A photo of an blood-covered actor in a subway car from "Nightmare: New York,” a haunted house attraction from 2014.
Who's afraid of the subway anyway? An actor in "Nightmare: New York,” a haunted house attraction from 2014. Frank Franklin II/AP

Bushwick residents: Tremble before the ghastly horror of mild commuting inconvenience!

As the suspension of New York City’s L train tunnel looms nearer, fear of the L-pocalypse is mounting. The city’s transit administration has warned that it will begin limiting subway service to the borough for 15 months starting in April, displacing 275,000 passengers daily, in order to make track and tunnel repairs associated with Superstorm Sandy flooding. In advance of the long-dreaded shutdown, savvy entrepreneurs on the Brooklyn side have sought to mitigate its effects with such offerings as discounted amenities for those who sign onto luxury apartments and private buses to Manhattan that provide an upscale alternative to city buses along the same route. Other businesses, however, have decided to embrace the terror.

That’s the thinking behind the L Train Shutdown Nightmare, an “immersive haunted house and club” in Bushwick, a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood that is served in part by the L train. The Halloween-themed attraction, paired with a subway-centric pop-up nightclub called Club Transit, promised to send guests on a post-apocalyptic expedition through a neighborhood “warped by the chaos and destruction wrecked by the disturbing aftermath of the L train shutdown.”

One of two organizers of the pop-up, Adrianna Varedi, told Vice that the event was “working off a fear that people already have.” As the Nightmare’s website states: “This is not a haunted house; this is the horrifying reality of a post-L train nightmare.” I decided I had to check this out. (Disclosure: I work as an analyst at the MTA.)

The event, which cost $37 a ticket, was advertised as a “hub for NYC’s most exciting names in music, fashion, art, food + drink.” As such, it was held at a warehouse in an industrial corner of Bushwick. On the weekend I attended, the L train was already suspended to prepare for April’s shutdown, so the nearest alternative subway station to the event was over a mile away; many attendees, including me, traveled to Club Transit by Uber.

About 15 of us were gathered together and led through the darkness to an overpass crossing a set of freight tracks. We found ourselves at a second warehouse, where we ascended two more flights of stairs. In front of us stood a moving box that looked sort of like a worn-out subway car, complete with a half-melted MTA logo. Once we all boarded, the “train” rattled along, signaling something worse than everyday signal problems.

After a train conductor delivered an expletive-filled monologue worthy of a union disciplinary hearing, we leaped from the train car onto a mattress a few feet below and were ushered out into the post-apocalyptic wasteland that Bushwick has become sans L service.

Imagine a typically theatrical urban haunted attraction, but with a public-transportation theme. In one corner of the sprawling warehouse floor, two actors ate spaghetti out of a CPR doll—reduced to cannibalism, we must assume, by the long walk to an alternative station. We walked past a homeless tent city, where a few passengers felt compelled to let out whimpers of discomfort. A zombie on a scooter appeared from behind a projector screen. Someone walked up to me holding a sock-puppet rat, coaxing me to touch it. Having been chased by a real rat on the York Street F train platform, I was unmoved.

“I’m not really buying this,” I confessed to a fellow L rider. She was petting the rat puppet.

Once we made it across the room, we were taken back to the staircase we first entered. I checked my watch—11 minutes—and shuddered at the memory of my $37 ticket price. A few other attendees seemed skeptical, too. I overheard one guest ask another, “Was the spooky part that there were homeless people?”

While the haunted house itself wasn’t exactly spine-tingling, the L Train Shutdown Nightmare did provide something genuinely chilling: a glimpse of what young, hip Brooklynites think an imminent transit crisis must look like (or at least what some entrepreneurs think those Brooklynites think). The nightmare that this haunted house projects is one where, with no L train to move people through heavily gentrified neighborhoods, glamorous New York City will soon look, well, gritty and poor. Meanwhile, this demographic remains on the receiving end of costly workarounds to the city’s adaptation efforts.

While much of the pre-shutdown media attention has been focused on the inconvenience that affluent Brooklyn residents could endure on their Manhattan commutes, the closure’s real horrors will hit hardest in lower-income communities further afield, where the expense of using ride-hailing services isn’t practical and no luxury shuttle service will venture. The shutdown will be costly to all, either in time spent in a more congested public transportation network or extra money spent on a private means of getting around. However, only a certain class of New Yorkers will be able to afford to adapt.

Perhaps demonstrating the limits of these types of L-train-adjacent enterprises, the haunted house itself closed prematurely last week. “The remainder of the L Train Shutdown Nightmare + Club Transit is cancelled due to logistics and unforeseen circumstances,” the event website now reads. Organizers could not be reached for comment.

It seems like Brooklyn will have to wait for the real thing to find out how scary life without the L will be. But my fellow Nightmare attendees, I sensed, would find ways to survive. As we descended back to street level from the warehouse, the woman in front of me decided to call it quits early. “The real scary part would be that they dropped us here and aren’t going to tell us how to get home,” she said.

Then she hopped in the back of her Uber home.

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