“It’s here, the destination for New York City’s runners,” reads a sign in front of Asics’ sparkly new store on West 42nd Street, just off 6th Avenue. Inside the brightly lit space, amidst tables of athletic merchandise and a branded POS display, sits a genuine New York City subway car plucked from a scrap heap. It looks as if it was transported to the retail space by a late 70s time machine.
Cut in half, the train is in impeccable shape and is covered with what appears to be authentic tags from graffiti pioneers such as IZ the WIZ (RIP), NOC167, and REVOLT, making it something befitting of the Smithsonian. However, this is not a perfectly preserved specimen from the golden age of graffiti: The majority of those tags aren’t real, most were replicated by an artist.
The subway car was discovered at a junkyard in the Mojave Desert, according to the notes provided by Windsor Management, the licensee of Asics, whose name was done graffiti style on the exterior of the train along with a wildstyle Asics. Here’s video and stills from 2012 of a cameraman documenting some R30 subway cars at a sandy lot — the same model showcased in the Asics’ store — one of them with the number plate #8394, identical to one in the store. It apparently was cast in the 1995 film The Money Train. According to the lensman, who signed a non-disclosure agreement with the owner of the yard, promising not to reveal the location, the junkyard is where many Hollywood studios rent their subway trains from. “It’d be cheaper for them just to buy ’em,” the junkyard owner told the photographer of the stills. “But, then again, when you buy a few old subway cars where would you put them?”
The website Subway.org has a photo of the train in service in 1976. It’s that image that they must have modeled their train after, as the recreated graffiti on the front panel matches.
The press handout says the fully restored subway car was delivered to the city after 42 days of renovations, where artist PURE One was hired to replicate tags from famous writers and add some branded ones, like the drippy “Asics” on the inside. “I took a lot of the tags, a lot of lil nibbles were in place b4 though,” wrote PURE on @freshpaintnyc’s Instagram. Unlike the NYC-themed haunted house I visited last week, there was no vigilante onboard brandishing a gun, just a few headless mannequins and some t-shirts for sale to add to the ambiance.
To the MTA, it’s a symbol of everything bad. “For everyone who remembers the days of crime, breakdowns and fires on the subway system, an old graffiti-covered car like this is a bad memory,” wrote MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg by email. “For anyone who thinks this is fun to look at, we’re glad you can’t find it in the subway system.”
And yet that may be the draw. Graffiti is not the scary bogeyman it once was, becoming an attraction rather than an indication of violence. That, and a graffitied train nowadays is rare. Although a few get painted in the yards, and maybe one or two slips through the system with paint on it, for the most part it’s an anomaly. There was a time when a graffiti-bombed car with spray paint covering the windows could indicate lawlessness, but not anymore. This city has been so gentrified that crime on the subway occurs with far less frequency and intensity than in the late 70s – early 80s.
But it’s not like the details matter, or anyone can tell anyway. “I think it’s cool,” said Jared, 18. “That’s New York history.” His companion was impressed as well. “It’s just unique, it drags me in. I don’t even shop here and it dragged me in,” said Mykesha, 19.
The kids weren’t the only one who found it hip. “It definitely caught my eye,” cause I’m on my way to do something,” said Ray, 66. “I saw that and I said I just gotta go check that out.”
He also isn’t worried about the negative implications. “Creativity takes all forms. It’s a piece of NYC history that they use to sell their product. I don’t see anything out of pocket with that.”
Another passerby, Giovani, aged 46, snapped a few photos with his iPhone and put it simply, “I think this is perfect.”
(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)