By Nathaniel Nelson
Due to extreme damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, the MTA has recently moved forward in proposing major shutdowns of the L train. This, of course, from the occasionally beloved yet flawed institution that brings you constant construction, inconsistent late-night service, and weekend changes. While delays, rats, and rate hikes can be frustrating, major transportation shutdowns like this L train business don’t only function as a commute handicap. Sometimes a train’s discontinuation can mean more than setting your alarm clock a couple of extra minutes earlier every morning.
I went to high school on Houston Street, by the East River, and the closest subway stop was Second Avenue. Being just about a mile west, walking there on our way home after school became a ritual that required good company. Early in my freshman year a community was built around that walk, maybe stopping at Ray’s Pizza on the way, and then sitting on the last car on the V train, probably until the F came.
Designed to relieve pressure for the E and F lines, the V train ran from the Lower East Side to Forest Hills, and was generally regarded as slow and unpopular—in this sense, its fate was sealed from the start. In 2010, after only nine years (it was the youngest and shortest-lived line), the line was discontinued. The M line took over its duties aside from the Second Avenue station. It was all part of a significant cut by the MTA, and the V’s absence was even overshadowed by the W’s. Between increased ride fares and these discontinuations, the corporation shaved off some fat from its post-recession budget.
I’d have arrived on time to far more of my first-period classes if not for the M’s not-quite-full takeover, and saved countless minutes spent in both directions waiting for just one instead of two possible trains. Perhaps more so than anything, though, something was eliminated from our social circle. More folks began migrating to the admittedly better, though sentimentally inferior, Delancey Street station, creating a separation between them and us, the Second Avenue faithful. Those of us who continued to hang out at Second Avenue had to stand in the hot station instead of relaxing in our own train car, and I have a feeling the standing itself, after a day’s school and a mile’s walk, was a bit less conducive to easy socializing.
Maybe I’m being overly dramatic about something as banal as a transportation inconvenience, but I’m surely not alone in this regard. Many voiced frustrations, and even organized events commemorating the V and W. The death of a train can feel very personal to those who’ve made their lives along its route. “All cultures mourn in different ways. Some cultures wear black, others sing songs and eulogize the dead. Others pour out a 40 on the station platform at 36th Avenue,” read the “Final W train Ride” Facebook group created (and long-since deleted, fittingly) to organize a celebratory ride on the W’s final go-around.
A high school friend once told me something that struck me as totally preposterous, yet oddly significant. She lived on the Upper West Side, where she could catch the B or C trains to West 4th, before transferring to the F or V, but revealed to me that, if she had enough time to spare, she’d forgo a coming C train and wait for the B, even though the difference in time between each train’s route was the matter of a single stop (maybe one minute, if you did the math). She said the B “felt more homey.”
Mass transportation, while primarily a means for conducting one’s life in a more efficient manner, may mean more to us than we realize. In his 1991 book Mountain Goddess, William S. Sax, professor of anthropology at Heidelberg University, described the Hindu tenet that “People and the places where they reside are engaged in a continuing set of exchanges; they have determinate, mutual effects upon each other because they are part of a single, interactive system.” According to this logic, we do not simply exist within any given place, but of the place. It doesn’t take much, then, to extend this theory: that our current experiences—where we are, who we’re with, what we’re doing, and what’s being done to us—are shaping who we are presently, and continuously.
A number of psychological phenomena point to the body-environment correlation. I can attest to it from personal experience, and both research, and fiction have explored the fact that “When you visit a place you used to live, these cues can cause you to revert back to the person you were when you lived there.” Once the V train became designated as our chill spot, it was forever thereon our chill spot, and everyone’s frame of mind seemed to be open to it upon entering that space. The MTA cut, then, felt sort of like having the government remove my living room.
I also used to take the W train—it never sparked anything within me, though I’m sure for some other people out there the W was of some significance. In that case it was a simple means of transportation, whereas the V affected my life, if only in its very small way. I was even convinced a couple years ago that they were bringing back the V. Google searches today have proven that I probably just made up the idea in my head. It kind of feels like seeing my dead pet on the sidewalk, out of the corner of my eye, but when I look directly at it I realize it’s simply a stray—it doesn’t particularly change anything, or matter much in the end, but it indicates an absence, perhaps revealing more about myself than anything actually manifested in the outside world.
Like any subway route, this article was bound to end from its start. I have no words better than those that conclude the V train’s Wikipedia page:
“V service ended on June 25, 2010 with the last train leaving Lower East Side–Second Avenue bound for Queens at 11:33 p.m.”
Nathaniel Nelson (N8) is a filmmaker and writer.
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