"The Ghost Train" is one of the less unkind epithets applied to the G train by Williamsburgers and Greenpointers (the latter, in particular, since it's the only subway "service" at all in their neighborhood. It's also called the Ghetto train, the Good-For-Nothing or the Goes Nowhere train, and no doubt a few others that slip my mind at the moment.
There's no denying that it's the unwanted stepchild of the New York subway system, ranking only slightly above the Staten Island Railway in the gets no respect sweepstakes. There are frequently rumors that the MTA is deliberately making the G train as useless, inconvenient and unreliable as possible so that people won't notice or complain when they finally shut it down altogether.
I have a hard time believing that to be true, as a smoothly functioning G train would be invaluable for the many people who have to travel between Brooklyn and Queens and would prefer not going by way of Manhattan to do so. And one doesn't really want to think that the MTA isn't trying to make public transit as convenient and user-friendly as possible, despite copious evidence to the contrary.
But for one reason or another, the G runs "normally" (i.e., from Forest Hills to downtown Brooklyn) so seldom that soon a whole generation may soon have grown up believing that it always came to a dead end just two stops into Queens and two (or more) short of its destination in Brooklyn. Or that there's really no reason to expect a train more often than every 20 minutes, or that one would ever have a reasonable expectation of what track it will be on.
It was with this in mind that I trepidatiously boarded the G Sunday evening for a return trip to Queens (second in one weekend!). The reason I say trepidatiously is that I was on my way to Astoria to record a demo of a song I'd written for my friends' band Short Attention (they specialize in - nay, they only do songs of 20 seconds or less in length). When Short Attention first burst onto the scene, I wrote somewhere (probably here, actually) that they were "clever, maddening and annoying." Not only did the band not hold a grudge against me (not a visible one, anyway), but they used my words as the title for the first EP of, oh, I don't know, about 127 songs. And now they've asked me to contribute to their next EP, which is actually a concept EP, the concept being that all the songs will have been written by friends of the band.
I didn't really see the need to make a professional quality recording of the demo, but that's what we were being offered, including the services of part time recording engineer, full time record magnate Jonnie Whoa Oh of Whoa Oh Records, whose studio is located way out near the end of the N line in exotic Astoria. And the most direct route to the N, albeit with an intermittent flying one-stop visit to the 7, is the much maligned G train. And the reason I was nervous about using the route...
Well, let me backtrack (speaking of the G, hardy har har) a bit: you see, I have this, I don't know if you'd call it anthropomorphic or animistic tendency to believe that everything is not only alive, but also thinks something like I do. In other words, the G train has thoughts and feelings, too, and if it should be aware that the name of the song I was on my way to record was "What The Fuck Is The Point Of The G Train?" well, heaven only knows what might happen.
But lo and behold, the G showed up after no more than a two or three minute wait. This must be a trap, I thought, any minute now there's going to be an announcement that we're being diverted to South Ozone Park. Not the case, however; my trip went smoothly as could be, as did the recording session. No thanks to me; having not been in a studio for quite a few years, I managed all sorts of false starts, cracking voices, and general befuddlement before the ever-efficient Jonnie got a decent version down on tape. Then after a brief visit and a spirited discussion of world issues - Jonnie is one of the few people who has even more opinions than I do, and is even surer that he is always right - I reversed course and was ferried quickly and safely back to Brooklyn, once again via the N, the 7 and the G.
All the way there, the chorus of my song - which is the same as the title - echoed in my head, and I felt ever more regretful that I'd said such unkind things about the G train, which, as the only subway line that doesn't go to Manhattan, is no doubt already suffering serious self-esteem issues. I wondered if there was any way I could change the lyrics to something along the lines of, "The G train's really not all that bad, you know," but it didn't have the same ring to it. I was walking home when it suddenly hit me: the G train was guilt tripping me. It knew all along that its performance typically wasn't up to snuff, but rather than mend its ways, it decided to give me really good service just that once, guaranteeing that I'd feel bad every time I heard Short Attention sing that rather hostile (to the G train, that is) song of mine.
Well, the hell with it, I finally said, and decided to offer the G train a deal: you start running on the right track, going to the places you're supposed to go, and showing up at least every ten minutes or so, and I'll personally record a public recantation of my song. Chances of that happening = slim to none, I'd say, which is just as well, since I have not a clue how I'd go about writing a positive, upbeat song about New York City's most unwanted subway line.
But I was also kind of excited to have written a song again, however short (it actually clocked in over 20 seconds, a virtual rock opera by Short Attention standards), for the first time in at least seven years. And I've got a couple more in the works, just melodies so far, no words. I was beginning to think that would never happen again.