The night was warm for the beginning of March and the crew were dressed head to toe in black clothing, hoods up, no visible logos and black cloth masks covering their faces. They all had black oversized backpacks slung over themselves, bulging at their seems, packed with the tools of their creativity. They snuck around on the east side of the yard, knowing that there was an imperceptible hole in the fence. Malik had cased the perimeter on three different nights last week. Each time making a couple of snips in the fence and covering it up by bending some wire he brought along, so that it would appear that nothing was amiss. He had done these stealth forays after midnight and made note of where the cameras were, as well as the timing of the security patrols. Having grown up dirt poor in Darfur in western Sudan, Malik had learned how to survive by occasionally raiding government and NGO storage facilities to feed both his family and his friends while earning a little on the side to buy some extras on the black market. When he was eleven his family immigrated to Canada as refugees, to escape the ongoing genocide.
Here in Toronto, he no longer needed to break into warehouses in order to survive, but the skills he honed doing so were paying off now, providing him with some serious street cred and props from the crew that he now ran with. They were known as the East End Elevators, EEE or simply E3, which was the most common tag they used. The name was an inside joke as they had all met, coming of age in a decaying Toronto Community Housing building in Scarborough, known locally by its address, 400 McCowan Rd., or simply 400. One of the things they got up to and bonded over was climbing through the trapdoor of an elevator and riding on top of it for hours, often dangerously jumping from one car going up to another car going down, getting greasy from the cables and having a very dangerous blast. The reason they started tagging was simply because they would steal black spray paint from a nearby hardware store in order to black out the elevator cameras and started doing little tags around the building.
Now that they were in their late teens, they had shifted from elevator riding to being an All City Graffiti Crew and left their tag from Neilson Rd in Scarborough to Dixon Rd. in Etobicoke. They had both friendly and hostile rivalries with other Crews across the city. Some of which could get them beaten or killed, if they fucked around tagging in the wrong neighbourhood. In order to show their prowess and get the props they felt they deserved, they needed to do something epic. So they decided to break into a TTC subway yard and do a couple of throw ups on the trains in the layup.
At 1am, they gathered in a snow covered but melting parkette on the north end of the yard. Four of them had made it out, tonight. Nina, who tagged as 9a was the only female on the crew, she continuously tagged twice as much as the guys because it was really difficult to get any props in a scene dominated by boys. She held her own painting and was never found without her skateboard, a few cans of premium paint and a pride worthy selection of clean caps. She came down on the blue night bus with 2tone, who listened to ska and only used black and white paint, but with it he could make the most incredible Wildstyle pieces that tripped out even old skool, local artists like Spud, Poser and REN. Also along for tonight’s raid were Sidecar (Scar) and Forehead (FRHD), both quality writers and crazy enough to seek out dangerous heaven spots on the regular and they were dying to go tonight and rep the crew. The rest of the crew couldn’t make it, Paycheck had to be at work tomorrow morning, JohnnyJohnny (jJ) was stuck at home with his two year old son because his girlfriend July had finally gotten into rehab and Books got picked up for racking Montana Gold cans from the Curry’s Art Store on Queen Street West a couple of days ago. So the crew was only four strong, tonight.
After smoking a blunt in the Parkette, the four of them made their way over to where Malik had set up their fence entrance and took turns sliding through the chain link. Once they were on the inside Mal did a quick seal of the fence using extra wire he brought, so they could easily bust through if needing to make a hasty exit, but if a guard walked by they most likely wouldn’t notice that anything was amiss.
The plan was to pick a couple of midsections of a few trains and bomb them with quality pieces, hoping that they would roll through a few stations before getting noticed, though the likelihood of them getting that far was slim. Toronto did not like graffiti on their subway card and would pull a train out of service if any pieces were seen. This made it kind of pointless to bomb trains as the risk of getting caught was high and the duration of the pieces survival was short. That said, social media and cell phones are two tools that now made it worthwhile, because even if no one saw the live piece, it would still be available indefinitely online and would show the world E3’s supremacy in the Toronto graffiti scene.
It was decided that two of the crew would work on the throw ups while the other two acted as look outs. Then they would switch off until they ran out of paint, got chased off or the sun came up, whichever came first.
Malik and Nina got right to work. They both laid down outlines across the entire length of a car, sweeping letters and the symbols they had been painting for years, pot leafs, crowns, lightning bolts, AK47’s and of course the CN tower and shadows above water that represented the Scarborough bluffs. After about an hour they traded off giving Forehead and Sidecar an opportunity to get their names and symbols in the mix, while filling out what was already laid down.
At about 4 am Nina saw some movement down the track and made a low pitch slapping sound that they were all familiar with as it was used by the crew when they used to sling dime bags of weed at the front of 400. The building itself was only 10 stories high but it was shaped like a squared off lightning bolt that did 90 degree turns in the middle, where the elevators were, making like two buildings connected at that midpoint. It sat at the end of a really long U shaped driveway. Cars would pull into the drive way stop at the end by the building, a runner would ask what they wanted and leave, then two more would approach, the first one taking the cash and the second one dropping the desired amount of dime bags in the car occupant’s hand. With the driveway so long, it was easy to see if “Babylon” was coming. The first to spot them would make this particular sound by slapping their thigh with a cupped hand. It took a bit of practice to get it right and loud enough, but once you had it down, it was simple and the sound it made wasn’t replicated by anything else, though it also didn’t sound out of place in most environments.
Once Nina made the sound, she ducked under a train car and very quickly the other three did too. In the silence they could hear a guard wandering through the yard, having a phone argument with his girlfriend or wife.
“Fuck you Jackie, I had to take this shift to pay for the damage you did to the car”. He huffed into the phone. “I told you you had too many glasses of Rose, you’re fuckin’ lucky the cops didn’t give you a breathalyzer, last time I let you drive my fuckin’ Camero”.
He then turned on his heels and headed back to the guard house.
Once they heard the creak of the cold metal door open and close, they all crawled out from under the trains and spent another 45 minutes finishing up. It was now about 6:30 in the morning, the day shift would start showing up at the yard in half an hour or so and the sun was starting to creep out. After repacking their backpacks they pulled out their phones and started taking pictures and walking around videoing their masterpieces. In total they had painted six cars over four different trains, leaving the windows free of paint, so Byatt to not be too obvious. hoping that at least a couple of cars would make it out into public before the day was done.
The four of them headed out through the fence the same way they came in, sharing a couple thick grape flavoured blunts. Tired, hands covered in paint and jubilant that they had pulled this off without having to run from either guards or cops. They walked north on Greenwood but as they approached Danforth Avenue they saw a couple of guys they recognized from the KPD (Konstantly Painting Danforth) crew. These guys were tough and they had been having beef with them for a few years. If they tagged an E3 anywhere between if Park and Broadview, it would only take a couple of days before it was X’d out (dissed) and had KPD written above it. These guys guarded their turf with both spray cans and fists. Turning on to Danforth the crew heard, “Motherfuckers we’re gonna kill you” accompanied by the sound of feet hitting pavement. The four of them bolted across Danforth and ran with all their might along the avenue making a sharp left at Lindsmore. Fifty feet away was the entrance to the subway, they ran through the open doors, Nina kicked the wooden wedge as she ran by and the heavy door closed as they vaulted the turnstiles and slid down the handrail of the escalator, dodging left and down another set of stairs. They could hear a train pulling into the station and prayed it was the Eastbound one.
As the Eastbound train pulled in they continued to run to the far end of the platform, the doors opened and a few people got off while the ones waiting got on. They made it to the last car. Forehead was in front and held the closing door for the other three, who shouldered themselves in. They could see the two KPD guys just hitting the platform as the train started to pull out of the station. Eight middle fingers were against the train window as it passed the red puffy faces of the guys on the platform.
The eastbound train took them to Kennedy Station, which was definitely home turf for the crew. Then a short trip on one of the many buses that travel east on Eglinton to McCowan. With July still in rehab they knocked on JJ’s door. He had just returned from dropping his three year old daughter, Kyana, off at her grandmother’s on the eighth floor of the building when the crew showed up. They showed him the photos and videos of their train raid and started editing and updating their social media accounts on his computer, because nothing is real until it’s on your instagram.