I Took the Z Train and This is What Happened!
Plus! CAFÉ ANNE book poll!! More on the missing appendage!!!
Welcome to Issue #96 of CAFÉ ANNE!
So much to discuss!
First, DID YOU KNOW that Prospect Park actually lies a tad west of Central Park? If you don’t live in NYC, you might not understand why this is so bonkers, but if you do, prepare to have your mind blown:
Someone tipped me off to this fact on Thursday and I’ve been dizzy ever since.
In other news, it turns out that plenty of you noticed the fact that the AI-generated drawing I used to illustrate my account of going an entire week without lying featured a lady missing a hand. You all were just too polite to say anything.
When I asked about it in last week’s letter, readers finally unleashed with their thoughts and theories.
David E. was one of several noting that it seemed less like a missing limb situation and more like a wrong limb situation. “Anybody else see (in the image of the truthful lady) a shoe as her right hand?” he wrote. “Dark part is the underside of the heel, and light part is the toe point away from her. I can't unsee it!”
Others suggested the AI’s “mistake” was actually intentional, given my request for a 19th-century-style drawing. “A missing appendage was probably more common back then. Safety wasn’t exactly a priority,” wrote Mark S.
But my favorite was the comment from Marina H. suggesting the bot was just doubling down on stylistics. “Not only does VictoriAnne have an anachronistic toddler-sized penny loafer for a hand,” she wrote, “but also the gent behind her would seem to have a hook at the end of his arm. Does the AI algorithm lean Steampunk? What gives?”
Finally, huge Cult-Gathering-in-Union-Square shoutouts to new paid subscribers Patty L., Alicia and Christine L. That’s enough $$$ to buy the Hare Krishnas a new harmonium!
I’m very excited for this week’s issue, of course. We’ve got a survey on books, books, books, plus an account of my very first ride on the Z train. Please enjoy.
CAFE ANNE SURVEY
Whoever Dies With the Most Books Wins!
I came across a fun poll recently. According to something called YouGov, just 25% of Americans own at least 100 books. Nearly half own fewer than 25, and 15% don’t own any books at all—including e-books!
Curious where I rank, I counted the books in my apartment. I was surprised there were fewer than I’d expected: 323.
True, I’m a bit of a minimalist who is always paring my collection, and I get most of my books from the library. Also, I probably have another 200 or so e-books on my Kindle. But even that doesn’t rank me at the top in terms of book ownership. Three percent of Americans own 1,000 books or more.
So now I’m curious, where do CAFÉ ANNE readers stand in the book ownership spectrum?
I’d also love to get your thoughts. Especially for those of us living in NYC, where shelf space is limited—how do you decide what books to buy rather than borrow, and how do you decide which books to keep? Please leave a comment or drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I Took the Z Train and This is What Happened!
After living in NYC for 27 years, I could proudly state I'd tried every line in the subway system. Including the super obscure Franklin Avenue S shuttle in Brooklyn! And the even more super obscure Rockaway Park S shuttle in Queens, which runs between Broad Channel and Jupiter. Except that wasn't really true. Until recently, I'd never set foot on the Z.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Z train. Some call it the unicorn of the subway system, because it's so seldom seen. Some even claim it doesn’t exist!
That's because it only runs ten hours a week. During the weekday a.m. rush hour, the Z runs in just one direction, carrying commuters from Jamaica Center in Queens to the Financial District in Manhattan. It naps all morning, enjoys a three-martini lunch and takes an afternoon snooze before schlepping riders in the opposite direction during the evening rush hour. And then it dissolves into the ether. Poof!
I'd never had any reason to take the Z, but it recently occurred to me—wasn't the fact that I've never taken the Z the best reason to ride it?
I did some advance recognizance before approaching my subject. Surfing the interwebs, I learned that the Z is an express train that runs on the J line, servicing stops that the J train skips.
I also discovered the Z has few admirers. While the G, F and L trains all have more than 100 reviews on Yelp, for example, the Z has just three, each awarding a measly three stars.
"Really, really, lame," sniped critic Chelsea D.
Meanwhile, a lengthy YouTube video, "Why We Should Eliminate the (Z) Train" has garnered 1,300 likes and 509 comments from city transit nerds, with most agreeing the Z has got to go.
"It's like the annoying little brother of the J," wrote calvinkendrick851.
And then there was the savage takedown on BuzzFeed. In an old piece ranking subway trains, the news site ranked the Z at #17 out of 21 lines.
"There is no proof that this train actually exists," the survey concluded. "No one has reported seeing the Z train in the wild. It is a hoax. Equivalent New York experience: An alligator in the sewer."
And you know what? All that naysaying just made me more determined to take the Z.
“Z" after all, stands for "zany" and "zenith" and "zorse" (look it up). I knew it would be an extraordinary ride.
Last week, I left my home in Brooklyn Heights at 4:30 pm so I could catch the first Z train heading from Manhattan to Queens. To fortify myself, I stopped at Drip for a cappuccino. Raina, the barista, asked what I was up to.
"Oh," I said, affecting a blasé air. "Just, you know, heading out for my first ride on the Z train."
Raina, it turns out, was a former Z train regular. She took it to Fulton Street, back when she worked a retail job. "I'd ride the J or the Z depending on whether the J was f— up," she said.
"Some people say the Z does not exist," I remarked.
"People on the internet.”
"Well, it does," said Raina. "That's like saying the Q doesn't exist because it runs on the B line. It does! I don't know what to say about that."
I actually had some questions prepared for Z-train passengers, so I sprang one on her: "If you had to chose between your first-born child and the Z train, which would you choose?"
Raina did not hesitate. "My first-born child, for sure," she said. "I hated the J and the Z! It was always f-ing late. Always!"
I got to Manhattan’s Broad Street station early. This is where J trains magically transmogrify into Z trains before heading back out to Queens. If you time it right, you can see the train's digital signage change right before your eyes—though you may go blind in the process.
I had ten minutes before the first Z was scheduled to appear, so I interviewed passengers waiting on the platform. Several praised the Z, remarking on the spectacular views afforded when it crosses the East River into Brooklyn over the Williamsburg Bridge.
But Leisa, a Wall Street recruiter who lives in Bushwick, wasn't having it.
"The Z train has an attitude!" she said. "It skips stops! It runs on the local track as if it's going to stop, but it then it just rolls right through."
"What does the Z stand for?" I asked.
"Zoolander!" she said, citing the Ben Stiller movie character. "Cuz Zoolander was crazy and whoever thought of inventing the Z train was crazy! It's the dumbest train, such a waste!"
A train was rumbling in.
"Is that the Z?" I asked, squinting down the track.
"It's the J!" she said. "For Jesus!"
Finally, an actual Z train arrived and I joined the crush of passengers into a middle car. I looked for another person to interview and spotted someone I assumed was a kindred soul—a young man who was also taking photos. He cheerfully agreed to an interview. But first he had a question for me: "What are you drinking? Vodka?"
His name, it turns out, was Alan. He works for a big Wall Street insurance company and takes the Z train to his home on the Lower East Side.
I asked about the train's personality.
"Expect the unexpected!" he said. "You never know what's coming through those doors. People! Children! Parrots!”
"Parrots?" I said. I've seen pigeons taking the subway plenty of times, but never parrots. "Do you think you might be the only person seeing these parrots?"
"I might be." he said. "Blue, green, yellow and red!"
I clearly had an expert on my hands. "Some people say the Z train doesn't exist," I said.
"I'd say THEY don't exist, probably," he mused.
I asked Alan’s advice for a first-time Z rider. Avoid eye contact, he warned. And prepare for surprises: "When you're on the Z train, anything could happen!"
My new friend disembarked at Essex Street and the train shot from its tunnel and over the Williamsburg Bridge. The descent to the first Brooklyn stop at Marcy Ave., with its roller coaster curve, was almost a little too thrilling. The car was packed with young commuters munching pizza, shouting into their phones and jostling for seats. One man sat with his head in his hands, a portrait of despair. So far so good!
After Marcy Ave., the train picked up speed, rushing along the elevated track over Broadway. It snubbed the hipster stops in Williamsburg and Bushwick before screeching to a halt at the Myrtle Ave. station.
And that's when more than half the passengers left.
Suddenly, it was a different scene. The train slowed to a stroll and the remaining passengers all found seats and buried their noses in their phones. It was too dark to see much on the streets below aside from glowing store awnings advertising generic offerings: "Meat Market," "Appliance Store."
I amused myself reading the subway car ads, which posed thought-provoking questions:
"Is marijuana a problem for you?" (Yes! I hate the way it smells.)
"Can you see yourself as a corrections officer?" (Yes! Especially if I get to wear a badge!)
We hit the Broadway Junction station in East New York, cut through acres of parking lots and veered north on Fulton Street, making local stops in Queens. Everyone still in the car looked exhausted. Children snuggled into their mothers’ arms and dozed.
By the time the train went back underground at the Sutphin Blvd. station, there were just four on the car, two of them sleeping. The atmosphere felt oddly peaceful. Maybe the "Z" stands for "zzzzz"?
I still hoped for something bonkers at the end. "Last Stop on the Z Train," after all, sounds like a great title for a 1960s action thriller!
Alas, when I disembarked at Jamaica Center and took the long escalator ride up to the street, I was greeted by this dismal scene:
Back in the station, I struck up a conversation with a social worker waiting for the J train, and told her of my disappointment. "I thought because it was the Z train, something crazy might happen," I said.
She gave me a look of sheer pity. Why would I take the Z train in search of crazy? she wondered. "This is New York City. You get crazy everywhere you go!"
Riding home, I texted my "friend" Aharon, who I'd informed of my plans.
"Z train big disappointment," I wrote. "No zebras. No zombies."
He suggested another possibility for what the Z represents: "Zilch."
The next day, I had an inspiration. Why not create a new ending?
As you know, I've been playing around with AI lately, so I logged into ChatGPT and typed a request:
"I wrote a story about my first ride on the Z train in NYC. Nothing interesting happened. Please write a new, fun ending in which something exciting happens at the end of the ride."
The bot spit out the following:
"Suddenly, the lights flickered, and a lively mariachi band emerged from seemingly nowhere. Passengers exchanged bewildered glances as the musicians played upbeat tunes, turning the mundane ride into an impromptu fiesta.
In the midst of the musical chaos, a flamboyant dance-off erupted between a breakdancing pigeon and a tap-dancing squirrel. The entire car erupted in laughter as the feathery and furry performers showcased moves that rivaled any professional dance competition.
The train conductor's voice crackled over the intercom, belting out a surprisingly soulful rendition of "New York, New York." The doors opened at Jamaica Center, and the jubilant crowd spilled onto the platform, leaving behind an atmosphere of infectious joy that lingered long after the Z train had departed.
Now that's more like it!
"Have you ever taken the Z train?" I asked ChatGPT.
"As a machine learning model created by OpenAI, I don't have personal experiences or the ability to physically travel, so I haven't taken the Z train or any other form of transportation,” it replied. "My responses are generated based on patterns and information present in the data on which I was trained.”
"Boy," I replied. "You're really the life of the party."
"Well, I may not have firsthand experiences or a sense of humor, but I'm here to assist and provide information to the best of my abilities," it said.
So of course, I request an illustration to accompany the story. It produced several. “Aharon” said this one is the best. Enjoy!
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