Observation Deck

What the L Train Shutdown Means for Sex in the City

Craigslist’s Missed Connections still features plenty of tales of lust, love, and longing aboard the L train. How will New Yorkers pine when it stops running?


In 2005, I was new to the city and newly broken up with the college girlfriend I’d been trying to dump for three full years. My extremely horny young body was trembling with the possibilities of New York. I can remember looking around on the subway one day and realizing with a shock that it was socially acceptable and age-appropriate for me to hit on any woman I saw. (This was another time.) It was dizzying and frankly made me do some idiotic things.

One of those things was posting a Missed Connection on Craigslist. The Missed Connection is something of a New York rite for folks of a certain age, and was a way for shy, perhaps creepy people to hit on each other over the Internet before the invention of dating apps. The addictive thing about it was someone might be posting a Missed Connection about you at literally any second, forcing you to check it multiple times of day. Which we did! Twitter did not yet exist.

L Train Shutdown
Photo by Simon Shim/Unsplash

Crazily, it really worked! I briefly dated a girl I posted a Missed Connection about; I’d caught her eyeing me on the G train as I folded up my physical newspaper (again, it was 2005). We went on two dates, during one of which she was briefly stolen away from me by a famous music writer. She stopped responding to my emails after that, though I kept seeing her occasionally for years afterward. When I finally worked up the courage to say hi—just casually, I mean it would be weird not to say hi, right?; we were sitting right across from each other—she acted like she had never met me and said in what seemed like a very genuine tone of voice that I must have dated her twin sister. Reader, I was too confused to be offended! Plus, if that was a lie (which it almost certainly was), how can you not respect the extreme ballsiness of it?

Today, like a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Missed Connections live on through sheer force of myth. We don’t need them anymore, but they established a place in our collective unconscious.

Today, like a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Missed Connections live on through sheer force of myth. We don’t need them anymore, but they established a place in our collective unconscious. Though, like some of the more gross Grimm’s tales, they are in danger of being lost forever because of one simple thing: the L train shutdown.

The L is by far the most popular train line for Missed Connections, according to an unscientific study I conducted a few days ago that involved me putting every single train line into the search bar and seeing what came up. But, as you’ve likely heard, we are soon to lose the L for an extended period of time.

Last week, the L train shutdown went from something bad that was probably going to happen (like climate change circa 2000) to something bad that was absolutely going to happen, and very soon (climate change, 2018). The last day of L service between Brooklyn and Manhattan is now officially scheduled for Friday, April 26, 2019. Service will resume 19 months later (but plan on two years to be safe).  

L Train Shutdown
Photo by Joshua Newtown/Unsplash

Since the MTA’s October 30 announcement, most of the discussion has been practical. How will the 225,000 people who take the train to work every day commute? What will happen to the businesses in Williamsburg? To the rent prices in Bushwick? Is the MTA’s plan to run 80 buses an hour over the Williamsburg Bridge without creating a bus lane as f-ing nuts as it seems, or has it been secretly spending five decades’ worth of maintenance budget on the research and development of a device that warps space-time?

This is like something O. Henry would masturbate to. The tension. The twist!

These discussions fundamentally misunderstand the L train. The L, as anyone who takes it regularly knows, isn’t just a means to get from A to B (in this case, hyper-hip Williamsburg and Greenpoint to downtown Manhattan). It’s a catwalk 20 feet underground, where the very best of us—that is, the young and stylish—selflessly give the rest of us fashion inspiration, shame us for growing older, and point to new and exciting parts of our body to tattoo. Many of my best fashion ideas were stolen from strangers on the L!

L Train Shutdown
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

But most of all, these brave actors in life’s rich pageant provide one important service: They make each other and us deeply, monumentally horny.

For evidence, just turn to its Missed Connections page.

“Yesterday night around 8,” begins one listing, titled “I was the girl in the bright green raincoat,” “I saw you get on the train and was immediately taken aback by your beauty. You had short, dark curly hair and you were wearing a blazer with a shear [sic] black top underneath. You stood in front of me and I couldn’t help but check you out. As the train emptied out you sat about a seat away from me and I contemplated striking up some conversation, but before I knew it, it was time for me to go. So I got up and walked past you. When I turned around to get one more good look at you, to my surprise you were already looking at me.”

This is like something O. Henry would masturbate to. The tension. The twist! The lingering question, ending “Hope to hear back from you, sexy stranger.” Will they or won’t they?

Every Missed Connection has its own flavor! “L train today. You hopped over closer to me” sounds like a lyric from a Matchbox Twenty song (that is the entire listing, FYI). “Former basketball player who walked off the L with me at Wilson” is a touching tale of friendship and sly romance: “We talked for a good five or 10 minutes after we walked off the L, but I was too intimidated to ask your number,” but long enough, obviously, to learn that he used to be a basketball player. I’m guessing professionally and that this wasn’t just a hobby he abandoned; if this was how you made everyone’s nickname, I’d be: Former watcher of Making a Murderer who eventually lost interest.  

“M4M: Monday 10/30 L train to Brooklyn around 7:15” is a rush-hour story about one guy desperately lusting after someone whom he’s sure doesn’t know he exists, but when he leaves, “as I got off at Lorimer, I walked past you to wink/smile and you were staring right back at me.” Classic twist! Amazing stuff, M4M.

This is what L train horniness does to you! You lose your head, you babble, you laugh at yourself, you self-consciously say things to sound mysterious.

“L train. You: woman in black corduroy jacket” is psychopathically specific. “You wore a black corduroy jacket with a Sherpa fleece collar. Black skirt and tights. You had a turquoise ring on your pointer finger. A red plaid scarf in your arms. Long wavy hair.” At this point I started to worry that the guy who wrote this post thinks Missed Connections is some kind of AI-powered police sketch artist.

This is what L train horniness does to you! You lose your head, you babble, you laugh at yourself, you self-consciously say things to sound mysterious like, “I wore a blue and yellow varsity jacket with a name that wasn’t mine.” OK? There is nothing else like it in New York.

L Train Shutdown
Photo by Leo Patrizi/IStock

And soon it will all be gone, at least temporarily. So where to turn, lo these two long years, for your flirty fix? I recommend sublimating your desires to the G train (worked for me!). However, an unscientific poll puts the F train at No. 2 for highest percentage of passengers who can only hit on each other via message board. Here’s hoping the girl in the bright green raincoat hops aboard!

When you zoom out a little, the really insane thing about the L train shutdown is that it’s happening at all. That America in 2018 still has the ability to inflict a little short-term pain on itself for massive long-term gain is frankly astounding. And honestly fills me with hope. I guess not unlike the hope it takes to think that a person might have also been looking at you, might also have wished they’d said something to introduce themselves, and is vain and horny enough to check a 2002-era website for a little note about themselves. Stranger things have happened.

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