Part of me actually understands how tempting such an endeavor would be, although I personally would never do it: it's a way to do something sort of foolish and get a lot of attention, with relatively few risks to one's health.
Another part of me idly wonders why it's almost always men between the ages of, say, 16 and 30, who try to do this sort of thing. Is this the equivalent of older rituals that prove one's manhood, like walking on hot coals or circumcision in early adolescence? Is it that older people don't have time do try to ride the entire subway system? Is it that the part of one's brain that kicks in and prevents one from doing this hasn't yet matured in such men? And why don't women do this? Do they engage in equivalent feats of endurance designed to prove their womanhood? Do 3 inch heels accomplish the same goal?
This curious mind seeks to know. But I'm not seeking that hard. I have to get back to, you know, my paying job.
I can't explain what makes this feat jump out at me. I don't think its a manhood thing, as much as it is an awesome way to celebrate new york and our awesome transit system.
There are plenty of examples of this sort of thing that are much more risky. For example, I read somewhere that a certain number of people die every year from being crushed by soda machines (they weigh 1000 lbs) that they tilt in an effort to get a free soda. Almost all of them are males between the ages of 12 and 19. Not to mention wars, etc.
I knew a woman in college, Babs K.'68, who once claimed, in the alumni magazine, to have set the world record for eating jalapeno peppers, and to be listed in the Guiness Book of World Records. However, I didn't find her in Guiness, and I suspect this was her subtle way of poking fun at these sorts of contests; she did have that kind of sense of humor.
As for walking over hot coals, a physicist I knew at UCLA, Bernie L., enjoyed a moment of fame in the 1980s, including appearing on Letterman (or maybe Johnny Carson), by showing that anyone could do it without harm. The trick is to walk quickly, not walk over too long a distance, and not get any hot coals caught between your toes. It turns out that the heat capacity of your skin is great enough so that, if you follow those rules, you won't get burned.