subway trains, subway platforms, posts, escalators, stairs, posters, security guards, business men and women, couples, groups of young people, tracks, litter, lights, graffiti'd walls, speakers, ticket turnstiles, patched seats, torn seats, grime, dirt, street people, crowds, bench seating, tiles, pop machines, trash cans, police call button booths, public washrooms, advertisements, signs to the street, maps of the subway route under glass, portable map pamphlets, flash of lights as trains pass through tunnels, blurry/smudged windows, newspapers or coffee containers abandoned on seats, ticket dispensers/wickets
bells signalling the door is closing/train is arriving/leaving, station prompt on loudspeaker, people talking, coughing, laughing, music from ipods, static from security/police walkies, the whoosh of the train arriving or leaving, the whirr of the escalator motor, the buzz of electricity, doors clattering open & shut, the rattle of newspapers or magazines, cell phones going off, crazy people talking to themselves or ranting at the crowds, footsteps on tile, the creak of metal inside the train
dirt, musty fabric, urine, cologne, perfume, sweat, bad breath, the smell of newsprint, 'canned' air conditioned air, hair products, BO, breath mints, people who smell like cigarette smoke or pot, coffee, hot dogs
Food or drinks from vending machines (pop, water, chips, chocolate bars, coffee, granola bars, etc), gum, breath mints, chewing tobacco
Cold metal handrails and turnstiles, too-hard plastic seats, worn plastic ceiling hand loops, dry newsprint, smooth paper ticket (people generally avoid touching/holding anything on the subway), holding a hot cup of coffee or cold drink, slathering on hand sanitizer, rubbing shoulders with strangers, brushing against people, bodies swaying as train moves, sticky floor, cold air seeping around windows and rushing through open doors
--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.
The smeared plastic door shuddered open and the odor of urine washed over me. I took a peek inside and saw only one occupant--a man lying across the plastic bench, his layers of tattered clothing bulking up a sickly frame. An empty Jack Daniel's bottle clutched in his grimy fist, explaining how he could sleep through the too-loud station prompt on the speakers. Grimacing, I stepped back. I'd wait for the next train.
A pull on my hand and just like that, my daughter was gone. Frantic, I spun in a circle on the crowded platform, scanning the swarm of jostling bodies. "Betsy!" I screamed. "Betsy!"
A weak cry came from eight feet away, where a pale hand jabbed at the air behind a whale of a woman holding a large fist full of store bags. I dove through the surging crowd and pulled Betsy to me, not caring when I dislodged the woman's load.
--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.
Example 1: (Simile)
I followed Adam down the crowded stairs to the platform, flinching every time someone brushed against me. Why did he have to insist on using the subway like the locals did? My back stiff, I clutched my purse in both hands, staring down every stranger I passed. The place was probably packed with criminals trying to sniff out small town origins like it were some cheap perfume.
Example 2: (Metaphor)
I clutched the handrail and prayed for my stop to come. The electricity was erratic in my shuddering car, buzzing on and off, reducing my unsavory fellow riders to infrequent flickers. As the dark took hold yet again, I thought of a carnival fun house moving at lightning speed, one where the knife wielding psycho might be real.