White Noise Costs $2.75

Micha Lewis
2 min readFeb 4, 2020


Or maybe even the cost of a minty hot chocolate, short, with almond milk and whipped cream.

An Exercise in Overhearing. NYC.


Photo by Matthew LeJune on Unsplash

With a city so loud you’d think you’d be able to hear everything. This is what I learned: white noise costs $2.75.

But first and foremost, I can’t, won’t, sho’nt take credit for this idea. A lovely professor of mine assigned this this past week. Shout out to you. And thanks.

Encounter 1

8:21 am (Jan 29, Wed)

So I’m tryna do this thing…

Let’s see how it goes

On the newer model MTA subway train and the muffle of the cooling system seems to act as a white noise buffer between deciphering what anyone may be saying. Interestingly enough it’s pretty quiet- well NYC quiet- with the exception a few words here and there. I noticed the same masking of volume on this model of train yesterday evening. What I can hear: the screeching of the tracks, the blowing of the cooling system, the rumble of this train and others as they travel through the tunnel. That’s about it.

Why is it, though, that we don’t make eye contact? The struggle to find an open wall or shoe upon which to divert our gaze. Oh NYC

Encounter 2

Waiting to transfer

There’s some chatter between two young women, voices pretty perky for this time of the morning- 8:29am- commuter time. Morning people? Or the thrill of traveling with someone you know in this cold city? Mustard Yellow hat one of them- main speaker brown hair with coffee, smiling, open stance. Both white. Further away then I thought.

Main Speaker: “[Something something] wow” (laughs a little).

Other person: “no no no.”

Other woman: “ It’s not happening.”

“Sorry.” (laughs) “No.”

Encounter 3

Renovated older model R train

Man and woman speaking Spanish. Too tired to transcribe and I’m currently standing. It really is work to tune in during a hectic NYC morning commute.

This feels like volleyball or tennis when you’re waiting for that nice rally back and forth

“Yeah she had a son, so, her mom ended up…”

Same woman who was in Spanish now in English? 8:38am. Acquired a seat and began speaking English 🤔

Standing woman with bleach blonde hair speaking in a mixture of español and English

Navy-ish blue coat, looking at her phone, large handbag

Standing woman showing her phone to seated woman

The hum of the tracks really makes it difficult to decipher tbh

Giving it a rest for now (8:43am)

Look for the blog post “Damn, what is bes ________?” for the fourth and final encounter.



Micha Lewis

Learning the art of storytelling, probably breaking all of the rules