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A New York subway station is one of the most vile places on Earth. I walked by a man, to put it delicately, pleasuring himself in one during my morning commute today. Just a couple hours later, I watched as hordes of guys, a couple of women, and even one mom stood willingly in various stations for hours, chatting and strategizing like they were headed into battle together.
We were all there for a flimsy piece of plastic that New Yorkers use every day: a MetroCard. The difference was that today, a handful of machines were spitting out cards made with cult streetwear brand Supreme, turning the everyday item into a valuable collectible. The MTA set off a massive Charlie & the Chocolate Factory-like experience when it tweeted early Monday morning that these cards were randomly stocked at various stations around the city. (Before today, the cards already carried a resale value of up to $100 after retailing at the Supreme store for only $5.50 last week.)
Over 1.76 billion people ride the subway in New York annually, and 3.9 million follow Supreme on Instagram. While that's not perfect math, it illustrates how insular Supreme is when it can take over a fan’s days while others are just trying to get from one station to the next and have absolutely no idea a golden ticket just popped out of the machine.
Now vending in select stations: Supreme branded MetroCards pic.twitter.com/ah2kmT0laA— NYCT Subway (@NYCTSubway) February 20, 2017
One couple, Rob and Cherry, were visiting from Toronto and were spending their last full day on vacation on this treasure hunt. We first met at the Broadway-Lafayette stop, one of the stations closest to Supreme's New York store in Soho. “This is a smart-ass project,” Cherry said. “So many people are going to try and buy them.” The couple said that even though they wouldn’t be able to use the cards in Toronto, Supreme is such a big deal there they just wanted one to show off.
The Broadway-Lafayette station we met at must have felt like a pretty safe bet, because ten people in a row came in and asked the station agent if they knew anything about the Supreme MetroCards. The agent was patient and helpful. He told me he hadn't even heard about the collaboration, hadn’t even heard of Supreme, until people started asking him about it today. He didn't know whether or not there were cards stocked in the machines next to his booth, but said that if they were they'd all be in one large stack because of the way the machines are filled. He suggested I come back later or tomorrow because old cards are pushed to the front while new ones are placed behind them.
He was friendlier than other MTA agents who appeared ready to blow at the next person who asked about Supreme. Unfortunately, I set off a ticking time bomb at the Prince Street station when I asked about the cards. “Why are you asking me about these cards, I don’t know anything,” the agent yelled at me.
Two high schoolers clad in Supreme and A Bathing Ape Shark hoodies were literally reselling items from the latest Supreme drop in the station while waiting eagerly for the right cards to start coming out. They said they knew kids in their high school who skipped class on Thursdays to line up for Supreme and resell items to earn some extra cash on the side. Rumors ran rampant through all of the groups: someone at the Times Square station got 50; there are only ten at the Broadway-Lafayette station; someone here got one, but it was totally random.
A kid who couldn’t have been older than 18 barged in wearing a Noah T-shirt and Supreme hat. Carrying a Supreme wallet and flashing a Supreme MetroCard, he instantly earned God status in this crowd. The kid claimed to be behind Lyne Up, a reselling service that hires people to stand in line for the most hyped releases, and handed out business cards.
He had a network of people on the ground buying out every machine in the city, he said. He made pronouncements like “I am Supreme,” and when asked how he got his card, he said he wouldn’t share his secrets but implored us to get a network as robust as his. When I told him I was writing a story, he asked me to link to his Instagram and let people know he’s buying up to 100 of the Supreme MetroCards for $10 to $15. I offered him $26 for one; he turned me down.
He was the least friendly person I came across, though (other than that exasperated agent). Most of the people gathered were earnestly working together to get the cards, and helped others lined up get them, too. Rob, from Toronto, thought that there was a bigger game at hand and kept looking for clues. There has to be a sign, he thought. Maybe a Supreme sticker on one of the card machines. I suggested that one closest to a red and white sign — the same colors as Supreme — might mean something. As others filled the station, the group pointed out machines that had been tried and we tried to strategize which one would be ready to pop.
People played down their dedication: Rob and Cherry mentioned that they didn’t want to spend too much time trying to get the cards, but I ran into them at three separate banks of MetroCard machines. I randomly bumped into Liza Sokol, who works at Fashionista, at the Broadway-Lafayette station: “I’ve never felt more like a fuccboi in my life,” she said as we walked from one exit to another.
It was stupid, but it was fun. Once I had made it to the Union Square station, word had clearly spread. A kind MTA agent told me and another treasure hunter before we even asked that none were coming out at this bank of machines, but to try the one at the other end of the station. She even buzzed us back in so we could get over there without swiping.
And that’s where it happened.
Standing around with another group of hopefuls, we witnessed a clueless woman pull a card out of the machine with the red back we were waiting for. No, she had no idea what Supreme was and hadn’t even thought to look on the back — why would she?
One guy wasted no time offering her $10 for the card, but the closest MTA agent, who walked out of the booth with a huge grin on her face when she saw someone got a card, warned her not to sell the card. “Hold onto that. It’s worth more than $10,” she said. The woman who got the card told me she would consider reselling it online now that she knew what it was.
After her, the stream of cards started. An older woman was next in line. “My son sent me,” she admitted. “Was it that dead a giveaway, honey?” She didn’t know what Supreme was, but was by far the most aggressive buying the cards. After getting in line three separate times, she bought more than ten. We collectively held our breath as each person in front of us pulled out their cards, hoping to still see the Supreme branding on the back. “It’s like the lottery, bro,” one person waiting in a line that was now 30 deep said. I must have watched at least 100 Supreme MetroCards dispense from this one machine. I tried others by it but only got plain worthless cards.
John, who was wearing a Supreme x North Face jacket, said that the MetroCard was one of the items he wanted most from this new collection. “It’s really New York,” he explained. Another guy waiting in line said that Supreme feels like it’s a time capsule, that this is a cool way to reconnect with old New York.
It felt more like a new way to connect to modern New York, though. I’ve never seen so many strangers talk to one another in a subway station or try and help each other out. Dillon, who doesn’t even ride the subway, was buying a card and bought another one for a guy who didn’t have a debit or credit card to use at the machine. When it was finally my turn, I stepped up like a batter coming to the plate in the ninth inning of a baseball game. I ended up with three, turned around, did a bro-handshake with John, and wished him luck.