Aside from their train’s emergency brake, a New York subway conductor’s most vital tool is their impossible-to-decipher voice. Although some subway conductors have a naturally confusing timbre to their voice, it always helps to prepare your vocal tools prior to a work shift. A few simple warm up techniques can help any conductor make even the most basic of subway announcements sound like they’re being said by an adult in Peanuts. This guide will help you conceal the words coming out of your mouth under an opaque cloud of gibberish words, trombone-like grunts, and whole sentences that sound like extended yawns.
When used correctly, your tongue can make any vital service change announcement sound like it’s dialogue in a movie where an explosion just happened and everyone’s ears are ringing. As a warm up exercise, try to keep your tongue completely still, hovering in the middle of your mouth. Now try announcing, “F trains are now running along the A line.” With your tongue motionless, you won’t be able to articulate a single consonant sound. Your passengers will have no idea what the hell is going on. Feel free to also try this exercise while holding your tongue between two of your fingers. Try saying things your passengers definitely need to hear, such as, “Express trains are now running along the local track.” You’ll find it impossible to string together coherent syllables, which means the exercise is working!
The jaw plays an important role in oral resonance. Similarly, it can play an important role in oral interference. A New York subway conductor’s jaw must be as inflexible as a steel beam in order to preclude any audible announcements. As a warm up exercise, clench your teeth as hard as you can. If it helps, press your chin into your chest and apply pressure with your hands on the top of your head. You’re going to want to get that jaw nice and tense. Another good way to ensure jaw pain is stress, so while you’re clenching your jaw, try to think about all the things you wanted to accomplish by this point in your life but didn’t. You’re well on your way to confusing a bunch of people who just want to get home.
A controlled breathing pattern is the key to good vocal production, so you will want to disrupt your breathing as much as possible. Keep your lungs on edge and never let them get into a comfortable rhythm. Stick your head in a bucket of water and only remove it once you can no longer hold your breath. Plug your nose with your fingers and breathe exclusively through your mouth like an excited dog. Make sure to also smoke two cigars right before your shift. Get that breathing nice and irregular and you’ll be making indecipherable announcements in no time.
Although your primary tool for announcement mumbo jumbo is your voice, a subway conductor is only as inaudible as their equipment. Just like your voice, you’ll need to warm up the audio equipment before you’re able to make passengers accidentally take the subway into the wrong borough. Run a large magnet over all of the speakers on the train prior to your shift. Static is your best friend so try to cause as much audio interference as possible by plugging an electric guitar into the subway’s audio grid and playing scales. Most importantly, replace the microphone in the conductor’s booth with a hairbrush like you’re in Risky Business.
Fill your entire mouth with mashed potatoes. This one is pretty straightforward, but it can make all the difference.
Bob Vulfov is a comedian and writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. His website is way fancier than he is: bobvulfov.com.