When riding the New York City subway, you only understand about 70 percent of what’s happening in any given moment. That about sums up the newly revived Miss Subways competition, too.
Choosing Miss Subways used to be a ho-hum PR exercise by New York Subway Advertising that quietly chose a pretty face with a short blurb about her life to pin up on the train.
But the all-new event that took place at the City Reliquary Museum on Sept. 28 wasn’t about earning the dubious honor of seeing your photo in a subway car. (Because you know all that would happen is finding out what kind of mustache would look the least flattering on you.)
No, the 2017 Miss Subways: Summer of Hell Edition — the first time a Miss Subways was chosen since 1976 — was less pageant and more like a variety show of the buskers you see on your daily commute.
The 14 contestants who answered the call (“weirdos welcome!”) took to the subway car-sized stage in the museum’s backyard to perform a medley of tributes, roasts, songs and monologues about how much they love — and love to hate — our rickety, on-the-brink-of-failure mass transit system.
Straphanging: It's complicated
Kicking the night off was a duet between two people who have become bitter arch enemies chiefly because of the MTA: New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (not the real ones, ofc), singing their wistful version of So Happy Together. Sing along with the chorus: “When you’re with me, baby / the trains will all run / all on time!”
If only. But real politicians would’ve only tained the earnestness of the room. Next came contrasting opinions of the G train: In his banjo ditty, Robert Coover would settle for it only at 3 a.m. when there are no other options, while Dylan Mars Greenberg, resplendent in a light blue Florida-themed suit, expressed his true love for the safe space that is the G by listing all the terrible things that have happened to him on other lines, to the tune of Take the A Train.
Crowd favorite Miss Derailment brought down the house with her too-honest sendup of a conductor’s announcement of a delay “due to an investigation by NYPD, FBI, MI6, the KGB and NSA” followed by transfer instructions strategically garbled by bag-crinkling to be completely useless. Maybe the judges thought it was too real.
The luminous Anna Paone came dressed in her sparkly Rockettes best to sing and dance a delightful and educational ditty, Me and August Belmont Down by the Railyard (the father of the subway system, FYI).
Sundae Fantastique treated the crowd to a glimpse inside the dark moment of an endless night commuting that we’ve all had with three minutes of distorted train sounds and her own shrieking and wailing, like an MTA-themed Requiem for a Dream.
With his vaudeville-style sendup of My Baby Takes the Morning Train, NYC's only drag queen tour guide Glace Chase promised, “I'm here to make your commute better, and unlike the subway I always come,” and definitely did not disappoint.
SUZQ taught the crowd a subway pole stripper routine, while the F Train Oracle did a live Tarot reading that ended in a single piece of advice: “You may as well walk.”
And because it wouldn’t be a subway-themed event without it, a Lower East Side junkie crashing the microphone for a rant about missing the good old days when “your best friend could piss on your face on the train.” As comedian Janeane Garofalo, one of the evening’s judges, noted, “I remember the subways before 1973. Was it great? Not so much.”
And the winner is
In the end, the panel of judges — Garofalo, comedian and author Baratunde R. Thurston, NY1 reporter Roger Clark (whose commute to the show took an hour and a half from Yorkville, thanks MTA!), and renowned downtown performer Rev Jen — awarded the crown to Lisa Levy, who's been a performance artist for more than three decades.
Most recently, she’s been striking up conversations with commuters by sitting in stations holding signs with provocative questions like, “I’m afraid of nuclear war, are you?”
“One of the happiest moments of my life and the subway came together,” she said, welling up as the crown was placed on her head. “This is the biggest honor I have ever received, and I'm 61!”
“I learned a lot that I didn't know I didn't know,” said Thurston. “Everything makes a lot more sense about New York City now.”
As befitting a subway-themed event, I left bemused, speckled with electric yellow punch by a drunk person, and convinced that, for better or worse, the trains are the best thing about New York City.