Overheard in NYC
December 20, 2004 6:45 AM   Subscribe

Subways, crime, high rents, and general frustration are not the only benefits of living in NYC; we also get to overhear the most interesting little conversations.

My favorite:
Street Vendor: Hey, hey, hey man, jewelry blow out special. Everything a dollar. Buy something nice for your wife for the holidays. One dollar!
Businessman: A dollar? I'm not gonna buy my wife jewelry for a dollar.
Street Vendor: It's the thought that counts.

--57th and 8th
posted by mountainmambo (42 comments total)
My fave (so far):

Woman on cell: I think they put onions in my sandwich. I'm running home now, let me call you when I get off the toilet.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:52 AM on December 20, 2004

I don't know which one inspired the other, but Tube Gossip has been going for quite a long time, and is now a weekly feature in London's TimeOut.
posted by LondonYank at 6:53 AM on December 20, 2004

Off topic: New York's crime rate is actually fairly low. It falls far closer to the bottom than to the top in the list of crime rates in USA's largest cities. I live 1.5 hours away, know several residents, and visit relatively frequently (and not just Downtown Manhattan), and I don't think anyone I know has ever been a victim of a crime in NYC.
posted by Plutor at 6:56 AM on December 20, 2004

Overheard in a street market in East London: (imagine thick cockney accents)

Young boy in stall (shouting across the crowd to his friend): Where's Ill-a-noise?
Young boy across the street in another stall: Ameriker!
YB1: Where in Ameriker?
YB2: California!

I used to "dictate" overheard conversations while riding the Caltrain (commuter train) back and forth from SF to Mountain View during the dotcom boom/bust. It made the ride seem shorter, but ultimately more vapid.
posted by shoepal at 6:57 AM on December 20, 2004

Sounds like Stan Mack's Real Life Funnies from the Village Voice in the 70s and 80s.
posted by 1016 at 7:12 AM on December 20, 2004

Varick Street, Lower Manhattan, Early Morning.

Large Hip-Hop Type Guy Talking on cell phone:

"I'll just keep my nuts shaved and everything'll be fine."


Young Office Manager Types in a group, Lower Manhattan, lunchtime:

"Those two, they don't along. They're like oil and vinegar."

posted by jonmc at 7:15 AM on December 20, 2004

". I've felt quite low since Derrida died... there doesn't seem much point in anything." From LondonYank's first link. Made me laugh, anyway.
posted by Grod at 7:21 AM on December 20, 2004

"Like, when I reach in the dryer and touch my clothes, I can't tell if they're cold or wet."

"I know!"

I am in Montreal hipster laundry hell.
posted by jon_kill at 7:22 AM on December 20, 2004

One lunchtime in Holborn, London, an area stuffed to its gills with lawyerly types. Two women walking down the street, in the opposite direction to me, so I only got a snippet of their conversation:

"No, they're recently mummified."

The big emphasis on "they're", is what made me take notice. It's the only time in my life, that I can remember, where I was so surprised at something I heard, that I actually stopped walking for a moment.
posted by veedubya at 7:24 AM on December 20, 2004

This is great. Now if it were only keyword-searchable.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 7:25 AM on December 20, 2004

DrJohnEvans, nice idea. Something like a Flickr for overheard conversations would be interesting. Link it up to some sort of GIS data and maybe Google's keyhole... Instant Cultural Zeitgeist.
posted by shoepal at 7:33 AM on December 20, 2004

Overheard years ago in lower Manhattan around tax time: "If you wanna be the man, you've got to beat the man, and I just ain't beatin' the man..."
posted by AJaffe at 7:40 AM on December 20, 2004

Spanish Lady: You welcoming me? You're the one with the accent!

Are you welcoming me?! Are you welcoming me?! Are. You. Welcoming. Me!

(/De Niro Imitation)
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:49 AM on December 20, 2004

My favorite overheard cell call...

"Dude, you called me 50 times last night! That's borderline obsessive!"
posted by sexymofo at 7:56 AM on December 20, 2004

Hey, this was one of the "new and notables" in today's issue of the Yahoo Daily Wire. I didn't think anybody subscribed to that but me!
posted by etoile at 7:58 AM on December 20, 2004

Two blocks from the Capitol, on Pennsylvania Avenue, neighborhood-fixture WAY-eccentric homeless guy (who I think is really Jimi Hendrix) to pigeon: "Get outta here, bird! Go down the block to those......CRACKHEADS! HAHAHAHAHA!"
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:06 AM on December 20, 2004

There's also In Passing, which hails from Berkeley:

"At first I thought he was high, but it turned out he was just a Scientologist."
"Huh. I don't really know much about them."
"Oh, there's a lot there. I thought you were the religion guru?"
"No, the only unusual religions I really know a lot about are the ones that South Park has made fun of."
--Two guys talking on AC Transit
posted by O9scar at 8:12 AM on December 20, 2004

This is good. I think you could also put together a pretty good page of stuff you hear other people say at movies (might already be out there for all I know). Also, a self-link to a funny conversation I overheard in my old apartment building in Toronto.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:14 AM on December 20, 2004

Moutainmambo, please come and clean up my keyboard:

Guy: Lady, you got great legs.
Lady: I'm a lesbian!
Guy: Okay, you're a lesbian who got great legs.
Lady: Oh...well, thanks.

posted by allan at 8:26 AM on December 20, 2004

TCC: that's awesome.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 8:48 AM on December 20, 2004

really small talk.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:07 AM on December 20, 2004

My favorite bit of subway dialogue was actually a short monologue.

Homeless guy (or at least very-down-on-his-luck guy), somewhat drunk, on the downtown 2 express train in NYC:

"You got a man. (beat) You got a woman (beat). You got a situation."

"Situation, situation, situation."

(The phrase "Situation, situation, situation" has now become part of our family's private language.)
posted by enrevanche at 9:27 AM on December 20, 2004

The New York Times has a similar weekly feature called Metropolitan Diary, There's also a book, which I have. I love these kind of things. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 9:56 AM on December 20, 2004

There's also CTA Tattler, a site for overheard conversations and other things seen on Chicago public transit. Another Chicago-based site is Things Overheard. (I have to represent my hometown!)
posted by SisterHavana at 10:01 AM on December 20, 2004

Here is my own personal favorite "overheard" event:

I got on a subway a few years back and got a seat. As the train moved along it became more and more crowded. This old guy comes in and stands in front of me. I offer him my seat.

Without saying a word, he grabs the overhead bar with both hands and does about 5 chinups.

I applaud.
posted by mountainmambo at 10:18 AM on December 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

I overheard a man earnestly tell his 4 (-ish) year old daughter that telling lies made baby Jesus cry. It entertained us for the rest of the day.
posted by biffa at 10:38 AM on December 20, 2004

Heard at a Starbucks:

"...yeah, i want to start work on that greenhouse. but i'm gonna need a crow's nest to pick off the fuckin' pigs if they come near my house..."
posted by iamck at 10:39 AM on December 20, 2004

Young woman walking down the street in Seattle, cell phone at her ear. I wa seated at the patio of a bar, and I heard her say..."This old dude comes up to me and says...what? No, like GROSS old, like about 30."
posted by vito90 at 10:50 AM on December 20, 2004

a san francisco version, started by a friend and I back in the late '90s.

Does SF really have enough proximity and foot traffic to merit a overheard conversation site? i once walked from Union St. to Haight (long ass walk) and didn't hear anybody say anything i could make out.

i did like the shut the fuck up dot com one.
posted by brucec at 10:59 AM on December 20, 2004

Best subway panhandler ever: My wife and I were heading to a party in Brooklyn when a guy in his 60s got on and made what at first sounded like a normal spiel: "Could you help me out? I'm hungry... I'm homeless... Please... some change... some food... a sandwich... an apple... an orange..." His voice turned up at the end of all these phrases, as if he were asking a question. When no one seemed to pay attention, he continued: "...and if no one gives me anything, I'll have to reach into the toilet, pull out a number two, and have it on rye bread. Yes, I will be forced to eat shit on rye bread." I turned to my wife and said, "Where's he expect to get the rye bread?"
posted by AJaffe at 11:08 AM on December 20, 2004

Does SF really have enough proximity and foot traffic to merit a overheard conversation site

well... we did stop updating back in 2000. But try riding the bus some time (the 30 is particularly amusing) for a great sampling of verbal chaos.
posted by hulette at 11:09 AM on December 20, 2004

My favorite overheard conversation:

"Sure, she's cute, but I like a larger-breasted woman myself."

The saddest overheard conversation:

"I don't care; he's only going to be my stepfather for another couple of months."
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2004

More overheard conversations: In Passing.
posted by WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot at 12:03 PM on December 20, 2004

Homeless guy enters my subway car. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am homeless. If you could spare any change blah blah blah." Makes his way down the car, no one gives him anything.

At the end of the car, he turns around and says, "Can I just say one thing? I just want you to know that this is the cheapest fucking car I've been on all night. Fuck you people." And then he left.
posted by fungible at 12:12 PM on December 20, 2004

One more favorite of mine:

Standing outside coffee shop in Brooklyn, I see a homeless guy talking on an old phone receiver with a severed cord.

He says on the phone:

"Sorry, can't talk right now, gotta head to the trash."
posted by mountainmambo at 12:23 PM on December 20, 2004

"Don't worry, the mugs'll have forgotten all about it by next week."
posted by emf at 12:39 PM on December 20, 2004

That 'In Passing' site is a trip. My favorite so far:

"Look at that. 'When stoners go grocery shopping.'"
"...they don't go deaf. I heard that!"

--A woman at Safeway gesturing at a guy with a cart filled with chips and Ben & Jerry's, and a guy standing near the first guy.
posted by flod at 3:20 PM on December 20, 2004

One of the best conversation I ever overheard was 2 girls walking out of the Humanities building at my university.

Girl 1: So did you actually answer all the questions honestly?

Girl 2: Mostly, but I lied on the question about ever having gotten the shakes. I don't think they need to know that.
posted by mister_gone at 5:06 PM on December 20, 2004

Best one I read was in the New Yorker. Guy's looking for a crosstown bus stop that no longer exists. He asks someone walking by, "Hey, what happened to the bus to the east side?"

"Crosstown bus don't stop no more."

And he says, "Do dah, Do dah."
posted by mono blanco at 7:04 PM on December 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

OMG, mono. I just peed myself!
posted by JeffK at 11:35 AM on December 21, 2004

A friend of mine and I occasionally recall together the homeless guy in Belltown (Seattle) who was mumbling semi-coherently: "The Mafia's gonna pistol-whip your ass."
posted by matildaben at 3:59 PM on December 28, 2004

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