Subway Surf Report

Front Row At The Freak Show: Views From the F Train

Ancient cowboys. Crowdsourced Breakups. Baby DJs. Don’t freak—The F Train is now arriving.

By Ali Royals

Photos by Cam Whaley.


A man’s bald head is transformed into a luminescent orb, glowing red in the light of an ironic screen advertising a child’s ad-free radio. It reads I’m a dinnertime DJ in blocky black letters. It’s late November but this F train car is impossibly humid—borderline tropical—as we rattle from Forrest Hills toward Coney Island. There’s a new MTA campaign hung between each window of the car attempting to minimize Subway freakouts. Nailed to the flimsy plastic wall is a pristine white square with a single instruction floating in the center: Don’t be somebody’s Subway story. For all the people who did not heed this warning—you made your way into mine.

Every single person on the packed bench across from me is asleep except for the old man playing subway surfers. The F train gets great cell service: so many screenagers sit, scrolling their personalized digital infinities, backs slumped softly off the plastic seating. The very adult man on my left is watching compilation videos of cats hugging puppies, cats drinking from hoses, cats jumping into mixing bowls full of flour.

The girl on my right is toggling between videos of herself pole dancing and a Spotify mix titled “Now That’s What I Call a Sex Playlist.” A girl is watching a TikTok about getting off of birth control. A woman is livestreaming a real-time childbirth from her phone. There’s a redheaded lady scrolling through R/Gallbladders, a construction worker watching Wishbone Kitchen cooking videos, a woman reading an article on The Cut called “Get Me Out of the Groupchat.”

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