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The Slime on the Subway Floor

Updated on March 5, 2019

Whenever it rains it gets slippery. Unless you have a brand new pair of shoes before the treads wear down, any shoe with a flat bottom slides on any sidewalk or step that is also flat. Walking down the street you can count on slipping many times, as if you stepped on a banana peel. When you lived in the city as long as I have, you learn to walk very carefully whenever the ground is damp, which surfaces are safe, and which are a hazard.

This comes to mind on days when it snows or rains. The floors, stairs and platforms of subway stations become dangerously slick. But it is not from water, ice or snow. Something else coats the floor. Some kind of mystery oil or slime. It's hard to miss. Look on the platform of any subway platform during and after a precipitation and it will shimmer with dampness from one end of the station to another.

I use to wonder why after a rain event the entire Hunters Point station was always soaked. One end of the station is right next to the end of the tunnel where the tracks lead outside and up a ramp to the elevated tracks. I thought maybe winds blew rain and drizzle into the tunnel and onto the platform. But I realized the other end of the platform was over 500 feet from the opening, which was very doubtful the rain could go that far. The covered alleyway where I live is about 20 feet long, and in the worst weather neither rain nor snow makes it past the halfway point, leaving at least half the alley dry. The platform floor at Hunters Point was drenched all the way to the end, as if heavy precipitation made it all the way to the end.

But even more peculiar, the seats and the tops of garbage bins are bone dry. If it was rain drifting in to the station, it should have covered those as well.

I began to realize it wasn't just Hunter Point effected by unusually damp floors, but the floors of every subway station. Some with just a thin layer of moisture that coats every floor of the station, and some with something close to a puddle on all the floors. Always there on days it rained or snowed.

But where did it come from? The most obvious answer seemed to be from foot traffic. People walking around outside get water on their shoes, then track it onto the platform. With hundreds of thousands of people walking into the subway system on a rainy day, each tracking in a few drops of wet, all combining into a wet floor. In some stations the damp seemed to be limited to just the areas people would walk with the out of the way areas dry. Mystery solved, right?


Well, no. Many station, including Hunters Point, had wet floors where foot traffic shouldn't be, and on every part of the floors. Like right up against the edge of a wall, and underneath seats, and in nooks and out of the way areas where people wouldn't be walking. On every inch of the platform including the far end of the platform beyond the point where the train stops. It was just everywhere as if a foot was stuck in every part of the station, even in the corners.

And the moisture seemed limited to subway property. Whenever there was a station that directly connected to a mall or basement of a building, once you crossed onto the floor outside of the station, the moisture abruptly ended.

On closer inspection, the moisture wasn't even water, but some other substance. Some sort of slime, possibly some sort of oil. If you looked at it on subway floors with white tiles then you would notice it had a tea like color. It made all surfaces slippery, including floors that were coarse. Not much of a problem with shoes that still had treads, but would be a slipping hazard for all flat bottom shoes. In some stations it seemed to be gritty, but that could have been outside dirt tracked into the station. And it took longer to evaporate than water, lingering on the station floor hours after the rain outside ended. Even after the outdoor sidewalks had dried up, the dampness would still be on the subway floors. It seemed to take a full 24 hours for the subway slime to evaporate.

For a while I thought I had solved the mystery. while walking through the passage that connects the G train to the 7, I noticed water dripping from the ceiling. Looking up I could see tiny droplets of water everywhere. It was the condensation of the humid air from the outside precipitation. Once that humidity hit the cold ceiling, it turned back into liquid and eventually collected enough to form droplets. Indoor rain. This would explain the damp floors. Except for the stations where the seats were dry, or the fact that only sometimes there was enough humidity for this to happen, or that stations without cold ceilings for humidity to condense on still had damp floors. The condensation theory didn't fit.

So that left me with only one possible explanation. The slime was deliberately put there by persons unknown, most likely subway workers. Why? Who knows. Perhaps the substance is there to protect the floors? It would explain the inconsistency of some stations having just a thin layer of the stuff while others are soaked with it, or how some stations only have it in areas where passengers actually walk while others have it on every inch of floor. It is sort of like watching people applying sun lotion at the beach. Some just put a bit on the tips of their fingers and rub that much over their whole body while others squeeze gobs of it all over their body and wipe it all over. I have never actually seen anyone applying the slime substance to the subway floors. But I also commute later in the morning. For all I know, workmen spraying goo on the subway floors on rainy days is a common sight for the early commuters.

The only other solution to this mystery would be supernatural, and I am not yet ready to conclude that this is the work of ghosts, extra terrestrials, or that prankster Bigfoot. There has to be a rational explanation. Although, if it turns out that no one is applying the slime to the floor, and it appears out of thin air like a crop circle, then I don't know what to think.

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