Sunday, November 16, 2008

A successful mini-ride on the 6.

Today I finally, finally, finally made my ride around the southern terminal loop to confirm my suspicions about the old City Hall station. Indeed, what I had conjectured is true. Unfortunately, you can't see much, but whatever. It's still awesome. When I made my ride I was in the front of the train, but of course in the R142A's with double panes of tinted glass you can't really see through the front. I want to try it again in the back, and in the daylight because apparently the skylights are no longer boarded up. I'm getting mixed stories on that one.

On the way down, I was also able to spot the fabled 18th Street Station - man, is that some serious graffiti.

Anyway, at the moment I'm allowing my creative worlds to collide, and my 6 train ride got incorporated into the novel I'm writing for NaNoWriMo. The passage goes something like this.
Once her friend was fed she had to leave; there was nothing else to be done, no reason to be foisted upon the girl, and anyway it was difficult to watch her like that. The day kept getting colder and windier though, and as Kansas had had quite enough of being cold she decided it was a good train riding day. She rode the N train the wrong way, up to Ditmars, and then waited for it to turn back in the other direction toward Manhattan. Perhaps, she thought, she'd ride all the way to Coney. She'd forgotten though that they'd be doing construction on the tunnel all month, and at Queensboro Plaza she was forced out onto the outdoor platform to wait for the 7 into the city. She rode it to Grand central, where she caught the 6 train headed south. She'd long had a bone to pick with the 6, and it was time that it be addressed.

A few stops passed uneventfully: 33rd Street with its oddly looped seat poles, 28th Street, 23rd Street utterly boring. After 23rd Street though, her pace began to quicken, and she moved to the windows at a set of right hand doors. As they left the station, she cupped her hands around her eyes so as to see better out the window past the glaring reflections from the lights inside the train; for a few moments she was only staring at the rapidly moving walls. It was dizzying. And then suddenly, the wall opened up before her into a wide platform, with intermittent poles. It was an oddly shaped space full of geometric angles, and every square inch had been covered in graffiti since the station had been abandoned. No longer a rumor, she had seen it with her own two eyes: the 18th Street Station. She wondered what had happened to the entrances above. Had they been bricked shut, paved over? She would have to investigate, see if there were traces to be found, clues to the former existence of the passageway.

This train held further mysteries, so before the doors opened at Union Square she took a seat, knowing full well the flood that would be arriving momentarily. They passed Astor Place, with its odd beaver reliefs as tribute to the Astor family who made their fortune in pelts. They passed Bleecker, name of origin unknown, but it might have been her favorite street in the entire town; she had walked it end to end more times than she could count. That station connected with the Broadway Lafayette station of the F and V lines, with its odd metal cones perforated with glass circlets, which flashed lights at indeterminate intervals. Next Spring Street, the epicenter of the SoHo shopping district – Kate's Paperie and Spring Street Natural and Pylones a stone's throw. Then Canal Street, the ubiquitous street name phenomenon in every port city, here the gateway to the ever expanding Chinatown. And finally Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall... or at least, what they were calling the City Hall station these days.

The original City Hall station, opened in 1904 complete with chandelier lighting and amid much fanfare, had been closed for decades. Because of its location directly beneath City Hall, it was designed as the “jewel in the crown” of the whole Interboro Rapid Transit system. People stopped going to the station, though, because of the much larger Brooklyn Bridge station only a block north which had express service... How quickly they forget. And so, the station was retired in 1945, the skylights boarded up, the entrances sealed, the the chandeliers allowed to crust over. It had only been open for 41 years, so in fact had been abandoned far longer than it was ever used.

But. The 6 trains, upon finishing their southbound route at Brooklyn Bridge / City Hall, needed a way to get to the uptown bound platform four tracks over. The way they did it was to loop through the old station. Or at least, this was her conjecture. She'd looked up old track maps and it all made sense, all fit together. She wanted to find out.

When her train pulled into the station, she sat tight, listening. Sometimes the trains got pulled out of commission at this point, sent straight back north to Pehallam Bay. That would be bad. Or maybe not; it would be an adventure, but the MTA officers likely would not be terribly pleased upon discovering her. The announcement was made though: “This is the last southbound stop on this train; the next stop on this train will be Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall on the uptown platform.” Perfect.

The train sat for a few minutes with the doors open, and then it sat for a few minutes with the doors closed. And then it began to move. She could feel that they were traveling through the wide arc of the old paths. She waited patiently by the doors, on the righthand side of the car, watching, watching. And then there it was. It was indeed a short platform, very short and not very wide. City Hall was spelled out in tiling like in so many of the old stations. In the middle of the platform there were stairs leading up to a mezzanine level; she believed this was where most of the resplendent features of the station lay. She wished, though, that she could see the ceiling, vaulted and arced with leaded skylight detailing...

It was over all too quickly. Her train passed the platform in a matter of seconds, and then waited at the end of the loop for several moments in deafening silence for clearance to enter the uptown 6 platform at Brooklyn Bridge. Overhead, a 4 or 5 train roared by every few minutes. As they finally emerged from the tunnel, she thought, this city is amazing.

Emerging into the great circle that held the Ugliest Fountain, she found the world dark despite the early hour and colder than ever. Tonight she would not be able to sleep in her studio, with the bone-chilling winds making her old jaloused window rattle loose in its wall of glass brick, and she still without a proper blanket. She wondered what had become of Mr. Norris's things after he had passed. And then a vision in her memory made her stop dead in her tracks: at the very end of the Old City Hall Platform, there had been something. Someone. Standing, stoic. The goat, sturdy as always, patiently chewing cud.

I'm throwing in this youtube video I found, because it shows exactly what I was able to see on tonight's ride of City Hall. Whoever shot this is a lil bit goofy, but that's alright.

2 comments:

Tom said...

I absolutely love this project! Thanks for the descriptions. This reminds me of that urban archeology my friend is always telling me about - the hidden, forgotten, and sometimes creepy side to things right around us in the city. Also, having never been to NY, it's just plain fun to read about, if a trifle confusing (which seems to be very New York-ish anyway).

melissa bastian. said...

Ah Tom, your enthusiasm is always cheering. I'm terribly sorry that I haven't put anything up here in about forever - I've actually done two train rides that I have yet to blog. This is a situation that I plan to correct fairly soon...