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On Monday night, I get a text. “Hi Emily, this is the guy who did the Subway tag. If you’d like to talk, this is my number.”
Ah, Subway guy! You’re the star and villain of the day. Only in this city would “the guy who did the Subway tag” immediately identify just one person. I knew exactly who he was, which is to say I knew him by his deeds and not his legal identity.
He’s the guy who spray-painted “KEEP DC WEIRD” and “#SUBWAYEATSHIT” on the side of a building in Mount Pleasant, the future home of a Subway sandwich chain.
Popville and its readers had already put their collective foot down: “Subway Protest in Mount Pleasant Turns Uglier,” went their headline, and “quality of life” went the tag on the post.
Tempers have been running hot over his work, so I gave Subway guy a call. He has a lot of feelings about his vandalism and now regrets having chosen this cause célèbre.
OK, so you did the Subway tag.
Yes, yes I did.
Why’d you do it?
Out of a stupid, ill-advised, knee-jerk impulse. I mean, other than not doing it in the first place, the one thing I would have done differently would have been to say “Keep Mount Pleasant weird” because D.C. has never been weird. Mount Pleasant is. But even then, it’s a bit myopic to do that because ultimately the Subway is not going to benefit people like me. I don’t want to talk about myself at all, but you know, the benefits of having a place where people can get relatively healthy food for 5 bucks goes without saying.
When you say people like you, what do you mean?
Relatively privileged, more middle-class people. [Ed.’s note: after hanging up, I shoot him a text asking if he’s white. He writes back “Yes. Whoops.”]
How long have you been in D.C.?
Do you know the projectionist who’s projecting little shit emojis on the side of the building? Are you related or working together?
No, and I wish that we were because his mode of expression and the expression itself were much more clever.
Is [your tag] art or vandalism?
Vandalism. It’s absolutely vandalism. Art contributes something. This was more of a tantrum than anything else, and destructive in every possible way. Recording a hashtag that already existed, especially one with a rude word, helps no one, and again the premise “keep D.C. weird” is derivative and flawed. D.C. has never been weird.
There are better fights to fight and better ways to fight them.
Displacement over short-sighted developments and gentrification, that’s the biggest one that comes to mind. There are ways that the city is changing that are a lot worse than a Subway coming to Mount Pleasant.
Have you done this before?
I’ve done tagging but not activist tags like this. And I don’t have a problem with graffiti so long as it’s done in a smart, constructive way. Who knows, I might tag again. Hopefully it would be a worthier or better-thought out bit of work.
Will you give me a call when you do?
I will, but positionally, can you not connect any future work to this?
I’ll probably wait a while.
Photo by Josh Solomon