Essay: Gee vs. Elle, A Tale of Two Subways

Gee’s been in her older sister’s shadow for a while. Like, since 1933. She heard legend of Elle’s flapper-filled carts and smooth shuttling of partiers from soirée to soirée, borough to borough, without ever so much as rattling their champagne, which they could drink whilst riding cause Elle was a “cool train.”

But Gee joined the grid at the height of the Great Depression, a harbinger (she was told) of misfortune to follow. Emblazoned with a cursed green — not unlike Elphaba’s, or the excrements from your last takeout food poisoning — she ran up and down, up and down while Elle traversed through hip Brooklyn, enjoyed technological upgrades, and even swam.

“I swim too, how do you think I get to Queens?”

“Queens? Hah! You just dip your wheels in that gross creek. I cross the East River and then chill with Chelsea. You don’t swim; you wade.”

Ooh that got her engines roaring! (“If they roared, you’d be quicker,” she could hear Elle taunt.) The worst part was Gee knew she was slower — it was clear from the waiting commuters’ moods at the one station she and Elle shared. Something about their disgruntled faces, even beneath manicured beards and subtle makeup, asked, “Does Billings have better infrastructure?”

She could deal with their existential questions. She could deal with their eye rolls when she finally lumbered into view. But it was the words of her role model and former transportee, Mindy Kaling, that really flattened Gee. She was ecstatic when Mindy’s first book came out — everyone, everyone, read it with her on morning commutes, guffawing and grinning — but Gee shyly hoped she would be mentioned in the autobiography, knowing she had played a minor role in a pre-fame Mindy’s Big Apple years.

Oh, she was mentioned.

Complain would be an understatement: Mindy jokingly dubbed her the “Rape Train,” winning her a car service to and from work and the pity of alarmed supervisors. All before Uber’s heyday! A perfectly pre-recession period when taking public transportation was not lowbrow but winsomely practical!

So Gee slumped into her own great depression. She became lethargic, increasing delays. She tossed lunch remnants onto the tracks, inviting rats. On her worst days she derailed, attempting suicide.

Then, in all its literary significance, the storm came.

Gee knew she was coming; Sandy made sure of that. Sandy’s that girl who lets you know well in advance she’ll be in town, then shows up early, gets drunk on the cheap vodka she brought plus the good stuff you provided, voms on your Moroccan rug, Pottery Barn chaise, and heirloom accent scarp, and finally gives you a damp, debris-smeared kiss goodbye. She’s the Anti-Irish Goodbye: the exit is loud and you can’t get rid of her. She knew girls like Sandy and — per usual — had planned on staying in.

Except Sandy had other plans. Her party rocked the entire grid, quickly turning Gee’s quiet night in with Zadie Smith into a full-blown GNO.

Gee was debilitated. Sandy had plowed through most of lower Manhattan and finished her Pennsylvania encore tour by the time Gee arose. Elle, used to several late nights in a row, rebounded, crediting a coffee shop in Canarsie (“It’s pre-up-and-coming”) for her precipitation-hangover cure. And so began Gee’s slow recovery and Elle’s daily heckles:

“You missed the rager of the century” or “How’s swimming to Queens?” (she wouldn’t set wheel in the borough for months) or, quote Chelsea, “I’ve never felt so windswept, so alive.” Alright, Chelsea, alright.

Their jeers didn’t matter — Mercury, usually in retrograde for Gee, heard her plight and smiled down.

Had Elle overdone it at Sandy’s bash? Could she not keep up with the myriad, gentrifying youths? Was her age starting to show? It seemed she was losing steam — an underground euphemism for unavoidable repairs, the plastic surgery of the MTA.

When the news of Elle’s closing broke, Chelsea took it to heart and then took to IG. The image showed Elle, sleek and shiny during her “#saladdays”, while the rest of the caption pleaded, “Who am I supposed to brunch with for an entire year?”

Choke on your eggs benny with maple sriracha, Chelsea: there’s a new babe in town. The steady tortoise! The ugly duckling! The 1996 Nick Faldo! (Look’m up, the WiFi’s free.) (It’s spotty in some of Gee’s stations but she’s working on it.)

About Billy McEntee

Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work at arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail and on Indiewire, Eclectica Magazine, HowlRound, and Brooklyn Magazine. He's often getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.

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