The whole subway car smells like soil. Fresh topsoil. There’s a gardeners’ convention in town. As part of a guerrilla beautification project, they’re planting flowers in the D train. Installing Benton planters under every window. It’s the middle of the night. The whole floor of the car is landscaped in thick layers of dirt. Men and women wearing overalls and straw hats kneel around the feet of sleepy travelers. Green thumbs, all. They trowel little hovels into the soil, dump bags of seeds in, cover them smooth. Begonias, forget-me-nots, Jacob’s ladder. They affix water pumps to the ceiling. Five times a week, it’ll rain inside the D train. Commuters will carry umbrellas even when skies are clear.
Still, there is the question of sunlight.
Across the tracks of the 110th Street station, there is a transit workers’ convention being held on the platform. They mill about, mingling, enjoying entertainment provided by street performers. They wear white hardhats and orange reflector vests. One man, Marty, shines a flashlight up into the rafters, afraid of bats. There was an incident once, on the L line, in the tunnel beneath the East River—the Canarsie Tube, only nobody calls it that. Marty shows everyone the chunk missing from his ear. Panels of celebrated transit workers discuss different topics in the stationary cars of a rusty old C train parked on the tracks. That explains why southbound trains have been a little stacked this weekend.
The D doesn’t stop at 110th. The gardeners, so absorbed in the crafting of flowerbeds, do not notice the transit convention as they flicker brightly by. Two of the gardeners talk about bowling, tearing seed packets with their teeth.
“We should go,” one says, cheek plump with wild violet. “Only two dollars a game.”
“Plus shoe rental,” the other says. “I throw the ball between my legs every time, it works well for me.”
“I’m a serious bowler. I bring my own shoes.”
Once, late at night, a woman, a sand castle architect in town for the biannual Coney Island Build, fell asleep riding the 1 back to her sister-in-law’s apartment. When she woke, the train had gone above ground, but she didn’t realize at first—instead she thought she’d stumbled upon a marvelous underground city. For a moment, she thought, How have they kept this secret?
Now, there was a solution—the gardeners could’ve planted on the 1, so their plants could lilt toward sunlight when the train rose up from the tunnel. But the truth is, they simply prefer the challenge.
The gardeners ride back and forth on the D trains all night, finishing their work. They won’t be here long enough to see if the seeds shoot. There’s no guarantee the flowerbeds will last at all. Next month, there will be an aquarium designers’ convention, and they’ll use the ceiling water pumps to add fish tanks to the walls. The month after, a submariners’ convention will remove the tanks and black out the windows, hoping to replicate the feel of deep-sea submersion during their stay. Then there’ll be the wind chime enthusiasts, the mirror makers association, the balloon animal artists’ union. The list goes on. No group comes to the city without leaving a fleeting, temporary mark. The only thing the same is the fluorescents flickering on the 3. The only thing the same is you.