We’re All @SubwayCreatures

A talk with Rick McGuire, founder of the popular Instagram account

| 10 Jun 2021 | 04:02

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you’ve spent any time on the MTA, you’re going to see something completely insane. Maybe it’s someone’s exotic pet, or a particularly enthusiastic busker, or, more recently, someone trying to pass off a full Star Wars storm trooper helmet as a mask. Subway Creatures (@subwaycreatures) takes the million moments of insanity people witness on the subway and loyally posts the best to its 2.2 million followers. The account, born as an Instagram account in 2011 after its beginnings as a blog, is the brainchild of Rick McGuire: a New Jersey-born former television producer, and now full-time curator of @subwaycreatures.

Do you remember the first post you made on @subwaycreatures?

Unfortunately, I don’t know. On any given day I go through hundreds of pictures. It’s funny, there was one time a guy sent me a message saying that he spent three hours straight going through the account and scrolling through and he finally got to the first post.

Was there a post that garnered particularly negative reception?

When I started, I was just kind of putting up anything that I could find. I didn’t really have any, like, principles, or system of what I was posting. I would throw up anything. That included homeless people, drunk people, people high on drugs. I didn’t necessarily look at it, at that time, as something to make fun of. I thought of it as something that’s real that’s in front of us. But as time went on, I realized that I needed to focus on the people who are trying to bring attention to themselves and try to either stay away, or protect, people who may not necessarily want to bring attention to themselves.

On the flip side, has there been a very positive reception to a specific post?

There was a photo of a drag queen sitting directly next to a religious Arabic woman, who was covered head to toe, all you could see were her eyes. That moment, and having that dichotomy, them sitting next to each other, was just such a New York moment. Anyone looking at it, you know that they’re living completely different lives, but they’re sitting right beside each other on public transportation.

Where do the most submissions come from, geographically, in the city?

There’s a lot of submissions from Times Square, because I think that’s where a lot of those cosplay people and tourists go.

Before the pandemic how many submissions were you receiving? And then during the pandemic, can you estimate the drop?

I know the drop, because it literally went to zero. Before the pandemic, when the subway was really thriving, I was receiving well over 100 submissions a day. Which is honestly crazy, because no submissions, means no one in the subway.

With an account such as @subwaycreatures, when New York is completely shut down, when people are scared to take the subway, did you see those moments as well? Were you yourself scared of the subway when the pandemic first started?

In the very beginning, I thought it was a lot of fear-mongering. I didn’t take it serious. I thought quarantine would be a couple of days, I never thought it would be weeks and months. I get a lot of submissions, but around March 17, submissions came to a complete standstill. That’s when I was thinking I might be in trouble. I started feeling like, Are we ever gonna go back to normal? What is normal gonna look like?

So how did @subwaycreatures adapt with no submissions?

What I’ve had to do is kind of get creative. Because submissions were so scarce, I basically went back and I did a lot of throwback posts, the best of the best, digging through the original blog. I was able to start a series of people’s crazy masks on the train, because people were putting some pretty ridiculous things on their face when they were on the train. Bags over faces, snorkels for scuba diving. And that series wasn’t just New York, it was worldwide, people all around the world, who were on public transportation, because we were all in it together.

There’s been so much conversation about New York being dead, about it not being able to come back, but we’ve all been noticing the subway come alive again. Have you noticed any differences in the content already?

People have been waiting for this, just waiting for the city to come back. Now that people are getting vaccinated, and masks are coming off, people are so excited to get back to normal and explore the city. We were all affected. One way or another. And it seems like an indicator that, you know, it almost seems like the weirder the subway gets, the more normal New York is getting.

Your content is, for the most part, about people. What have you learned about people with this account in general, but also throughout this past year?

To watch people persevere through this was honestly really moving. It was this feeling like “yeah, we are going to adapt. We’ll adapt to this situation.” And as tough and rugged as New Yorkers are, they’ll look out for each other. People always talk about New Yorkers and their perseverance. But I was really able to watch it firsthand.

“It almost seems like the weirder the subway gets, the more normal New York is getting.” Rick McGuire, founder of @subwaycreatures