It's hard to explain over the phone, Anthony Baker tells me, why he and three of his cousins have spent nearly 15 years riding the subway in nontraditional ways: Like on top of the roof (known as "subway surfing"), clinging to the back windows, or wandering the tunnels.
They've been doing it since they were children growing up in Queens, said Baker, who is now in his early 20s. "We do it for the trains," is his cryptic explanation. "We're really out of our minds, and we can't really tell you why we do it." People like myself—or any of the other news organizations that have contacted him, including the Sunnyside Post, which captured his cousin Carlos' ride yesterday—ask him why the do it, and he's never quite sure how to put it into words.
"We just say, 'Well, we did it for the trains.' We don't do it for anything else. We can talk to the trains. The trains is like our family to us."
But when they're up there, riding on top of a train, "it's better than a nightclub or something, better than getting a million dollars," he said. "For us just being on top of the train all together would be like, just like a good time."
Part of the rush is in knowing people often die doing this: They're decapitated, struck by another train, struck by a signal light, or fall to their deaths while daring to ride on the trains. In a "weird way," Baker told me, it keeps him and his cousins out of trouble. There are a lot of other things they could get into in New York City, he said. When they're surfing, they're not intentionally risking anyone's skin but their own.
We can talk to the trains. The trains is like our family to us.
So far, Baker hasn't been arrested for subway surfing, but his cousin has has cops waiting for him as the train pulls into a station. "Where I come from we call it snitching," he said. "Everybody's snitching, calling the cops, complaining, like, 'There's some kid on top of the train, he might die!' Meanwhile around the corner somebody just got robbed and it's a more serious crime going down."
He mentions the controversial "broken windows" policy of policing, in which disorder is believed to breed more serious crimes. Sometimes their surfing is a form of protest, Baker tells me—like the time one of his cousins stood on the tracks at Canal Street, blocking a train in front of thousands of people on the platform in protest of the strict laws against fare evasion.
"We make the system look so bad," he said. "All you're worried about is someone hopping the [turnstile], meanwhile we're walking in the tunnels at night and riding on top of your trains." He chuckles. "Looks like your Broken Windows theory ain't working."
Baker doesn't shy away from using his real name online in connection with his surfing obsession. "[The police] already know," he said. "They want so bad to get me but they can't. What's the worst that's gonna happen? The judge is gonna say, listen, this guy is insane. I'll tell the judge I can speak to the trains."