Michael Shannon did it for love.
Mr. Shannon, a 40-year-old tea merchant from Queens, stood alone on a mostly empty subway platform in the Nassau Avenue station in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, one recent Friday night, a black fox fur stole draped over his shoulders and a black felt fedora atop his great mane of hair.
He tossed pennies, 11 of them in succession, into a litter-strewn pool of water snaking through the track bed.
“Love, true love. Meeting a beautiful man. Having a beautiful life,’’ Mr. Shannon said of his wishes. “It’s worth 11 times.”
Every day, millions of gallons of groundwater are pumped through New York City’s vast subway network. They enter the system through underground aquifers, bound for the city’s storm sewage system.
At some stations, the water table is relatively high. Rivulets form along the track beds. In at least two stations in Brooklyn, riders like Mr. Shannon use these urban springs as places to cast their desires, hopes and dreams.
“I’ve always wondered about that,” said a woman carrying a yoga mat the other morning while waiting for a train at the Broadway station in Williamsburg, two stops south of the Nassau station on the G line. “It’s like some sort of New York wishing well. And it’s only here. I’ve never seen it in the city or anywhere else.”
At the Broadway station, hundreds of coins lie beneath the water on the track bed. One commuter likened the station to “the log ride at Disney World” because of its cavelike appearance, which includes stalagmites growing from fixtures and hundreds of stalactites, some a foot long, dangling from the ceiling.
Subways, interrupting as they do the natural flow of water underground, are built to move water just as they are to move people. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority built depressions between the rails of its underground track beds to guide water leaching from the ground toward the nearest drain, said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the agency. The drains direct the water to pumping stations that send it into the storm sewers.
The water’s journey can be a long one. In Williamsburg and its environs, said Andrew Kozlowski, a hydrologist for the state, the water visible in the subway fell as rain six months to two years ago and has since been migrating through aquifers toward the East River.
And where people, water and time to contemplate all intersect (the interval between G trains can seem eternal), coins will be tossed.
Fred Bryant, a professor of social psychology at Loyola University in Chicago who studies superstitions, said such rituals give people an illusion of control over their desires.
“What we know to be true from past research is that when economic times are tough, when people feel a threat in any way, either from military threat or economic, financial threat, superstitions increase,” Professor Bryant said. “In the trying to exert control, we are tricked into believing we have it.’’
Brittawnee Enos, 27, of Greenpoint, tossed a penny in the water on a recent weekday as she waited for a northbound G at Broadway.
“I’ve just been struggling for my goals lately, so I wished to be a little more focused in accomplishing them,” she said. “I’m a dancer, and I haven’t even been going to class for some time because, you know, distractions and injuries, that sort of thing. I just want to get back into it.”
Emily Hexe, 22, tossed a coin into the pool at the Nassau station on a recent Saturday night, without a specific hope in mind.
“It’s almost just in the motion of doing it,’’ she said. “Having a wild hope for something, anything — just remembering the child that’s inside myself.”
On a weekday afternoon, the Broadway station platform was abuzz with students from a nearby middle school. Some passed the time by tossing coins onto the track bed.
Daniel Maslowski, a seventh grader, said he wished to win the lottery.
A classmate, Rafal Wadolowski, traveling with a younger cousin, said he wished that his cousin “would get to the top 10 next year in grades.’’
Rafal’s cousin wished for the same thing, though she expanded a bit. “I wished that I would do good in school,’’ she said, “for all the people to do good in school.”