The end of sucking subway tokens from turnstiles

Subwayturnstile1970sharlemImagine putting your mouth on a turnstile. Revolting, right?

Thankfully the existence of the Metrocard spelled doom for the practice of token sucking, or “stuff and suck.”

Yet for decades, it was not uncommon for the criminally inclined or desperate to inhale a token out of the turnstile.

“The criminal carefully jams the token slot with a matchbook or a gum wrapper and waits for a would-be rider to plunk a token down,” wrote Randy Kennedy in 2003 in his wonderful but now-defunct New York Times column, Tunnel Vision.

“The token plunker bangs against the locked turnstile and walks away in frustration. Then from the shadows, the token sucker appears like a vampire, quickly sealing his lips over the token slot, inhaling powerfully and producing his prize: a $1.50 token, hard earned and obviously badly needed.”

Some token suckers amassed more than $50 in tokens a day, wrote Kennedy. “Token booth clerks were known to sprinkle chili powder into the token slots most often jammed.”


“Some officers resorted to spraying a small amount of Mace around the regular slots and keeping an eye out for the usual suspects. The ones with bright red lips were then arrested.”

The advent of the Metrocard meant the end of the token era (RIP 1953-2003). And with the demise of tokens went the stomach-turning sight of someone putting their lips on a turnstile.

[Bottom photo: Wired New York]

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

5 Responses to “The end of sucking subway tokens from turnstiles”

  1. Glenrussellslater Says:

    Sucking subway tokens from turnstiles? Someone would have to be pretty desperate to go to those measures! Yech!

    I never saw anyone doing this.

  2. Richard Says:

    Ugh. It’s not just the criminal who put his mouth on the coin slot who was put at risk by this habit, but everyone else who used that turnstile whose fingers came in contact with it. Living as we do in the Purell Era, with a greater understanding of transmitting communicable disease via our hands, we can recognize this crime must have contributed to the spread of much illness in the city. I’m very glad it’s done with!

  3. Robert S Johnson Says:

    Reblogged this on The Quotidian Hudson and commented:
    A wonderful view of a now ended New York “tradition”.

  4. Ricky Says:

    What did they do with $50 worth of tokens?

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Resell them, I guess?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: