The End of the Line (2008)

What you'll see when your subway car has gone as far as a subway car can go

It's three o'clock on a balmy Sunday morning, and after hitting the majority of bars between Avenue C and the West Village, you slur to your friends that you're going home. Too cheap to spring for a cab, you stumble toward the subway, thinking that someone must have poured concrete into your legs, which as you fall through the turnstile are as heavy as safes. Perhaps the tequila shots and Rheingolds, chased by two pitchers of sangria, were a bad idea. But it's almost over, you think, slumping into the seat. Then you wake up. The train is stopped. Through your stupor, you realize you're at the end of the line. You desperately need food, and exit the subway with a drunken willingness to explore, having no idea what's out there. In an attempt to help, we've logged 20 hours of riding the New York City subway system to various end stations to report on the dangers you'll face in these uncharted territories.

Stuck in Queens on the G, R, or V train? Welcome to Forest Hills­­-71st Ave, a little piece of Stepford in New York. Mature, leafy trees extend their shade over brick manors, whose spires and arches suggest a cross between English country homes and castles along the Rhine. A smattering of Jaguars languish at the curb, and Martha's Vineyard T-shirts serve as standard summer attire. The chirping sparrows may be programmed to attack trespassers.

You'd think you could outrun the suburbs in the Bronx, but taking the 5 train to Eastchester-­Dyre Ave blasts that theory apart. Gingerbread-perfect brick homes line the streets, as BMW and Honda SUVs sit in driveways, hemmed in by well-watered front lawns and healthy begonias. The only sign of rebellion is a smashed Guinness bottle by the grocery store. But relax. At the end of the 2 train's nearby Wakefield­-241 St end station, the eerie grip on perfectionism has weakened. There, older men lurk around the train exit, actively holding conversations with themselves. Both a pet store and a fresh seafood shop have signs lauding their "rare tropical fish." Weeds have overtaken certain sidewalks, and littering seems to be in vogue.

Few things satisfy or scare like a late-night graveyard visit, and a trip to Woodlawn Cemetery, at the end of the 4 line, doesn't disappoint. If you can make it over the intimidating fence, you might consider grabbing one of the green, plastic watering cans found near the entrance, and tending a few graves. Or maybe just knock on the locked doors of the mausoleums, bigger than most studio apartments and engraved with names like Woolworth. Pretend that the perky-breasted sphinxes and stone lions guarding the tomb doors are alive and hungry.

Directly across from the last M station exit in Queens, at Middle Village­Metropolitan Ave, lies another expansive cemetery—this one packed with German tombstones, where the deceased, like Augusta Schuster and Gottlieb Lenz, "Ruhe in Frieden." But the real slice of hell is across Metropolitan Avenue from the peaceful plots. The shapeless brick building, lacking any architectural creativity, can only mean one thing—a "metro mall," featuring downscale stores like Conway's, Sam Goody, and that notorious clothing faux pas, Fashion Bug.

If you take the 3 to its final Brooklyn stop, New Lots Ave in East New York, you won't find many streetlights. You will, however, see an intense police presence. We spotted four cops and a cruiser within three blocks. There are few people loitering around the closed-up buildings or new construction along Livonia Ave, but there is a school—P.S.53-K—that sits behind enough metal and fencing to pass for a small prison. One thing is certain: You won't be accosted by a Starbucks or Gap here.

Between the local St. Patrick's church and the dots of light outlining the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the R stop at Bay Ridge-95 St offers up a feeling of tranquility—at least until you hit the neighborhood bars, to be avoided unless you have overdeveloped arm muscles, and wear gold chains and jeans bleached in awkward places. A few miles away, the Coney Island­-Stillwell Ave stop (D, F, N, Q) proves more entertaining. At 2 a.m. Saturday, the neon-lit cotton candy and game booths teem with people, garbage, and a few strung-out addicts. Passing out on the beach proves risky, as vehicles speeding across the sand zoom around people like construction cones.

Hazarding perpetual service delays, we cruised to the Brooklyn end of the L line, Canarsie­-Rockaway Pkwy. Nearly deserted at night, Canarsie seemed to specialize in churches, medical centers, and small homes. It's the other end of the L line—14th St, a block from Manhattan's meatpacking district—that twists stomachs into knots. The women dangling Manolos off their heels, sipping $500 bottles of champagne with investment bankers, combined with the pooled blood on the street, help create a scene so vapid and decadent that Anne Rice should set her next vampire novel here.

In general, there are a few basic truths common to end-station neighborhoods. First, 95 percent of all subways end near a Caribbean restaurant, meaning you'll never lack zesty jerk chicken or succulent cows' foot. Second, all Queens end stations have a nearby Payless Shoe Source, for those who enjoy asphyxiating their feet with plastic. And third, most people living near the end of the line haven't contemplated their unique position. "Never thought about it," said Omar, who works at Last Stop Convenience off the A line, at Inwood-­207 St. A Bay Ridge native agreed, "You're making me rethink everything."


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