Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bastian Brings Boyfriend, Braves Brownstones and Brighton: The B Train

Ah, the best laid plans... usually aren't that well planned after all, are they? Foolish little me, there I was thinking that I'd just hop that old B train on a leisurely Sunday. But oh no no no says B, it shan't be so. See, the B doesn't run on weekends. Or late nights, for that matter. The extra tricky part was that, before heading out, we weren't sure when the train would stop running. But I said, meh. It's not as if there won't be any trains at all, now is it? Umm... hope not?

Thus, a weeknight journey for we adventurers. I knew that my darling Jonathan would join me if only for safety's sake - since I'd be out till at least 11 or so, in unknown neighborhoods and all. But Friday is his evening to decompress from the week, so I also knew he wouldn't really want to spend that time riding the subway for five or six hours. As such, I attempted to recruit super-awesome former co-worker Kelly M. to be my subway support system for the evening.

She was shockingly receptive to the idea - I don't know how many of my friends are actually that willing to ride the subway with me for hours on end as I obsessively snap photos and talk into a tape recorder like a crazy person. But hey, she's a philosopher, so I guess she could see the merit. Or something. I dunno. I think it's fun, and I was hoping she would too. It seemed like a go... until she found out about the Brazilian Girls show. Oh well, easy come, easy go I guess.

And so, back to my rock, Mr. J.B. He wasn't gonna let me not go, and he sure as hell wasn't gonna let me go alone. So, feeling guilty about stealing his Friday night downtime, I devised this plan: that we would only get out at stops that couldn't be explored via other lines. The vast majority of B stops are also stops on the C, Q, D, V, or F lines - plenty of opportunities to get those shots I think. And except for the V, those lines run on weekends.

Plans thus coerced and truncated, we set off tonight. Since I got off of work at 5 and he not until almost 6, it was practically 7pm before we made it to the 7th Avenue stop at 53rd street where I'd determined it would be most convenient to pick up the old IND 6th Avenue line. A touch of irony there, perhaps? Oh well. As for the 53rd street station, it's not what you'd call exciting. It's where I catch the E sometimes, if I'm heading from the Columbus Circle area to my studio on Long Island City. It's one of those confusing stations where all the uptown trains are on one platform (downstairs) and all the downtown trains are on the other (upstairs), so that both trains on one platform come from the same direction. For me, at least, this always means I don't know which direction the train will come from. Somehow everyone else does, though, so I just look in the direction they're looking and assume that's where the train will be coming from. I suppose there are bigger problems in life, but still, it irks me.

Wanting to hit Sugar Hill before dark (unknown territory, you know, and better pictures) we first headed north. On the way we ran into some breakdancers weary from their long day in the sun. We noticed the kid carrying a five foot roll of linoleum, and at first we thought he was just helping his mom remodel the kitchen. But then we spotted his very similarly dressed cousin and quickly figured it out. If you haven't witnessed many breakdancing troupes, you may not know that one of the gimmicks is that they always, have, well, "the Puerto Rican". He'll be pointed out during the show, as in, "but you don't have to watch out for the _______ guys (whatever the speaker is fills in the blank), you gotta watch out for THE PUERTO RICANS!" as "the Puerto Rican" points to himself proudly and smiles slyly. Sometimes "the Puerto Rican" is a girl, which is always fun. It's just part of the shtick, like the trick where they jump over 8 people. Well, we found him - from one troupe anyway, one that wears red shorts - and damn was he tired. You can't tell in this particular photo, sadly, but his stylish sunglasses sport a motif of the P.R. flag.

Anyway, the express lived up to its name, and despite making local stops along Central Park we were up to 145th street in no time. The neighborhood we were popped into was kind of surprisingly charming. Why surprisingly? I don't know exactly. Probably because I know the area just 20 blocks south so well, and it's quite different and not what I would call charming in any way really. But then, in cities like New York, "just" and "20 blocks" don't really belong in the same sentence. Homogeny is for suburbs.

Sugar Hill does indeed have a gentle rolling hilliness to it. It also has rows of the most beautiful brownstones you ever did see, with that wonderful curved front the architectural name of which I do not know. Sadly, as in its cousin neighborhoods to the south and west, the area reeks of impending (and some ongoing) gentrification. Nevertheless, the streets were running over with children at play, parents shopping for groceries, grandmothers out for an evening stroll in the twilight sun - all people that seemed to have lived in the neighborhood for decades, generations. Within these groups many races were represented, very few of them of European descent. Yes, up there in Sugar Hill me and my man stuck out like sore thumbs. Didn't seem to bother anybody any though; they just went on with their evenings, and we were glad of it.

Back on the train, and due to previously stated plan of swift travel I was relegated to (trying to) take pictures from within the confines of the train. This was of course made much more difficult by the fact that it was still more or less rush hour - a fact which was indeed confirmed by the B still being in operation, actually. Basically, people kept getting in the way of my shots. The upside of this was that I got some good shots of, well, people. It being Friday night, after a long hard week, (because isn't every week a long hard week?) many of those people were quite tired.

We traversed the Manhattan bridge and saw one of the damn waterfalls that everyone's been making so much noise about - and sorry, but it's ugly. It's water falling off of scaffolding, and it cost an obscene amount of money - 15 million bucks obscene, that is. Art is great, I'm all for it, but all for one art project? And an ugly one at that? Supposedly he used scaffolding to mirror the ever-changing face of the city - in other words the constant construction that drives us all crazy. Why would we want to look at more scaffolding? I wonder what 15 mil could do for the NYC public school system. Or to run down parks in, say, Bet Stuy. Nice effort I suppose, but no dice. I attempted to take pictures from the train... see, I love my camera, and in a lot of ways for many purposes it's an excellent camera. But unfortunately speed of focus, shutter speed, and rapid-fire shooting are not among its strengths. In other words, I got a bunch of blurry blotches. I also kept managing to only get shots of support beams - I'd say about a 20% chance there but more like 90% of my pics. Maybe I should play the lotto tonight - or maybe I'll just get struck by lightning.

Shortly into Brooklyn we reached our first get-off-stop - DeKalb Avenue. My 50¢ MTA Art In Transit guidebook had tipped me off to an installation here. It was kind of hard to find, and kind of odd when we found it. A bit Picassoesque, with its random geometric forms and musical instrument parts. And inexplicably the king (of clubs) and queen (of hearts perhaps) flanking to the left and right (respectively). Whatever floats your boat there, Stephen Johnson. (Apparently there's a much larger installation in another part of the station - I'll find it when I'm riding one of the other three trains that goes there, I suppose. I also suppose we didn't really need to get out there this trip, but oh well.)

Our next stop was the next stop, Atlantic Avenue. This proved to be quite interesting, though not for the reasons we'd hoped. It's actually a massive hub, and I must have been exhausted (or smoking rock) or something when I decided that it was one of the places we needed to step into on this ride. It served a function though - mainly in that it has functioning and unlocked men's and women's bathrooms. Of these facilities, I was in great need. I can't say that it was a pleasant experience, nor one that provided all necessities, if you know what I mean. And there were some interesting, um, remnants crammed into various corners. It was however not nearly as bad as it could have been, considering.

The artwork at the station was disappointing; granted, it's massive, but all it is is these swoops of gray granite throughout the station. It apparently took several collaborators too, I suppose due to its scale. It does add a certain je ne sait quois to the station overall, but I don't know that I'd call it "art", any more than I'd call all the fancy buildings in midtown "art". Of course, some of them I would... but I digress. Downstairs on the actual B / Q platform there was some old BMT signage - once you're in Brooklyn, you're riding on the old BMT Brighton Beach line. Trying to take a picture of one of these signs, I ended up standing rather close to the platform edge. But not close enough to warrant what happened next.

The Q train entering the station wasn't honking or slowing down, mainly because I wasn't encroaching upon its track space in the least. Jonathan, who's rather nervous about train platform boundaries, wasn't perturbed in the least by my positioning. Despite this an angry young man felt it necessary to shout, "move, you dumb bitch!" at me from about 30 feet down the platform. Some people just have too much hostility in them I guess.

I took the picture from a different angle.

From there it was just a zip straight shot to the end for us. Good thing, too, as my camera battery was flashing red at me due to its perilously low charge. And thankfully, sensibly, this line has only one end (unlike the A train). For a while we were in a channel that was sort of still underground but exposed to sky - it was very cool, I thought - and then ended up fully above ground. All the lines seem to, once you get far enough out. And then, rather quickly again due to the express-ness, we were at Brighton Beach. Pulling into the station, the conductor made it sparklingly clear that that train was done for the evening and in fact for the week, it being Friday. That it was, in fact, headed "for storage". Well OK then, I guess we're not riding that one back into town. We were planning to wander for a minute anyway.

The Manhattan-bound platform has some art, sculpture that's some kind of business people morphing into dolphins type idea. It's kinda cool. I managed to get some pictures, red light still flashing away on my camera's screen, but it showed me a little mercy. Since Jonathan wanted (and deserved, by this point) a cigarette, and since it's silly to go all that way and then not hit the street, we dismounted.

And quickly realized that we've actually been there before. When we went to the Mermaid Parade this year we wandered far, far down the boardwalk and dined in Brighton Beach, at one of the local Russian establishments (Potatoes and pickled mushrooms, anyone? No really, the food was excellent. We're big fans of potatoes and pickled mushrooms. I'm eating pickled mushrooms right now, but they're Polish.). Coming back we were actually cold, so we traveled streets as opposed to the waterfront. I'd suspected this synchronicity whilst perusing the map, but then I'd thought, no, we didn't walk that far did we? But yep, we did.

Brighton Beach is referred to as "Little Russia by the Sea", and they ain't kiddin'. Neither am I, for that matter - it's not just something people say or something I made up; it's on banners that are hung in the street and everything. (Please excuse the blurry picture; this is exactly the moment when my camera finally died. It's a frustrating situation; on these trips I take a lot of pictures - I only post a precious few of them here, but for example on this trip I took 160 before the battery went kaput. I really need a backup battery, and if I have that possibly a memory card as well.) The high Russian population concentration, paired with the juxtaposition of the Coney Island neighborhoods, makes this a very interesting area indeed. Though with its elevated subways and multiculturalism, it actually kind of feels like home - we live in Astoria, after all. Just wait till we get to Ditmars and you'll see what I mean.

We didn't spend long on the ground; I was still hoping to ride the B back into town. Well, we'd missed that boat (train). It was simply too late. B's were pulling in at the Brooklyn bound platform, and then roaming off into the night, never to round around to our side and bring us into Manhattan once again. So it goes. This left us waiting for the Q train.

While we waited, we heard something. And then we smelled something. And then finally we saw something - and that something was fireworks. They were coming from the direction of Coney Island, unsurprisingly, and they were exquisite. We walked to the far back end of the platform for the best view (though slightly obstructed by buildings) and stood there, holding hands, basking in our B train accomplishment and witnessing the pyrotechnic display that we did not get to see last weekend.

Googling it later, this is what I found on the awesome Coney Island Website:

Fireworks on the Beach
Astroland and Deno's Wonder Wheel Park sponsor fireworks at 9:30 every Friday night during the season. Fireworks generally start the last weekend in June and conclude the Friday before Labor Day. For specific questions about the fireworks, please contact Astroland (718-265-2100) or Deno's (718-449-8836) directly.

Awesome right? And to think, this is supposed to be Astroland's last season if Thor Industries has its way. Check out the website to know what the hell I'm talking about.

And so, thus concluded our B train travels. I was disappointed that we didn't get to ride the B back in as well, but so it goes. We fulfilled the goal of riding end to end, and that's what counts. It's weekdays only, and early at that, and like a big dumb dolt I waited until becoming employed full time to start this project. So at this point in some instances I have to take what I can get.

And the B train? For now, the B train sleeps. A rest for you, little B, so that Monday morning you can appear orange-eyed and bushey-tailed for weary commuters on their way to dreaded offices. Sleep tight, little B.

**To see all the photographs I took on this ride, click here.

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