Sunday, August 17, 2008

Distinctly Designed to Divert Disaster - the D train.

Yes ladies and gents, it's four trains down now. And the D train was something decidedly different, a deviation from my disorganized doldrums. The divergence laid mainly in my approach to the expedition: this trip lacked a certain, I don't know, hysteria? that had characterized the first three. It encompassed many firsts for this project: I went alone. I took my time. I shot fewer but more pointed photographs, which were then infinitely easier to organize. (At this moment, as I embark upon my post writing this Sunday morning, they're sitting in a nice neat folder in the order in which I want to use them. Can you believe it? I know, right?) The train was tri-borough, stretching from the Bronx through Manhattan and into Brooklyn. These are all good things. Let's see how it turns out, shall we?

So it was that last Monday morning I headed out on my mission, once again by way of the M60. That bus is a brilliant little parlor trick for Astorians, and it's really too bad I discovered it the day after I finished moving from Harlem to Astoria. Ah, such is life. I needed to avoid rush hour not only because it's hell (hell of course being other people), but because the D train does some deceptive dashing during the rush, skipping huge swaths of stations and so forth. I can't be havin' that. Slow lots-of-stops trains for me, mister.

After arriving at 125th though, it's no mere hop to 205th street in the Bronx. It's a trek. That's alright though; there was entertainment. Between 163rd and 174th my car was treated to the self-proclaimed next winner of American Idol belting his rendition of "I shot the Sheriff". (Yes. Seriously. That's what he sang.) He asked us for 'constructive criticism'. Should I have mentioned to him that he's tone deaf? Immediately following him there was a guy selling candy. (On my way back south I saw the same kid again, at which time he identified himself as "the candy man".) I bought some candy hoping that if I did he'd say yes when I asked to take his picture. He said no. Because selling things on the train is illegal, probably.

Upon arrival at 205th, I seemed to be under intense scrutiny. While it's still legal to take pictures in the subway (despite best bureaucratic efforts), The MTA doesn't like it much. So when I climbed off the train and started snapping pics of the control booth, the emergency exit signs, the train, the switchboxes, and everything else in the station, I did not automatically become the most popular girl at the prom. The stares were so intent, in fact, that I gave up fairly quickly and went upstairs to see if there was a bathroom.

There was. Using it felt a little taking-my-life-in-my-hands-ish, but that turned out to be a complete misconception. It's actually quite a nice neighborhood up there in Norwood. Lots of houses, churches, and little playgrounds. Neighbors out and about, walking, talking, playing with their kids. Mailman addressing people by name. That kind of thing. I quite liked it. I would have spent more time exploring had there not been eminent threat of enormous thunderstorm...
There was this little old dude on the corner, and I just loved him. I want him to be my grandpa, or he reminded me of my grandpa (obvious impossibilities notwithstanding). It's probly the hat. I hope he has grandkids. I hope they love him.

My first stop art installation wise was Tremont Avenue. The piece is called "Uptown New York", and I had pictured some sort of amalgamation of trite overplayed 20's puttin'-on-the-ritz stuff. I couldn't have been more wrong - the mosaic is amazing. Really, really cool, both in the way the artist used the textures of different kinds of glass and in the overall design. The image shows only the righthand side third, the dimensions of the station making it rater difficult to get a (good) full width shot. I definitely suggest stopping by next time you're in the Bronx - it's at the south entrance. Oddly, while this station seems to have a mezzanine level running the full length of the station, it's entirely closed off. From the two entrance ends there's no visible sign of construction or anything; the only way to know the mezzanine connection is there is that on each platform downstairs, in the middle, there's a stairwell leading to nowhere. There are lights on. I don't get it. Google tells me nothing, nothing!

Next stop: 161st Street, Yankee Stadium. Apparently they're tearing the old stadium down soon, so that they can build another one; I hear rumors that they're using some public funds to do it, too. Always a good way to make friends, tearing down well loved landmarks. At any rate, the art there is... something. It's structural and functional. It certainly makes the station interesting. It's sort of destruction-esque though, at least on the mezzanine; like, here's what the stations will all look like, after THE HUGE EARTHQUAKE. Odd. If you've ever been through you know what I mean. But anyway, at least it gives people something to sit on.

Truth be told, I did not make a lot of stops on this journey. I've already basically traveled this line once (on the B train), and being without assistance I was afraid I would run out of time or something. But as we all know, you don't have to get out of the train to have amazing subway experiences.

Somewhere around 125th street my train was joined by a perfectly respectable looking man. Mind you, now, that this is one of the west side trains that makes what I've come to think of as "the big jump" - from 125th to 59th, straight. Our new friend began addressing the train. His concerns were trifold: first, the minimum wage. It's too low. Alright man, I'm with you. You can't possibly live on minimum wage, and anyone who's ever tried knows it. Second, nuclear power. (Um, what?) Third, gas prices. (Ok kids, we just may have a crackpot on our hands.) By this point he's kind of babbling. See, apparently ConEd has a Nuclear Plant smack in the middle of Manhattan. And it's degrading. And you know what happens when it degrades? We all gonna die! But nevermind that we're all gonna die for just a minute. Somehow despite the fact that we're dead, by 202o, our kids are gonna be homeless. And we're gonna be homeless. This, of course, is going to be because of that minimum wage issue - and gas prices. He started asking for signatures, and I was sorely tempted, but I think I'm on enough governmental lists as it is.

I didn't get out again until Broadway/Lafayette St, way down in the Bowery. It's an interesting station, surprisingly large, and it has an art installation. The art is comprised of two distinct phases; one is simple periwinkle tiling in a sort of Pan-American-Indian kind of design. This part isn't interesting. The other, though, is these metal cones with translucent bits around the I beams in the mezzanine. They're rather ugly, or at least not all that attractive - until that one magical moment when you happen to catch them lighting up. Then they become really cool, and stay really cool even thought they're almost never lit up. I can't figure out the flashing schedule at all. It's just one of those things.

I emerged from the station to get some lunch; it's a neighborhood I know well. Houston has always been my least favorite street in Manhattan, partly because it's really hard to cross on foot and largely because some part of it, and a large part at
that, has been under construction for as long as I can remember. Granted, my real experiences with New York only stretch for about six years now, but still. If a street sucks every time you pass it for six years, then a street sucks. (For you out-of-towners, this street isn't pronounced like the city in Texas. It's pronounced as if the u was a w. Some dude's name, apparently. Incidentally, SoHo = South of Houston.) On D train day, I found this concrete box, and I think this is as picturesque as Houston ever gets.

When I went back to the station I found this guy, working for a living. Hey, what's the difference between a flutist and a flautist? About fifty bucks an hour! (OK, that one works a lot better when you're saying it out loud...). That goofy old hippie dude was playing his heart out, and being completely ignored. I think busking on the subway could toughen up any performer. They should incorporate it into the curriculum at the performing arts schools here. Ooh, or better yet, at schools in other cities. "And for your last semester, you'll be stationed in New York City, doing interpretive dance at Columbus Circle... Don't worry, we here at the University of Chicago will cover the fines... no, we can't bail you out of jail..." They'd never be scared of an audition again.

I basically didn't get out in Brooklyn. I've been to Atlantic-Pacific, and I seem to have a deep rooted hatred of that place. It's probably unfounded. (It's time for Name That Quote! "The Atlantic is greater! "No, the Pacific is greater!" "No...") The D skips the 1st and then the 3rd through 6th stops into the borough during the day. Shortly after jetting past these, we were outside. I love that. We did go over the Manhattan bridge, but learning from my last bridge experience I didn't try too hard to get good pics. Maybe one of these days I'll get lucky and my train will have to stop on the bridge for a minute or two in a spot that offers some nice views... until then I'll have lots of great blurry pictures of support beams.

From 18th Avenue you can see a huge suspension bridge, which I'm making an educated guess to be the Verrazano-Narrows bridge from Bay Ridge to Staten Island. It looks like the pictures on the internet, so I'm thinking it's a safe bet. There are actually much better views than the one I've captured here; I couldn't get the pic fast enough before the train doors closed.

The day began rainy, and then became quite beautiful and sunny. The rainy day feel stuck, though, and many people on the long train ride were sleepy by the time we neared Coney Island.

Ahhh, Coney. I love that place. How can you not? I've waxed on enough on my blogs about its magic, and about the tragedy impending down there; if you don't know please visit the Coney Island USA for details and lend whatever support you can. Because damnit, this country would not be the same with condos in the middle of what should be Astroland.

Despite the positive turn in weather, I didn't really venture into the happyland. I was exhausted, and it was late. But I did manage to get some photos. And because it's so visual down there, and I'm such a visual person, this will now become a photo blog...

This little guy was the first thing I saw upon exiting the train. Maybe they know that people will be tired from their long day on the beach? Or... that people drink on the beach? Hmm. Hard to say.

There are many interesting and, yes, beautiful silkscreened images on the glass brick walls of the Coney Island station. They show the freakshow days of yore, the wonder wheel, et cetera. And then there's this guy, and he makes absolutely no sense, and he's by far my favorite.ISN'T HE FREAKING AWESOME?

There's a police outpost built right into the train station, and that's probably a good idea for a whole lot of reasons. It's quite cute actually, with the little posts with glowing globes outside and all. Aww, look at the cute little police station. I'm sure that's exactly what they had in mind when they built it.

I love this view.

As a vegan, I think I'm officially required to loathe Nathan's. It may be written into law. And in fact the annual hot dog eating contest never fails to turn my stomach. But... look at it! I'm sorry, but that place is freaking awesome! Of course I want their menu to be (vastly) different, but it's an institution. It can't be denied.

Upon re-entering the the D train for my journey home, I discovered a possibly homeless and definitely crazy man in the last car. He was yelling for someone to go away, and accused that entity of being from Idaho. It is of course possible that he was yelling at me. He could have been yelling at someone (or something) not visible to me. Or he could have been yelling at this here seagull. If so, the seagull wasn't perturbed in the least; in fact he was thrilled with the bounty obtained when crazyman missed his target at throwing his Chinese leftovers into the garbage can on the platform.

And then of course, home again home again. I could have cheated and got on the N train, a straight shot shot back to my place. But it always feels more valid to take my designated train at least back into the city, so I did. And if I hadn't, I wouldn't have gotten to see a couple of teenagers playing tonsil hockey from Coney all the way to Atlantic/Pacific. I've often thought of what a boon the subway would have been in the High School years, when getting some time to yourselves is damn near impossible. So for proving my point, thanks kids. And thanks, D train.

**All of the images captured on my D train adventure can be viewed here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

C for Effort - the C Train

And now, the news you've been waiting for!Ok. I admit it fully. I suck. And furthermore I have no idea why I did this to myself. It's fairly excruciating to try to put together a post about a train ride three weeks after the fact. Add in the truths that I took 250 photos on this journey and that it's 2 in the morning, and you get one hell of an interesting combo. But really, it's high time that this blog got blogged. I'm using my photos as a guide, so color along with me as I rebuild the journey that happened oh so long ago now... Ok, so it was just on July 27th. But still.

I was once again joined by my fearless fiance. We decided it would be best to hop on the M60 bus to get into town, which conveniently drags us all the way across 125th Street. From there it's really barely a jump up to 168th: the true start of our C train journey.

Once we reached 168th of course we explored a little. Of all the things we saw, and we did see many things, this may have been my favorite - a cotton candy man floating up Broadway. Jonathan used to live in this neighborhood, so we took a jaunt up to the old apartment. It's an odd mix of real New York edges and Columbia newness. Despite any shows of wealth, though, there was a very visible homeless population.

In fact, the first thing we saw upon getting off of the train at 168th was two (probably) homeless men sleeping on benches. I hope they can get some undisturbed rest. The other disconcerting thing we noticed was that these were by far the shabbiest trains we've ever ridden. They're the same style as some that run on the W and other lines sometimes, but the condition - the speakers don't work, the wheels make ungodly loud noises, the paint is chipping off of the seats like nobody's business, and so on. The C train gets no love. Why is that?

At 110th Street Cathedral Parkway, there's a huge tile mosaic like we see so often. It's interesting, and I'm sure it's meaningful, and I'm sure that one or several artists and artisans poured their hearts and souls into the thing. But the fact is, it's ugly. This is the part I like. Believe me when I tell you it's a small part.

The Installation at 81st Street - the Natural History Museum, don't you know - is called "For Want of a Nail...". I don't get this at all. Now, I know the reference. It's a little anecdote that goes something like this: For want of a nail they lost the shoe; for want of the shoe they lost the horse; for want of the horse they lost the message; for want of the message they lost the battle; for want of the battle they lost the war - all for the want of a horse shoe nail. It's, like, a really complicated way of saying that details matter. How that applies to this installation is what I don't get; it seems to be more of a tribute to evolution and the divergence of animal species, or the beauty and diversity of nature, or something. Whatever though; it's pretty.

Fishes! See, you don't need to go SCUBA diving in the Caribbean; you just need to come to New York City and hang out in subway stations.

I want one of these in my bathroom.

There were two (count them two) buskers in the 81st Street station. One was a fiddler doing Irish jigs - him I found entertaining because I'd just finished reading The Good Fairies of New York, and if you've read that then you know what I'm talking about. He was also engaging the crowd. Somehow I didn't think to pull out my tape recorder at that time. Dumb. And there was this guy, playing that Chinese instrument that they use in all the movies what's name I can't figure out! If you know, please tell me. Anyway, both of them were probably benefiting from the people people that didn't figure out that the B doesn't run on weekends. The C came, the C went, they were all still standing there...

Archaeopteryx! Right up there with Confucius ornis, I tell you. (Have I ever mentioned that I'm a giant fossil dork? Don't even get me started on Canadaspis perfecta...)

The 50th Street Station is interesting. It has this giant full wall etched granite mural by Matt Mullican; quite interesting stuff. Untitled. It seems to trace the development of the human species and then of society, moving from right to left. What's odd about the station is that though it is absolutely cavernous and only serves two trains, its transfers are quite lacking. Basically, if you're on the E and want to transfer to the C going Uptown, well, you can't. You have to go outside, cross 8th avenue, and re-enter (with another metrocard swipe). For a while I wondered if I was just an idiot and couldn't figure it out, but the dry-erase board in the token booth confirmed my suspicions. Seriously, the station is enormous. There's nowhere that there could have been some kind of crossover? Stop by; you'll see what I mean.

Sorry for the wholly inadequate photos of the install; it's hard to photograph. And I was hungry.

As I may have mentioned, Penn Station pains me. Mainly because this is what it used to look like, before they decided to tear it down. I believe 1963 was the year of the evil deed. I am of course not the only person upset by this; apparently when it happened it caused an "international outrage" and actually prompted the city to pay a lot more attention to preserving architectural landmarks. Below is what it looks like now.

Oh, yeah, that's the same. It's definitely not a grotesque piece of crap now or anything. They definitely didn't destroy an architectural marvel only to replace it with the most god awful mall in creation. No, that didn't happen at all. (OK, deep breath. Aaaannnnd focus. And we're back.) That said, there are some amazing installation pieces in the new Penn, mostly created by Andrew Leicester - a man who seems to share my (and the popular) view of what has happened in this space but unlike most had the chance to make a rather visible dent in the problem.

Thanks Mr. Leicester. Of course, with that place there's only so much you can do.

Granted, the new Penn does have this. It's not every day that you get to see a bear in a pink dress, now is it.

Which way to the nearest bank? Cuz this chick in the yellow, she's kinda freaking me out... Oh and in case you're wondering, no I'm not done posting pictures of 14th street. Not at all.

Somewhere around West 4th Street we encountered these hipster buskers. They weren't bad, but boy did they pick the wrong train. I think they were looking for the L.

We've got an eye on you! Or more like a hundred of them, all different. At Chambers, Big Brother (or maybe Big Mosaic) is watching.

He's got the whole world, in his... subway station. Also at chambers street, along with all the eyes watching you, is this enormous globe mosaic - it's kind of awesome, and I wish they'd keep it cleaner. There is, of course, an eye in the center.

An interesting tidbit about the Utica Avenue station. Its mezzanine is rather cavernous, and in the 90's it was refurbished with those pretty mosaics designed by children and the twirly tile designs and all. But the reason it's so big up there is this: it was supposed to be two train stations, not one. The MTA had a project called the Second System that really died before it started because of the Great Depression. But a few of the stations did get a start, mainly the ones that overlapped with existing stations. This to my understanding is one of them; if we could lift away that wall directly ahead, the one with the pretty twirlyness, we would be looking at an abandoned platform - one that never had its tracks built. Does that make anyone else feel like trespassing? Or am I just some kind of hooligan?

We made it! Of course, we'd been there before.

Ahh, the proud opening of a station that these men will doubtless never enter again.

Waiting on the train... Euclid is known for its lavender tiling.

At least one sign believed that the Euclid station is in Queens... It isn't. But maybe it was once.

The neighborhood isn't what I'd call charming, but it has some interesting details. It reminds me of New Orleans a little - would so more if it had more trees.

At the local bodega in City Line? East New York? Cypress Hills? You decide - we met a sweet kitten who was more than willing to receive our attentions. At the same bodega, I lingered too long lamenting the lack of choices of diet beverages while anxious proprietors looked on wondering what the hell we were doing there, and a semi-crazy but fairly young black lady called me baby and asked me how much a particular 40oz cost. All in all, it was a good finish to the day.

**To see all of my C train photos, try going here.