Head down. Sunglasses on. Earpods in. Kindle out. Does this sound like how you typically ride mass transit? If so, you’re not alone. We all do it. But, have you ever looked up and wondered if there’re connections around you worth talking to? We certainly did after learning more about @SubwaySocialClub. We’re thrilled that the club’s founder, Claire Feuer, agreed to speak with us more about her club’s mission and how you can join in! Earpods out, because this one’s worth your full attention. Claire Feuer founded Subway Social Club to infuse a sense of discovery and delight back into the typically mundane experience of commuting. Her club is over 3,000 members strong, and to say she’s onto something special is putting it lightly. Read on to learn how believing in the magic of transportation and communication led this entrepreneur to form an incredibly important movement, on none other than the NY Subway.
(Photo credit: Daniela Spector)
Hoboken Girl: To start, we’d love to know more about you.
Claire Feuer: Hi! I’m Claire, and I grew up in NYC in a transit-oriented family. My mother, Wendy Feuer, was the Founding Director for MTA Arts & Design. So, in addition to the NYC subway, I’m also a massive fan of the PATH train. I also started the Subway Social Club in late 2019 when I was living in Jersey City.
HG: Can you please also share more about the club?
CF: The NYC subway gets a lot of bad press, but in reality, it’s where so much magic takes place. The Subway Social Club is my way of giving back to the city and my neighbors, who have taught me much about life. We’re a club full of 3,000 curious and friendly commuters who love public transit. We host meet-ups around the city that are in, around, or about the subway.
Outside of our meet-ups, we also encourage people to forge their connections while riding transit. We wear special Subway Social Club pins to signal to others that we’re open to chatting and making new friends.
HG: Can you share more about the club’s mission?
CF: Sure! The club’s mission is to infuse a sense of discovery and delight back into the commuting experience by bringing people together. We believe it’s the people you meet and what you learn , along the way that adds to the sense of adventure.
(Photo credit: Daniela Spector)
HG: What are some stand-out moments you’ve come across riding the subway?
CF: There are so many stand-out moments. I’ve received so much life advice from strangers. A couple of months ago, I rode the D train downtown and met a homeless man released from prison for the 7th time. “To be alive is to be aware,” he shared with me. I’ve recently started on my healing journey, and I find myself repeating his advice daily to myself.
I’ve had a lot of great conversations, but I think it’s also essential to recognize the subtle camaraderie that happens between commuters. I attempted to have a verbal exchange with a deaf woman when she waved and stopped me. That experience was a wake-up call and reminded me that people communicate in different ways. While my preferred way to communicate is verbally and more forward, the exchange with that woman, and the pandemic experience, opened my eyes to how others share. There’s a lot of door holding, helping with carrying strollers, and smiles behind masks. There’s still a lot of kindness, compassion, and empathy.
HG: Wow, thank you. That is truly incredible. Can you share some funny moments as well from your travels?
CF: Well, it’s NYC, so there’s always some fun! One funny moment occurred at 42nd St. It was chaos. Tourists were getting on; tourists were getting off. Two women, with the strollers, were getting off, while another woman and her stroller were getting off. The doors were about to shut, and in good spirits, someone said, “Welcome to NYC!” and we all laughed. There was a comical sense of chaos and joy that ran through the crowd.
HG: What do you want folks to take away from what you’ve built, and why is it so important to you?
CF: There are two things that I’d love people to take away. The first is how vital transportation truly is, and not just in NYC. In many ways, transit is mobility, access, and freedom. You can hop on a subway car and ride to a completely different neighborhood with a different vibe. You don’t have to hop on a plane to explore.
The second thing I’d love for people to take away is the power of strangers. Being able to initiate a conversation is a skill that requires vulnerability and courage. When you exercise that muscle, you also open your doors, and so many opportunities await. I’ve learned that we have become experts at putting up walls. Still, by being vulnerable and starting a conversation, you allow yourself to be vulnerable and encourage others to do the same.
(Photo credit: Daniela Spector)
HG: It’s often said that there’s an inciting moment to all great creations. Was there an inciting moment for you that compelled you to create the club?
CF: My reasoning for starting the club runs deep and dark. When I was 14, I woke up to a stranger in my room. Police lights were flashing against my wall. It took me a minute or two to connect the dots and realize that the person in front of me was seeking refuge from the police.
As I came out of the shock, and fear, initiating a conversation with the man felt like the most natural thing. So I invited him closer to me and to sit down against my wall. I asked him basic questions, like his favorite color, and even complimented his Adidas shoes. And what that did was enable me to buy time, calm myself, and help me assess the situation.
I don’t remember how long the conversation lasted. Still, I learned that having a conversation is powerful and that talks can transform a tense and scary situation into one about mutual understanding and connection. I started the club 15 years later. After that experience, I began to think differently about the spaces that could benefit from people coming together. The subway is the space I’d like to hear more conversation. There are so many incredible people coming together.
HG: How can readers get involved?
CF: Right now, there are about 3,000 of us riders. It would be great to join the club, the concept, and come along for our adventures! We’re also looking for public transit-loving explorers to join our volunteer team to help build out the club in NJ too!
HG: So cool! Is there anything else you’d like to share?
CF: I’ve started social consulting, where I work with clients 1-on-1 to help them feel more confident initiating conversations with strangers. The last challenge is to strike up a talk on the subway.