Sliding Doors: At the Transit Museum, a celebration of missed love connections on the subway

Love Notes (Dan Rosenblum)
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Like love, the entrance of the New York Transit Museum can be hard to spot at first. But people looking for either could be mistaken by passing an ordinary looking subway entrance, like the one in downtown Brooklyn leading to the museum.

Last night, the museum held a Valentine's Day “Missed Connections” party to celebrate the chance encounters at love that can happen across the city's 6,356 subway cars. Nearly 300 hundred people—couples, singles and groups of friends—descended that stairway to hear poetry, see illustrations or just have an excuse to stay late at the museum.

Last night’s event featured a slideshow by illustrator Sophie Blackall, who draws whimsical Craigslist ads, and New York Times writer Alan Feuer, who writes a column celebrating missed connections.

Marcia Ely, the museum’s assistant director and development officer, said it was a natural fit to embrace the subway’s reputation as a place to inspire love. 

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“We know that somebody posted on Craigslist after the party," Ely said of last year’s event, "because they’d seen somebody here at the party that they wanted to find again.” 

Though the museum, filled with old blueprints, machinery, and decommissioned subway trains, isn't the most traditionally romantic space, Ely said the party proved the museum could embrace multiple meanings of "underground."

“We see school groups, and teachers, and lots of families and so forth, but you know, after four o'clock, when all the families leave, we could be a real hipster place.” (One non-hip feature of the museum is that it has no cell service. Ely admitted there could be no Tweeting from inside.)

Park Slope couple George Shelden and Yasuko Noguchi, both in their 60s, came last night because they live downstairs from Blackall. They stood in front of a wall covered in missed connections notes.

“We were laughing at one that said ‘love will tear us apart again,’” Shelden said. It seemed the Joy Division reference was lost on them.

“’Again?’ That’s not true love,” she said laughing. “That’s a different kind of love.”

Shelden said he wasn’t one to celebrate Valentine’s Day, preferring to celebrate love every day. His favorite way to observe the holiday was watching frantic men running with flowers in Grand Central Station.

Security guards reminded visitors to keep their complimentary cups of wine or Brooklyn beers off the the exhibits, as people posed as Cupid, holding a red bow and arrow, for photos in an antique ticket booth. The band You Bred Raptors? was set up in the back room, their stage mimicking the Music Under New York program.

A few rooms away, a young Brooklyn couple lingered in a room filled with streetcar models and books about trolleys. It was their first date. Both said they'd really enjoyed an exhibit involving hand-powered generators, and they agreed: so far the date was going well.

Soon, Blackall gave a brief presentation of her work, reading from her book and backed by a slideshow of her artwork. She explained how her discovery of the Craiglist Missed Connections section had ruined a pound of scallops for her.

She first encountered Missed Connections when a “handsome chap” mouthed the phrase to her on the subway, and was immediately hooked on its fated tales.

“In the space of eight seconds I’d experienced love, loss, and regret,” she said.

But she stayed glued to the site for far longer than eight seconds, and by the time she finished reading that day, the scallops she’d brought back from Manhattan had warmed over.

Her first drawing celebrated a never-to-meet couple with a guitar and a blue hat as well as one of her favorites about a man and woman sharing a bear suit. Both appeared in the elaborate art card she designed to commemorate the event.

Later, Feuer dynamically read through over a dozen entries from his Missed Connections columns where he turns the listings into poems, some poignant but mostly humorous, and all selected from actual postings.

“Coming down here on the A train today," he said, "I was trying to figure out what’s the most succinct way to sum up missed connections."

Feuer said after looking around he found something in the M.T.A.’s ubiquitous “If you See Something, Say Something” announcements.

“The only way they could have done better, of course, is ‘If you see something, say something a little later.’ That’s a missed connection and that’s what a poem is.

During his reading, Feuer asked the crowd how many posted Missed Connections. A few people raised their hands.

“Missed connections are the unconsciousness of the city put on the Internet for us to read,” he said.

Afterward, three friends were finishing their beers before leaving. They talked about the personals.

“I think it’s really great to share it with an open community since we’re always so private,” said Linzi Silverman, 23, of Ridgewood, Queens. “You know that everybody looks at them late at night.”

Elena Mendis, 25, said she thought of making T-shirts for her and her friends to wear, asking fellow straphangers to “Missed Connections Me,” and seeing which of her friends got the most responses.

Then, laughing, Silverman said she posts things sometimes just to see who would respond.

“It may not even be the person who you saw who will respond,” she said. “It might just resonate with them somehow, and who knows who that person might be? I think its fun to meet strangers.”

“There’s gotta be a whole inventory of missed connections that weren’t posted,” she added. 

After the presentations, the remaining people left the rooms of disassembled buses and vintage token machines went back up the stairs and out into downtown Brooklyn.

So far this morning, there haven’t been any missed connections posted about the event.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article accidentally misattributed some quotes to another attendee at the party. The quotes were in fact from Linzi Silverman. The article has been edited to correct the mistake. Capital regrets the error.