Traveling on the New York City subway with a double bass can be tricky. Unlike a pianist who has to worry about virtually nothing when it comes to traveling, a traveling double bassist must be extra vigilant, especially when navigating the New York City subway system.
In this blog post, I will give you two tips that you must know before going on the New York City subway (cello players can also learn from this). So listen closely...
Tip number 1: know how to get through the turnstile with ease.
For those of you who don't know what a turnstile is (even tho you've probably seen one), take a good look at the picture below.
OK, so now that we have established what a turnstile is, let's move on to the big gate that sits next to the turnstile. This "gate" is what you will be using to gain entry into the train platform.
The service entrance..
There is a special entrance for the physically "handicap" that are unable use the small turnstile entrance, and although you may not think of yourself as 'a handicap kind of person', to the NYC metro employees, you are handicap in their eyes because of the size of instrument that you carry. But don't get upset just yet, because being labeled a handicap double bassist in the NYC subway system does come with its special privileges.
So you may be asking yourself, "what is this special privilege that I now have?", well the answer to that question is that you have the special privilege of using the service entrance.
The service entrance is extremely useful for double bassists, because no matter how large your instrument is, it will fit! (unless you play the octo bass...).
So now the question is, how does one gain access to the service entrance? Luckily for you, the service entrance is extremely easy to gain access too; all you need is some social skills!
Now lets take a look at the four-step procedure that will get you through the service entrance. Remember, the more you do this, the faster you will complete the procedure! (my record time to completion is 15 seconds, leave a comment of your record time below!)
Here is the four-step procedure:
- talk to the MTA station attendant at the booth.Once you go down stairs into the subway pit o' doom, kindly inform the station attendant that you are interested in the idea of going through the service entry gate. After stating your elaborate proposal, the attendant will do a quick visual audit to see if you are qualified to go through the service entrance. Remember, the station attendant has to be careful who they let in the service entrance, or else they could loose their job!
- Pay the fare. Once you are approved to gain access to the service entrance, the attendant will then ask you to swipe your card at the turnstile card reader. Uh oh! Now you are probably confused because the attendant just told you to use the turnstile card reader! (aren't you trying to avoid the turnstile in the first place?). The reason you are asked to do this is so that you can pay your fare first before entering the service entrance; FYI there is no dedicated card reader for the service entry gate.
- Turn the turnstile. I bet you are really confused now, because beforehand we established that your primary goal was to go through the service entrance, however so, you are still required by MTA rules to turn the turnstile. What on earth is going on here? Here is why you are asked to turn the turnstile first: turning the turnstile even tho you are not going to use it allows the next person to pay their fare so that they don't use the turnstile you swiped your card in to get a free ride. So it's extremely important that you turn the turnstile after swiping your metro card, or else you're going to be in deep trouble! So go ahead, and give that turnstile a good push!
- Use the exit! - As soon as you push the turnstile, the station attendant will press a button that unlocks the gate just for you (aren't you special!). Once you hear that "click" noise from the gate, pull the handle, and voila! You finally made it to the subway train platform!
So now that you've made it to the train, you are probably wondering how to ride the train to your destination in a comfortable fashion. I will explain how this works in the next tip.
Tip number 2: know how to travel comfortably on the train.
Double basses take up a lot of room, and this is especially true when riding on the subway train (gosh, dont you just wish you played the flute?). So what is the solution that bassist usually use you may ask? That solution would be to stand with the double bass and have the scroll of the bass rest on your shoulder. Unfortunately, the problem with doing this technique is that after a while, your shoulder and neck muscles will become increasingly strained over time, which can consequently cause a painful headache; this is what's called a tension headache. I'm not sure about you, but when I perform, I most certainty don't want a headache to get in the way! yikes!
After talking about the consequences of resting the double bass scroll on your shoulder, I believe now is the time to introduce to you a new way to travel with the double bass. I call this new technique the "diagonal plank". I call it this because your big wooden slab of double bass is resting in a diagonal fashion between the top of the seat and the floor. By employing this technique, you relieve your neck and shoulder pain because of the fact that the weight of the bass is no longer resting on your shoulder, but rather, on the seat (and technically the floor) next to you.
Side note - If you do find yourself in a situation where you must carry the weight of the bass on your shoulder for prolonged periods of time (lets face it, this will happen at some point), you can always get a shoulder brace that provides protection for your shoulder so you don't have to subject yourself to any unwanted shoulder injuries. I would recommend getting the Oacis shoulder brace since it provides padding coverage over the part of your shoulder that is most effected by the weight of the scroll.
Furthermore, I would love describe how to achieve the diagonal plank in words alone, but in this case, since pictures are known to speak a thousand words, and because I was able to take a picture of my own double bass in diagonal plank form, I will show you what it looks like below, and the next time you take the train, you can try it yourself. Please note (this is very important!) that my bass is resting at the END of the train car. I do this so that I don't end up creating a big wooden obstacle in the middle of the train.
Also, I don't know if you've noticed this, but I chose to ride in the first "leading" passenger car (a typical MTA train has 8-11 passenger cars per engine). This is because I don't have to worry about people coming in and out of the emergency train door - should they decide to jump train cars (this is illegal, but people do it anyway...). The only person who is past that door in the picture is the train operator, who is very unlikely to leave the train cab during live operations. Fun fact: If you do find yourself in the lead train car, you can look out the front window to get a good frontal view of the subway tunnel; it's actually quite a fun visual experience!
So there you have it folks! Two ways to navigate the NYC subway system with your double bass.
In summery, make sure you let the subway station attendant know that you want to use the service entry door, and make sure to place your double bass in the "diagonal plank" position so that you can sit down and relieve yourself from shoulder and neck pain.
What's that bass wheel in the picture?
For those of you who need a wheel and have always wondered where to get one, you can get the one I use on Amazon here. I got this wheel after I accidentally left my old wheel outside an Uber when I was trying to fit my base in a small car (I will show you how it's done in a future post). This wheel is one of the more expensive ones, but it seems to be something that will last much longer than the cheaper ones that use the "fake" foam tires. So I am almost certain that you will get more mileage out of the wheel I use.
Side note: By the way, if you are looking for Irish music to play for solo double bass, I would suggest checking out my piece "Irish Fantasy" here.
Make sure to...
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What a lovely informative article about getting around the city with a bass. I cannot imagine having to deal with an amp at the same time. In that case then, the small Acoustic Image amps (with a back pack) is doable.
Xavier, the inflatable type bass wheels not always the best route though. Sometimes the air leaks or they break down (even flat), while the foam type actually have LESS impact on the bottom of the bass and wear well. http://www.stringemporium.com/upright-double-bass-accessories.htm
thanks for this article!
Nice article! Social skills come in also when there is not an attendant and you convince someone to open the emergency door from the other side. Also talk about elevators or lack of working ones and a) how to ride an escalator b) carry the doghouse up 3 flights of stairs.