The Scrolling of Pelham 123: A Profile of Luke Jow ’22

For Luke Jow, riding the subway is not just a mode of transportation, but a secret-filled world just asking to be explored.


Luke Jow

Walking through a train station with Luke Jow ’22 consists of a lesson in subway history, split second decisions about which car to board, and greetings to MTA personnel.

“Godly” is the last word many of us would use to describe the MTA, but Luke Jow ’22 cannot help but say it when he’s riding the rails. Unlike most New York commuters, he possesses a fierce devotion to the city’s subway system, an interest which manifests itself in his impressive mental library of train facts and sheer amounts of time that he spends exploring its stations. 

Luke is part of a community of die-hard MTA lovers. They all differ in age, background and skills, but they are tied together by an appreciation for the subway system’s history and quirks. They run a secret Discord server where information and discoveries are freely traded, and they often meet to embark on, as Luke calls them, “adventures.”

These missions are mostly intel-gathering operations, with undertakers looking for undiscovered quirks like new scroll sign fonts and old train models. They span the length of the city, from Brooklyn to the Bronx, and occasionally enlist MTA workers to provide insider information.

“We know car numbers with unique signage or unique features. We have lists upon lists of MTA signage and history. We have all their fonts saved. We are a very tight-knit community with no leaks of information allowed,” Jow said.

One of Luke Jow’s favorite parts of train cars are roll signs, which can be scrolled to produce a unique destination, train number and framing shape. (Luke Jow)

Swinging a sticker-adorned water bottle and wearing a 2019-2020 Key Club hoodie, Luke delivers facts about his friends in jolting fragments that leave more questions than answers. Most of this information is delivered during minute-long class breaks, sandwiched in between his answers to questions about peptidoglycan or definite integrals. 


Luke’s first memories of the MTA are of adventures riding the train with his father when he was two years old. “Between 57th Street and Queensboro Plaza, the train often hit 55 miles per hour. The frame in front was old, and it had some gaps where the wind could slip through, and you could hear it whistle. You could hear the train jump up and down,” he said. “It was absolutely exhilarating. Sometimes you would hear the horn echo down the tunnel and it was the most fascinating thing ever.”

He started learning about the inner workings of the transit system in high school, and was formally inducted into his Discord community in September of 2021. Much of his information on the MTA comes from the community and the internet, as well as the collection of  MTA worker connections that he has amassed over the past few months. There is a five-foot-one conductor who likes to be called “Animator,” a worker who possesses every MTA key, and the father of a fellow Bronx Science student who provides him with exclusive MTA merchandise.

On his train missions, Luke often carries MTA apparel with him, along with a flashlight, work boots and a multi-purpose scrolling device. (Luke Jow)

For Luke, the allure of the MTA comes from its disorganization and quirks. Take, for example, the 1 train. On the 1983 model, the bend of the “1” on the car’s roll sign (the sign that shows the train number or letter and final destinations) is straight, but on the 2017 model, it is curved. He delights in the fact that there are differences like these to be discovered, treasures of information waiting to be unearthed.

“Most people, when they get on a train, don’t think twice,” he said. “When I get on a, for example, R68 #2626, that was recently given a set of new wheels, and when I ride on it, oh my gosh, she’s a glider. You can’t even hear the breaks. For me, it’s just the diversity of feelings you can get on a train, like, ‘Wow, this is going fast,’ or ‘We’re gliding down.’ It’s just the magic of it.”


Luke Jow’s Instagram account is the greatest testament to his MTA knowledge. It is filled with edited, aesthetically pleasing pictures of trains pulling into stations, a “Subway fact of the day” highlight series (did you know that the L train has seen a 300% increase in ridership since 1990?) and stories challenging followers to send him the most detailed photos of stations possible (he could identify every single one). 

Walking through a subway station with him is a sprint race, history lesson and treasure hunt all at once. He dashes off facts about the train model he passes — what year it was manufactured, what pre-MTA company it used to run on, any quirk in the sound of its breaks or horn are the essentials — and decisions to get on or off a car are made milliseconds before its doors close. 

Luke will tell anyone who will listen about his adventures, with his phone in hand ready to show a picture of the roll sign he scrolled the day before (he takes requests). His enthusiasm is equally present on the occasions that he can help people to navigate the subway system — a woman asks for directions to the downtown side of Rector Street station, and he is with her every step of the way.

“We’re not just infatuated subway people. We do good,” Jow said, alluding to the woman now waving from the opposite platform. A few minutes later, he’s boarding the train, ready for his journey to Bay Ridge. 

“For me, it’s just the diversity of feelings you can get on a train, like, ‘Wow, this is going fast,’ or ‘We’re gliding down.’ It’s just the magic of it.”