While waiting for the N train in the 59th & Lexington Station yesterday, I was sitting in one of the wooden seats in the center of the platform, and I could not help but overhear a conversation taking place between three teenagers sitting on another bench on the other side of a very large trash can. It was not a particularly interesting conversation and I was not trying to eavesdrop, but it was more so the way in which I was actually hearing the conversation that was so alluring.
The shape of the ceiling in a segment of that station is a very narrow half-cylinder that provides for some interesting acoustics. Though I could not see the teenagers unless I sat up as straight as possible and peered over the trash can, I could hear their entire conversation as clearly as if it were being broadcast from a speaker hanging directly over my head.
At first, I swallowed really hard several times because it initially felt like my ears were plugged. And I kept looking up at the ceiling wondering where this mysterious conversation was coming from. Finally, I sat up and peeked over the trash can at the girls sitting on the other side. Sure enough - the movement of their lips matched the words coming out of the invisible speaker over my head.
Even as the R train pulled into the station, opened and shut its doors and then departed, I could still make out the majority of their words. I remember being amazed by a similar phenomena when I visited the Whispering Gallery in St. Paul's Cathedral in London, whose name refers to the remarkable acoustic which makes it possible to hear words on one side that are whispered against the wall on the opposite side.
Note to self: Never have private conversations in the subway no matter how loud my surroundings are or inattentive others may seem.