I first met Rick McGuire in early 2018. I was taking his photo to accompany his Hell's Kitchen Playlist - 5 favorite songs and 5 favorite places. At that time, his Instagram account Subway Creatures had built a following of nearly 700k. It's now over two million.
When we chatted on Thursday last week, he was holed up in New Jersey with family. That morning, Governor Cuomo had agreed to close the subway every evening from 1-5am to sanitize and clean the system.
His last live post on Subway Creatures was on March 6; it was a guy hawking "The Corona Package" to straphangers.
Since then he's been posting "throwback" content. He's had plenty of videos submitted that he didn't publish, "I noticed that no matter what I post it turns into politics and it always turns into finger pointing. I try to draw attention to the positive things and less to the negative.” Since New York City went on pause, there haven’t been a lot of people riding the subways. Because of that, the homeless population started to make the subway cars their homes; there wasn’t a lot of enforcement. "It's a mess on the subways right now. I saw videos and pictures, and man it is rough, like it's really bad. It's good to see that they're actually doing something about that.”
Rick has always selected his content to feature the funny, the absurd, the weird. He learned these skills working on a TV show called The World's Dumbest... His job there was curating YouTube videos that would feature on the show. On Subway Creatures his curation skills have been tested in the crisis.
"There was a series I was doing about masks. People wearing funny, crazy masks. So it was funny to everyone that these people were wearing Halloween masks, plastic bags over their faces. So that was a series that was very entertaining. Then almost overnight, the CDC said, no, wait, everyone needs to be wearing a mask.
"Then it was a little less funny because now you realize these are people who may not have access to masks and they're just trying to survive right now. So it was something that you really had to be sensitive to, because now all of a sudden it's not funny."
So when do we get back to funny, to normal? "I've had people reach out to me who said, 'I can't believe I'm saying this. I actually miss the subway'. I laughed at that. I was like, you and me both. You miss the absurdities that you've always seen and you miss the daily rush hour, all the commotion and you just miss being around people and the crazy scene that is the New York City subway. Even though it won't happen tomorrow, we will get back to normal.
"We're all talking about a slow way of getting back to 'normalcy'. It'll be very interesting to see what role the subway plays in that because the subway is such an intricate part of commuting, but is also a way this virus is spreading. All eyes are on New York because of the population density and as always we are ground zero.
"The one thing that I tell people about Subway Creatures is that it is there to celebrate. It's not to shame, it's not to put down people. Our subway is what makes New York unique. It's the people that are on it. It's the situations that every New Yorker runs into on a daily basis and Subway Creatures celebrates the absurdities, the oddities, these very common occurrences that us commuters run into on a daily basis. "That's really what a lot of people are missing right now. I recently reposted about a guy with a motorcycle on the train. He was blocking the doorway. I was reading the comments and people were saying that as much as this guy sucks, they really miss this kind of stuff.
"It's a testament to how long people have been in this lockdown. People just want to get back to normalcy, whatever that means now."
Rick's been keeping busy - even though the Subway's not been funny, absurd, weird! He's used the platform of Subway Creatures on three fundraising projects. Raising $6,000 for the Bowery Mission with his illustrator friend, David Regone; collaborating with artist Adrian Wilson to raise $10,000 with merch to raise funds for #OneLovesNYC; and participating in Tank Sinatra's Instagram Live $1million fundraiser for the True Hero Fund.
Professionally, he's focussing his time on his newest viral Instagram account, What is New York. At just over 400k followers, it's a baby account to Subway Creatures. But it's of the moment. He's posting the same funny, absurd, weird content but from above ground.
"It's a great way of seeing how people are staying sane. You see the way that people are treating this quarantine. Whether it's doing yoga on the rooftop, or karate, martial arts. I hope that people think - maybe I'll do this too, I'll see if my rooftops open and I'll go up there and read a book or I'll go up there for the 7:00 PM clapping because we care. There's benefits to seeing this content. Our lives are on social media right now."
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