Last night, I rode along on the MOVE! art party train, an event put together by the Lowbrow Society for the Arts, for "experimenting with the use of public space, playing with the traditional means of how people view art, and ultimately bringing a bit of magic to an unsuspecting rider's daily journey."
The party gathered near the New Museum, then rode the J train from Bowery to Broadway Junction. Many of the hipster partiers wore costumes. They drank beer and ate mini donuts. They filled three subway cars. They handed out flowers and played old gin-joint music from the Great Depression with banjos and accordions. Some of the music was very good.
During the ride, most of the non-hip subway riders tried to ignore the party, doing their best to stay hidden in digital pods. They went on reading their religious books and playing their video games as if nothing was happening.
Yet others participated, clapping along to the music or indulging in a little face-painting. Women commuters took flowers from the hipsters and tucked them behind their ears. Parents held up their children to see the fun.
As we moved further along the J line, the locals became understandably less amused. The racial and socioeconomic divide became starker. At Broadway Junction in East New York, we stepped out to a quiet elevated platform, intervening with a different reality. The group of mostly white partiers clumped together, away from the mostly black neighborhood people waiting for trains.
One of the singers struck up his band to sing "The Lady Is a Tramp," announcing, "This song is about how money's not important!"
A man said to a group of partiers, saying with a bemused smile, "This is not the stop to be doing this kind of thing. Don't you know where you're at?"
"We're in Brooklyn," said the partiers.
"This is not a good stop," he said. "Don't you think if you were here all alone, you'd be mugged right now?"
"I don't believe that," said the partiers.
"Believe it. You don't know where you're at."
"Yes, we do," said the partiers, "This is our train, too. We ride this train every day."
The partiers danced at the platform's edge, before the backdrop of coming trains and the signage of a gravestone manufacturer.
Back on the train, heading home, the party broke out into ebullient chaos, with kids hanging from the handrails and swinging like monkeys from the ceiling. There was something exciting about watching this scene, the sheer madness of it, the music and stink of beer, the giddy carelessness.
As if there was nothing else in the world, and no other people, but this party, these bare limbs swinging, blood rushing to the head.
All but a few of the partygoers got off at Kosciusko. I stayed on with a couple of stragglers. The empty subway floor was covered with confetti and loose change that had fallen from the acrobats' upside-down pockets. Dimes, quarters, nickels. I counted a couple of dollars on the floor.
Around Marcy Ave., a black man eating from a bag of Dipsy Doodles stepped on the train. He looked around once, looked at me, then got on his knees and picked up every piece of fallen change.
Click here for more photos