I know I spend a lot of time in this blog bashing the MTA and how badly they are serving us subway commuters. I would have more time and do less bashing it if I could actually frickin’ get frickin’ home on frickin’ time. Like today, for example…..wait. Let’s back up.
Truth is, I love the subway. Where would we be without the subway? It is certainly possible to live in New York City and never ride a train. I know people who bike everywhere, even when it rains, and kudos to them! Others combine walking with the bus system and do just fine.
That’s all very well and good, but there are over 8 million people living in an area about 20 miles long and 15 miles wide, with most residential units being in the air. Until safe, cheap, and automatic jetpacks can whiz us through the skies in weather-proof bubbles, we aren’t all going to fit on the streets in our own cars. We’re not all going to fit in the buses, or on the bikepaths. We need the subway.
In other cities, the subway is called the “metro”, the “underground”, or a “light rail system”. Here it’s “the subway” or “the train”, as in “I’m on the train – why are you texting me?” Whatever you call it, having a subway is why a city can hold its head up high. It’s how the citizenry know their country is moving from “third world” to “developed”. It’s what makes a capital city a Capital City. It’s the difference between being world class and being a big mess.
So here’s to the New York City Subway. You and I will be frenemies forever. Here’s why.
You can travel a total of 665 miles of track on two dollars and seventy-five cents. Sure, we like to grouse about the high price of our commute, but you’ll never find a more economical
day trip than just scooting around town on the subway. It’s also one of the few systems to charge a flat rate, no matter how far you’re going. Someone riding from Far Rockaway in Brooklyn to Pelham Bay in the Bronx pays the same as someone going from Tribeca to Wall Street.
The trains are the fastest game in town. Let’s say you want to get from Columbus Circle to Park Slope. Too bad the Enterprise transporter is offline! What’s the fastest way there? Please don’t say “taxi”. You’ll be instagraming the meter as it notches up your fare every 30 seconds. Meanwhile, you’re stuck in a metal box with a broken a/c waiting while everyone in line for the Holland tunnel creeps forward, one car at a time. The light turns green – joy!
You move 5 inches. Then it turns red. Repeat cycle for another 45 minutes. Uber? Please – they’re the car behind you honking every time the light turns green and you can’t move.
If you’re smart, you pay your fare, get out, and take the subway.
NYC has the oldest subway system on the planet. There’s a fine patina of age over it all, and the transit museum is a must-see for every NYC schoolkid. Back when it was new and thrilling, it inspired a risqué song (risqué for 1913). Check it out.
You are reading the ads because you are squished in so tightly you can’t move your phone to your nose and there’s nothing else to do. Suddenly, your attention is drawn to an ad for…what are they selling? What’s this? A poem about the transitory nature of life itself? How delightful! I love subway poetry, because it breaks up the monotony and some of it is really nice.
Pantless subway riding has been an annual event for 15 years. Bet they don’t do this in every big city (at least without risking arrest)! The boxers get more colorful every year, and the train conductors more resigned.
Unless you’re in Rio, you can’t get to the beach by subway. Except here. I know it’s not the Riviera, but you can get to three major beaches by subway: the Rockaways, Coney Island, and Orchard Beach. The reachability of the beaches was taken note of by the infamous Robert Moses, who designed some of the overpasses on the way to Long Island beaches to be too low for buses to pass under. In other words, you had to be of a certain, umm, shall we say, social and economic status to be able to own a car and therefore go to a Long Island beach (hint hint: you had to be white). Fortunately, the subway beaches are just perfect for most New Yorkers, who can get to Far Rockaway and then home on the A train with ease.
The iconic subway tile mosaics were created during the Great Depression to give work to people who would otherwise have none. They are beautiful and detailed, and some of them have been restored. In the same spirit, the MTA has created new subway station mosaic art with station themes. Granted, these don’t go very far uptown, but the Upper West Side has a whole new lease on life. Don’t forget the stations that are filled with art and sculpture: check out 14th Street.
Power to the People!
New York subway riders have their own advocacy group. In fact, there are TWO. There’s Riders Alliance and the decades old Straphangers Campaign. Both get points for holding the MTA to account for providing great service to us, the commuters.
I’m sure every place has someone who gets obsessed with something local. Here, we have subway fanatics. These are people who, if the subway were a late night talk show host, would be slapped with a restraining order. Check out this guy, who has photographed every subway station in New York City — and not just New York City! Then head on over to the wiki that tells you more than you may wish to know, and has a whole bunch of contributors.
What fun is it if everything is known? You need a little mystery in life, and the subway has allure by the bucketful. There are abandoned stations, secret tunnels, underground mole people, mysterious hand-signals, lazy train-riding pigeons, hidden exits, and the unofficial Columbus Circle bird sanctuary.
Why would anyone need a car?