It’s late on a Friday night, and a pack of Williamsburg cool kids are slumped in velour seats on a tour bus, stuck in traffic on the BQE. “Ah-ahhh,” coos a sultry recorded voice. “Take off everything!” If only. No one sheds a thing. Some start to doze.
Call it infrastructure tourism: an enervating 70-minute tear along the LIE, the Bruckner, and the bridges in a big, white German coach with tinted windows, all the while listening to a “sound artist” mixing an avant-garde noise barrage of found road clamor and Hungarian-radio outtakes. According to its sponsor’s Website, e-Xplo.org, it’s supposed to be an “exile-rated voyage into the detours of pure chance,” allowing the riders, who paid $15 each, to ponder questions of mobility and the sometimes spotty flow of “highway traffic and data networks.”
The crowd sits monastically silent in the dark as the bus roams past Wonder Bread outlets, housing projects, and tollbooths. A pompadoured hipster on the aisle keeps rag-dolling into sleep, snapping awake with each pothole. But for those who stay awake, the effect is a little bit like sitting too close to the TV: dissociative and headache-making, an ocean of humming noise that lodges deep in your sternum.
Sure, it makes people queasy, but by taking it on the road, the e-Xplo artists manage to immerse their audience in a way that they couldn’t in a gallery. Change the way they look at the city. Or not. “It was a nice proxy if you didn’t have any drugs,” says Jeff Kidd, a 25-year-old Web designer. “It was like the Internet,” offers Hal Blanchard, 24, a Columbia grad student. “You’re on a highway and there’s ads all over the road.”