    My subway experiences have been more bad than good (seeing an arrest, watching someone get beat up and dragged away unconscious), but I have seen people give up their seats and such.

  11. NYC subway is weirdly hit and miss. BK can get kinda rough, but I always find Queens pretty lighthearted w/ nicer people & smiling faces. I feel midtown is the worst as there is such a common bad mood of actual New Yorkers b/c of all the tourists. Lot’s of isolation/can of sardines going on (fu 5:30 PM Manhattan subway rides – ugh).

    I tend to listen to music or play a game on my phone just b/c it helps the ride pass by, but if I see people in their late teens, 20’s or 30’s that look cool I usually try to talk to them, or at least smile and comment on girls clothes or accessories if I like them (aka pretending I’m not eye sexing them and scanning fingernails and body language to see if they are in the club).

    Every time I see a “watch for the gap” sign I think of “Mind the gap” in England. Such a better way of saying it.

  12. Saturday night (on my way out, not coming home…) I was part of a great conversation between a kid with dreads and a couple originally from Australia which resulted in them touching each other’s hair. I’m still sort of unsure how I feel about this but everyone was very nice and happy. I chatted with all of them but did not partake in the hair touching.

    Also one late Wednesday night returning from Metro I saw a guy passed out on the 4/5/6 platform at union square. A few people stopped to help him. I sort of dashed around him and caught my train which was just pulling up as I reached the platform… does that make me a bad person? … it’s a long wait for another train at 2am on a Wednesday. haha :/

    I’m a wealth of subway stories, good and bad, and I’m sure if I think about it I have some London tube/night bus ones too.

  13. i’m about to have to start riding the bus in lubbock and i’m terrified. but the damn thing is free with student ID so i think some crazies are worth it. but from what i hear i need to carry something to defend myself with.

  14. That is so sweet! I love stories like that.

    Los Angeles public transpo is a mixed bag…usually weird/bad, but occasionally very neighborly and cool. I too tend toward plugging into my iPod and surreptitiously observing the humanity but have ended up experiencing everything from helping break up some extremely awful anti-trans violence to having an elderly woman insist I save my fare and use her two-for-one bus pass.

    • I’ve had a lady that looked about 70 try to fight me on the LA bus system so, yeah, mixed bag…

      • HA! Yes. I saw a gentleman of about the same age start using his sharp elbows to get a seat when the non-seniors around him were acting reluctant to help him out.

Comments are closed.