With a 4-year reign as the Straphangers’ “Worst Train Service in NYC”, it’s not easy to understand why anyone would want to live off the C train. And when I first moved from living off the L to living off the C, I thought I knew what I had coming: mechanical breakdowns and long waits. Loud, rickety commutes populated by the fringiest of neighbors. Businesses I would only frequent out of necessity. But after 8 months of calling this little caboose and its territories home, I’m inclined to set the record straight. The C is AWESOME.
Are there downsides? Well, sure, it only comes once every ten minutes, if that often. The MTA claims it runs like clockwork, but all of us who’ve lived off the line long and have waited and waited know that that is painfully untrue. Also, the R32 trains on the C line haven’t been updated since 1966. The prehistoric screeching of a C train entering the station can therefore be likened to the sound of lobsters being boiled alive in Red Hook. The station announcements aren’t automated, and I think that most of the staff who run the C get a kick out of seeing how fast they can yell incomprehensibly at a stop and then close the doors. So those are the admitted disadvantages.
Now, the pros: the C recently acquired some brand spankin’ new R160 trains from the J/Z line when summer temperatures forced the MTA to reconsider piling customers onto dingy underground cars with little to no air conditioning. This means that once every few trains, you get to feel like you’re riding the L again (minus the ridiculous facial hair)! But the dim lighting on the old C is still great for late nights when you just want to nap a little in a corner… or hangovers the morning after when you can’t bear to meet the sun.
And while we’re comparing the L and the C: The community is incredibly diverse in South Brooklyn. Where in Bushwick I found only the tension between its longstanding Hispanic residents and the influx of White folk, I now revel among the West Indian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Korean-owned establishments that line Fulton Street. I never feel like anyone is specifically infringing on anyone else’s ‘turf’.
Let’s talk location: the C is accessible in many ways, since it runs along Fulton Street one of the hippest streets in South Brooklyn. If you’re ever far from home in Greenpoint, Prospect/Lefferts or otherwise, you can catch any bus labelled “Downtown Brooklyn” (B61, B38, B25… ad nauseam) and land yourself back at the top of Fulton Street. That’s right around the Jay St-Metrotech C stop, where you can buy socks on socks at the crazy discounted shops of the Fulton Mall. Hoyt-Schermerhorn is a stone’s throw away from the foodie wares of Trader Joe’s and Brooklyn spice/bulk institution Sahadi’s. Lafayette Ave. spits you out at the foot of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where you’ll catch some mind-blowing opera, theatre and music. Oh and also right next to Habana Outpost for your grilled corn and $3.50 drafts — not to mention the outdoor movie summer series. Clinton-Washington, Franklin and Utica gets you to some awesome bars (Hot Bird, Hanson Dry, Franklin Park, Therapy Wine Bar). Missing Williamsburg so soon? Past Bed-Stuy, you can transfer to the L at Broadway-Junction — or to the A for a beach day at Rockaway.
Accidentally bum-sliding into others is an important part of making friends on the C. Think L train design, but without the separating poles between the benches. And since 9 out of 10 scientists agree that there is zero friction on the C benches, what ensues is a series of rousing bouts of air-bum hockey along the way to your destination. This is especially true of the less crowded trains, when you might have a wider berth between you and your neighbor. I guarantee that somewhere between Lafayette Ave. and Hoyt-Schermerhorn, you will become a helluva lot closer with a stranger. That being said, those strangers show a kindness to one another that I have never experienced on any other train line. Whenever I run into the station yelling, “Hold the door!” as I hear the train screeching in, I see a hand or body shoot out to block the doors from closing. I see commuters smiling widely at the contents of mothers’ strollers. I meet tourists who are eager to chat about where they’ve been and where they’re going.
But perhaps the best excuse to live off the C train is that you can buy nutcrackers on the train. Watch for a man who appears on the A (after it replaces the C for local late-night service) around 2am selling 20 oz. bottles of jungle juice for 5 bucks a pop. He’ll also offers single cigarettes for 75 cents and bootleg DVDs for $2. His rhythmic sales pitch is like a lullaby that croons me all the way to my bed off Clinton-Washington, where I drift to sleep among the sounds of angry drunk people fighting over cabs.
Welcome to the C train, folks: the Brooklyn you’ve heard about in fairytales.