Every day I ride the Subway. The MTA. New York City Transit. I go from Brooklyn to Manhattan, from Manhattan to Brooklyn, from Manhattan to Queens and, very occasionally, to the Bronx. This is what I see.

Location: Manhattan, New York, United States

I ride trains. Subway trains in New York City. Daily.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Pleasant Valley Sunday

Today involved no public transportation at all. Visited the two nephews (4 and 1, respectively) out on Long Island. Packed them both into their car seats in the back of the old family truckster and ferried them out to the same community park playground that I frequented back in the 1970s and '80s.

My old stomping grounds on Long Island remain of interest in the news. To date, my old high school has produced the following eclectic trio of noteworthy individuals: a George W. Bush Cabinet member married to a Senator from Kentucky; a disaffected Tony award winner who has nothing complimentary to say about our common alma mater; and a popular young actress who's gleefully bucked Nassau County's old-school Republican trend and endorsed John Kerry on the United States' political program of record (David Letterman).

Visiting the playground itself, where I haven't been in years, triggers the usual display over-dramatic nostalgia. The entire playground of my youth has been dismantled, and replaced with a few of those big metal jungle gyms (which itself replaced the old wood-and-rubber-tires jungle gym that went into and out of vogue in the '90s). Even the swing set was moved to a different part of the park. Also, the walk to the snack bar got a lot shorter. The ice skating rink that, in summer, used to hold miniature golf, is fallow this August.

Driving back from the park was another exercise in nostalgia. Just about every business I remember from that particular stretch of Jericho Turnpike has turned over at least twice since I graduated high school.

Tomorrow night I will return to Brooklyn, which will be another exercise in despair. I already miss the W train, with its express ride from Bensonhurst to Union Square. I have come to dread the D, which evidently stands for "Duh...whenever", at least when it comes to getting home during rush hour. And this is not nostalgia for the '80s, either. This is nostalgia for six months ago, when we still had the W.

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Sunday, August 08, 2004

The Manchurian Candidate

One of these things is not like the other:

  • Roger Corman
  • Sidney Lumet
  • Jon Voight
  • Fab Five Freddy

All of the above appeared in the Jonathan Demme remake of The Manchurian Candidate. Two played politicos and two played political commentators. In a by-the-numbers world, three of the above names would be automatic choices to appear in political thrillers (and the fourth name would usually be James Woods). However, you've gotta like a movie that'll go beyond the obligatory, and put Fab Five Freddy in the Larry King or Bernard Shaw role.

Some good on-location shooting in New York, also. Yes, the tragicially generic Pennsylvania Station is practically unrecognizable in the interior shots, but that's not the movie's fault. But we also get Liev Schrieber's campaign office digitally inserted into Times Square, where the WWF The World restaurant used to be. And the Jacob Javits Federal Building at 26 Federal Plaza (the tall building wedged in between the Foley Square courthouses and the Duane Street Duane Reade) serves as the exterior for one of Denzel Washington's interrogation scenes.

No subway scenes. It's hard to do a political thriller set partially in NYC without doing a subway chase. We do get a shot of Denzel looking pensive riding a bus from DC to New York, and another shot of Denzel looking pensive riding Amtrak back down to DC. But, again, this is a different kind of political thriller, so there were no recycled shots of menacing Secret Servcies agents dodging and weaving between the pillars on the platform of the Bleecker Street 6 subway station. Instead, we got Fab Five Freddy.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

No More Happy Recap

I don't think he ever rode the 7 to Shea Stadium, but Bob Murphy was a big part of the Subway Rider's formative years. It was hard to do homework in front of the TV in my house, due to a lack of flat surfaces in the TV room, but you could always have the radio on in the kitchen, and there was Bob Murphy, late into the evening, informing me that "The Mets win the damned thing by the score of 10 to 9!".

Bob Murphy died yesterday. Typically for my luck with the Mets of late, I didn't even find out until this morning. I missed the whole radio broadcast of last night's game, featuring numerous eulogies by the current radio team, Howie Rose and the only man who could ever begin to fill Murph's place, Gary Cohen.

Murph started broadcasting baseball when my parents were kids, and he was nearly a senior citizen by the time I learned that baseball sounded better on the radio than on TV. For years, I associated Murph's voice with the sound of frustration -- from 1987 through '91, the first phase of my Murph addiction, the Mets came close night after night, but never sealed the deal by winning a playoff series.

It wasn't until I moved back to New York in 1999, just in time for spring training (burned out from years of Tom Hamilton blurting through Cleveland Indians games on radio), that I began collecting Murph broadcasts on audiotape. Got some good games, too. When you take a native Oklahoman and plunk him into Queens 81 nights a year, you get some expressions to savor for a lifetime.

Masato Yoshii is facing nine miles of bad road.

There's nothing about this situation that looks good for Armando Benitez.

Andy Benes is a big man. He's big enough to go bear-hunting with a buggy whip.

Tonight's Lenox game-time temperature, a remarkable 74 degrees.

There's not a cloud in the sky, plenty of blue sky to be seen.

In later years, Murph seemed a little in awe of Gary Cohen. Last season he started praising Michael Lewis's Moneyball, until Cohen began a mini-rant about how he didn't want to read it. Murph retreated gracefully: "You're right, Gary". Even his misquotes, however, were charming: he invariably confused player names of the present with the names from a generation ago. Hence, Tony Perez and Cesar Cedeno roamed the outfield for the Mets the last two seasons. Opposing pitcher Woody Williams became Woody Woodward. Murph called one game in spring training earlier this year, from his native Florida, but somehow managed to avoid referring to the new shortstop as Hideki Matsui. He refused to call Pro Player Stadium anything other than Joe Robbie, bless him. And, out of respect, WFAN never updated the naming rights of Jack Murphy Stadium (named for Bob's brother) to the corporate disaster that used to be Qualcomm. The Padres made the point moot this year by moving to Petco Field.

Murph could be sarcastic ("That was a real baserunning rock by Rey Ordonez", he announced every few weeks), but never mean. When Kenny Rogers walked in the losing run in the 1999 NLCS at the end of a marathon 10-9 defeat, Murph had to select a Nikon Camera player of the game. He picked "the whole darned team".

In years past, you could ride the 7 to Shea at Willet's Point, and hear a much younger-sounding Murph recording broadcast across the concourse outside the stadium, advising you to be safe and drink alcohol responsibly. Last year that message was taken down. The Mets should put it back up, and let it run for the duration of the franchise. The Murph may be gone, but his voice still remains the glue that holds the team together.

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Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Second Coming

I live just four subway stops away from Coney Island, so I should only be a five-minute train ride away from the beach. However, the backlog of trains arriving at the Stillwell Avenue station, where the D train shares space with the Q and the unheralded F, usually slows that ride into a 20-minute slog.

Stepping out of the Stillwell Avenue station, and crossing Surf Avenue, is akin to time warping back to 1930. The iconic Nathan's marquis is utterly non-digital. Most of the billboards look like something you'd expect to find unchanged from a book of 1940s and '50s photographs. Even Shoot the Freak, a Surf Avenue attraction, is low-tech. I'd assume that I'd have to shoot the freak with a Marine rifle rather than a high-tech intelligent Tom Clancy weapon.

So after four or five hours on the boardwalk and on the beach, it's back to the Stillwell Avenue station, recently redecorated but still looking mostly like a Santa Monica warehouse. Then you ride the train back into Bensonhurst, and then it hits you:

The MTA's annoying Poetry in Motion series is quoting William Butler Yeats. On July 31st, 2004, coming back from a locale best known for unsafe amusement park rides and Shoot the Freak, there you sit reading The Second Coming. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the subway rider's world, indeed.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

Well, that's relevant, it explains why a New York Times' critique of John Kerry's acceptance speech has been quoted on George W. Bush's campaign web site.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

That would be the Freak, of course. The Freak must be:

A shape with lion body, and the head of a man
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun

This is the trouble with Poetry in Motion. There is no correlation between riding the 7 train through Long Island City, and reading the words of Sherman Alexie. And William Butler Yeats, I'm sorry to say, has no place in Coney Island.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2004


Back on the road again for Subway Rider. Today was one of the days you only get when your firm's travel department gets stingy with the plastic.

To get from Queens, New York to Bluefield, West Virginia, some men might drive. Yes, it's 540 miles, but it's not like you're paying the mileage or rental car out of pocket. Still, that's 10 hours of road time.

Other people would fly into the nearest airport.

Still other people would board a plane to Atlanta. On the air carrier formerly known as ValuJet. You know, the Everglades people. Based out of Atlanta, oldest fleet in the air. I think they have exactly one mechanic. And what's their logo? It's a cursive lowercase "A". Yes. You remember that logo from your 1979 Topps baseball cards. It's the same logo that the Atlanta Braves used to wear when Ted Turner was managing, Phil Niekro was pitching, and Bob Horner still weighed less than 300 pounds So we're not coming from a good place here.

So Atlanta's still another 450 miles or so from West Virginia. After a 2-hour layover, board a plane to Greensboro, NC. That plane takes an extra 30 minutes on the runway. I've been flying ValuJet for a couple of years now and I can't remember a trip that didn't have a delay of at least 30 minutes on at least one leg. This is why they're not the official carrier of The Amazing Race.

Out of Greensboro, it was rent a car and drive 145 miles. 20 miles of that was in the pouring, driving rain up in the Blue Ridge mountains. So high up you could look down in the valley and see clouds floating along like lazy pterodactyls.

When I arrived at my hotel, I was greeted by the sounds of an '80s cover band playing a high school 20-year reunion.

What is it about airport concessions people and inability to learn simple customer service? I'm tired of ordering something off the menu and being told, curtly, "We don't have that." Whatever happened to prefacing that with "I'm sorry?"

And, hey, ValuJet. Get over the pretzels. If you wanna be a discount carrier in this day and age, you gotta take a page out of JetBlue's book. TV and a choice of crummy snacks. Blue potato chips? Who wouldn't want to eat those? Even weirder, the foil wrapping on my pretzel bag was all creased. As if some business traveler on the previous flight had it clutched in his sweaty fist as he napped for 90 minutes, and then the flight attendant just recycled the unopened bag for the next set of passengers.

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Sunday, July 25, 2004

Conductor Rules

This harks back to my earlier thoughts on New Jersey Transit.  The only phrase I can use to describe today's occurrence is... rinky-dink.

On the Long Island Railroad, when you buy a round-trip ticket, you get one ticket.  The conductor punches one half during the first trip, and takes your ticket during the return. 

On New Jersey Transit, however, you get not a single ticket, but rather two one-way tickets, both marked with the code RTX, which is ticket-shorthand-ese for round trip excursion.  So today, for $7, the clunky old ticket vending machine in Penn Station (which presumably operates on a 2400 baud modem) gave me two squares of cardboard.  One marked NYP NYP RTX S ORNGE, and the other marked S ORNGE RTX NYP NYP.

(If you understand what that means, you probably ride New Jersey Transit daily.  My condolences.)

Now, the following didn't happen to me.  This happened to some bearded guy riding across the aisle from me.  He attempted to use his remaining RTX, having already used the first ticket on a prior trip into Manhattan.  Unforunately, he used his RTX tickets in the wrong order.  Today, he offered the conductor a ticket marked ??? RTX NYP NYP, even though he was actually traveling from NYP NYP to ???.

The conductor then yelled at him.  Chewed him out for offering up the wrong ticket.  Twice!  Even threatened to charge him NJT's ridiculously exorbitant $5 step-up fare, all for using his RTXs in the wrong order.   Not only did she yell after collecting his ticket, but she paused and turned around after collecting two more rows' worth of tickets, to tell him the same thing all over again.

What kind of world is this, where the regulations are applied in such a manner as to cause a train conductor to yell at a commuter?  It wasn't like the man tried to get a free ride.  It's not even as if he tried to use his RTX during rush-hour, when RTX fares are inapplicable.  He simply used his tickets in reverse order.  Net damage to NJT: none.

Because the subway doesn't have conductors, Kafka-esque situations like this rarely happen in NYC.  The analagous situation is when a commuter jumps a turnstile after the MetroCard got eaten, and then gets ticketed by transit police.  This has actually happened, although not to me.

Unfortunately, I slept through most of the 35-minute ride to S ORNGE, and when I awoke, the victimized commuter.  was gone.  In one of life's most enduring mysteries, I will never know what ??? was.

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Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Staten Island Ferry

I don't know when they're going to finish the Whitehall Staten Island Ferry Terminal at the southern tip of Manhattan.  The inside of the terminal now resembles a cavernous Hollywood movie set -- concrete, concrete everywhere.  Without lights, props, actors, or burly  crewmembers in production T-shirts.  All that's there is about five benches, and a guy riding a sort of Zamboni designed to clean concrete floors.  Even the concession stand is gone.

The outside of the terminal -- a gigantic glass and steel monstrosity, like Chicago's renovated Soldier Field -- is slowly taking shape.  At the moment it's a lot of scaffolding, with bad pavement and lots of temporary walls, but it has the potential to a be well-respected postmodern eyesore when it's all done.

I've come to enjoy riding the Ferry, which I never had the opportunity to do once during the first 17 New York-bound years of my life.  Even after moving back to NYC I managed to not even so much as see the Whitehall terminal for five years.  This year I've had to ride the ferry for work, occasionally.  It's a great, short, free ride.  I always sit on the starboard side on the trip to the St. George terminal on Staten Island, so I can see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  You'd never know I was a native, from the way I say that, but it is an inspiring view.  Even better is the view as the return ferry pulls out of St. George -- your range of vision stretches all the way from Hoboken to Coney Island.  How cool is that?

The St. George terminal is also unfinished, although it's starting to take shape as well.  It even has turnstiles, but since the Ferry is free, the turnstiles do nothing except make it harder to wheel a suitcase in/out of the waiting area.

The Staten Island Yankees play right next to the St. George terminal.  Again, great place for a ballpark.  There's a big advertising banner in the Whitehall terminal.  Of course, since a Class A baseball team by definition can have no big stars for more than a season -- even the managers turn over yearly -- there's not a whole lot to advertise on a banner.  There are more mascots shown than players.

A pretzel and a hot dog get pride of place on the banner.   This says something about the expectations of management as to what kind of people are going to show up to Staten Island Yankees games at the [insert corporate sponsor's name] Ballpark at St. George, but I'm not sure what.  The next time I see a pretzel and a hot dog riding the ferry I will know where to send them for fun.

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