Subway Surf Report

Seeing The Sounds Of The Q Train

Horse cops. Fast cars. Falling water. This is a Brooklyn Bound Q Express Train. Stand clear of the closing doors, please. And don't forget your headphones.


The Subway Surf Report is a monthly column that investigates New York’s most underground scene. Each installment captures subterranean snapshots of humanity at its realest and most randomized.

I’m physically trapped within the confines of the train car by a hoard of poodles in matching vests—no fewer than seven, each sporting quilted puffers in varying shades of pastel. Someone is optimistically singing Fast Car despite the slow drift of traffic, a rush hour crush of bodies heading downtown on the Q. The train at the end of the line is freshly mopped, Pinesol seeping into the gummy floor. For some reason, the rush of air from the passing trains smells sweet like frosting, a confectionary impossibility. An ad taken out by the NYC Department for Aging states: Rhythm is ageless. Movement defines me. What’s so surprising about an older person doing the splits anyway? Frankly, I don’t think anyone would find it shocking down here.

In the rush and hum of Union Square, the clash of wheels on metal creates the precise opening note of "Aline" by Christophe as the trains screech out of the station. A horse cop (sans horse) trots down a tiled hallway, her tall boots clopping like hooves. A pile of Lotto Scratch-Offs rests on a stained orange seat, folded over a flimsy bag of fruit snacks. An old man in a groutfit is brown bagging a Twisted Tea. He drops it as the train contorts around a corner, but catches it before it sprays across the sticky floors, smiling through his grayed-out beard.

A girl with a gaudy Gucci bag gathered in her arms, Stanley Cup sticking out the top, gives me the stink eye. Red is everywhere. Red scarves, red jeans, red sweaters, red paisley platform crocs tapping to the beat of “Dangerous” by Lil Durk. Two boys sing little unintelligible songs of friendship to one another.

“In the rush and hum of Union Square, the clash of wheels on metal creates the precise opening note of "Aline" by Christophe as the trains screech out of the station.”

We rise from beneath the earth to rattle across the Manhattan bridge, the whole city lighting up behind us, flickering to life in the February dusk. The ice rink is still running under the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty hoisting her great nightlight just beyond the carousel. The water’s swirled with froth left behind from speeding ferries. Past the pirate ship playground, past the Shen Yun billboard, we stare into vacant refurbished apartment units and empty class rooms, sinking with the sun back underground.

The Q Train has baby fever. A mom watches and rewatches a video of her baby taking its first steps. The boy next to me is DMing a video to a friend of a toddler tucked into a swing. When a baby’s stroller wheel gets stuck between the car and the platform, six pairs of hands reach out from nowhere to help wrest it free. I come down with baby fever myself, getting in a stick-your-tongue-out contest with a three year old in a fuzzy beanie. “Mama, more choo choo?” he cries as he’s tossed over his father’s shoulder and carried out into the station.

A girl begins talking to herself as the rain starts to fall on Beverly road. We watch cops try to confiscate a bottle of wine from two teens who are taking turns chugging from it. A woman rests her phone on her green Telfar, bopping her head so severely to "Don’t Let Me Go" by MGK her whole body jostles back and forth. A couple on a bench is lady-and-the-tramping their Cup o’ Noodles. The woman next to them averts her eyes, watching her own fingers shuffle through a stack of rudimentary French vocabulary cards. Bonjour. Hello.

An old woman with a sharp bob plays the piano as a man swaddled in gray fleece sleeps behind her, cradling a Ginger Ale. A father with a papery bouquet of flowers traipses through the station. “Time passssssses,” a boy DMs his friend. “Only for us,” they respond. He toggles out of Instagram to scroll through Mbappe selfies on X. Selfies fill the phones of everyone in the train car: selfies with puppies, selfies with babies, selfies with books the thickness of closed fists. Sisters giggle maniacally, dancing by gripping each other's wrists and flailing them around. A policeman plays with his on-duty German Shepard, wrestling a chew toy from its mouth.

A woman slithers from the B train across the platform into the Q, bodying passersby with a bag that reads “We fashion. You passion.” A girl changes out of black buckle ballet flats into a pair of silver mary Jane pumps. A mariachi band lingers along the edge of the platform. One idly puffs their accordion in and out, a singular stringy note floating through the station. Little knit crochet flowers wrap their vines around the headband of a pair of AirPod maxes. A wiener dog waddles by, its coat crested into little curls.

Two little siblings, maybe five years old, share a book, flipping through its tiny pages together. They alternate reading words out loud, cobbling together choppy sentence after choppy sentence, tiny sneakers swinging just off the floor. The windows are filled with the whir of a passing train, Coney Island sprawled out behind it like a soggy picnic. Light bounces off of barred apartment windows, full families hunched over harkness tables eating dinner shirtless. The aquarium is lit up like a blue orb, casting a turquoise glow across the parking lot; stretches of asphalt ripple like great swatches of ocean in the rain. The shooting gallery is shut down, all the curiosities just waiting to be unpacked. In the bright white light of the Popeyes, it’s just all of us perfect strangers smiling our ways home.

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