I am convinced that living in areas not immediately within walking distance from a subway may save them from gentrification and cultural death. I am fortunate enough to live in one of those thankfully un-hip areas of the five boroughs. But while my neighborhood is still overpriced and overcrowded, it still retains some of its old-world New York charm and character.
But I rely on buses to get me to the 7 train that gets me to the 6 train that gets me to work. The 7 train and the 4-5-6 line in Manhattan are two of the most miserable and overcrowded subway lines in the entire system, which is quite an accomplishment.
But I’m lucky. I’m lucky I have a job that I can safely commute to. I’ve also learned some of the tricks of the trade that can at least alleviate my daily aggravation somewhat. One of them is catching a ride on the Q34 bus when I can.
The Q34 is my preferred bus. I can get on early enough to have a place to sit in the morning and if I take it home in the evening I can usually get a set as well. Because it’s a smaller line and its riders are usually from a middle-and-working class part of Queens, there is a greater degree of civility than on the other buses I could take. The Q44 goes from the Bronx all the way to Jamaica, Queens and is almost always crowded. The Q20 is a local version of the Q44 when it passes by my home, so it picks up all the angry people who couldn’t fit or who would otherwise be miserably stewing on the Q44. After you’ve been on the Q44, the Q34 feels like a VIP lounge with diesel fumes; it’s the Rolls Royce of regular-fare bus rides when it’s working properly.
But here is the catch: the Q34 is a rogue ghost ship during the evening commute. Somewhere in a dark alleyway in downtown Flushing there must be a gaggle of Q34 drivers spending their evenings gambling or drinking themselves into a stupor while what seems like one lone bus drives the entire route by itself, and slowly. If you get to Main Street and see no line for the Q34, forget it. Then again, I’ve done that only to see a near-empty one drive by minutes later.
Normally I know to jump on the line for the Q34 when I see that there is one at Main Street. If there are people waiting in any significant numbers, it means enough time has elapsed since the last bus arrived that the next one cannot be too far off. This bus stop is at the corner of Roosevelt Ave. and Main St. in Flushing, Queens, which makes it one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in the city if not the world. It’s also right outside a busy Duane Reade convenience store. The stop is on a stretch of street that hosts several other bus stops.
The line for the Q34 got so long that it doubles up upon itself like a large snake folding itself in half. Pedestrians bump into people waiting on line even when they try not to. Multitudes of buses roll down that section of Main Street, very few of them are Q34s.
And last week I achieved something that is rare even in the miserable world of Queens bus transit: I stood on line for the Q34 longer than it would normally take to drive the entire length of the Q34 route.
One reaches a point oftentimes of waiting for public transit that you want to give up in disgust and find another means to get going to where you have to be, but you’ve invested so much time in waiting that you refuse to budge. Damn it, I’m going to get my money’s worth and the MTA isn’t going to win this round! I found myself standing in the cold among the other miserable people waiting for the Q34 with this same mentality. I would enjoy a seat on the Q34 this evening if it was the last thing I ever did.
I have no right to complain, as I have other options for getting home in the evening. But many of the people who ride the Q34 do not have that option, and the underserved but route is all that stands between them and a pricy cab ride or a long walk home.
This past weekend saw the passing of The Countess, who had been my cat for more than 14 years. She was found on the street by a friend on Harlem and spent her life living in Inwood and Queens. She spent her entire 14 years as a resident of the five boroughs. I would contend that she represented New York City better than any living creature and was the most New York cat in all of New York.
I was unemployed and looking for work in early 2002 and spent a good bit of time playing music with my friend Christian, who at the time lived on West 135th Street in Manhattan. His roommate found a small kitten underneath a car and brought it home. When they had to vacate the apartment, Christian asked if I could take the cat. I had been considering getting a cat anyway, so I was happy to have a pet, the first of my very own.
I named her The Countess for Countess Constance Markievicz, an Irish revolutionary. An uncompromising and rebellious fighter for Irish freedom, she is believed to have fired some of the first shots of the 1916 Easter Rising. Spared the firing squad because of her gender, she told her jailers, “I wish you had the decency to shoot me.”
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the name would be perfect for my cat. The Countess was violent and uncompromising in every respect. She was a calico—a cat that is multicolored and splotchy in appearance. All calicos are female and are also known for not being very social or friendly. They typically only bond with one person. For The Countess, that was me and no one else.
While I always saw my cat behaving indifferently towards most of my guests, she became an outright terror for friends and neighbors that agreed to feed her while I was traveling. One Christmas while visiting family in California, a neighbor called to tell me she was afraid to go into my apartment again because my cat attacked her. Others were able to feed her but not allowed near her litter box. I sometimes wore unpleasant scars myself. I once tried to picker her up only have her curl into a ball around my arm and sink her claws into my forearm. I didn’t notice until later that I was bleeding through my shirt as I waited for a bus.
I took a certain pride in the fact that The Countess was mean and cold towards most of the world. That made her more exclusively mine and made me one of the elite few who was worthy of the cat’s love and affection. She was sit with me and purr when I pet her. She showed me great affection and would sometimes leave dead mice for me as tribute. A dead mouse once sat on the floor of my apartment for several hours, mistaken for one of her cat toys.
Some of my friends and family came to have at least a gainful coexistence with the cat. She warmed to some of them but not others. Sadly, she never became friendly with my children, and m two older kids were justifiably afraid of her.
It was hard to make the call when it was time for her to go, but my cat’s health took a steep turn for the worse after many vet visits to aid her declining health. The Countess, who once prowled my apartment striking fear into the hearts of even hardened combat veterans and experienced cat owners, was no longer able to stand or walk on her own. I thought she had more time and that things were on the path to improvement, but it was not to be.
I went to a 24-hour veterinary clinic with The Countess and came home with an empty cat carrier. The cluttered apartment I share with my wife and three kids feels a bit empty. Every time I got into our kitchen I see where the cat’s food bowl used to be and I’m reminded of her loss.
The Countess was the most senior family member of my own choosing in my life. She was mean and a terror to most but she was mine and I loved her. RIP Countess.
Among the many holiday traditions that we go through are finding the fine balance between indulging in all the requisite holiday traditions with children while not creating a burning hatred of the holidays within yourself.
Considering that I live in one of the largest urban centers of the known universe, I am very much averse to crowds and would rather not go where there is a crush of people. And it’s not that these are New York crowds that makes my hatred of crowds so strong, I’ve found that in places like Atlanta, where the crowds are often suburbanites with not concept of urban life or shared space, people are more likely to get on your nerves and not know how to move or act in a crowded space. New York has more than its share of clueless retards who don’t know how to ride an escalator or even walk down a hallway, but there is at least a baseline population of those that do that can make life here bearable.
So the holidays tend to bring the tourists and other urban amateurs within the five boroughs to see the sights and sounds. We need their tourist dollars to help keep this show afloat, but we can see a lot of beautiful holiday stuff without having to endure the hoard of vapid slow-walkers that make visiting our beautiful city a shit show.
When some of my family wanted to head to Times Square the day after Christmas a few years ago, I thought they were out of their minds. I still went along with them anyway because I didn’t want to miss out on spending some time with family. While I was trying to navigate my way out of the giant M&Ms World store, I vowed to no god that I would avoid crushing holiday crowds at all cost.
I am very lucky and in a rare position as a New York City dweller in that I have regular access to an automobile. Part of that is a function of where in the city I live. I’m in a more suburban part of Eastern Queens. I’m still in the thick of a crowded city, but I’m in an area where driving a car is not the abysmal insanity that it is in Manhattan or parts of Brooklyn. That gives us options to get to places that are off limits to a lot of my family and friends, including people with kids, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
I had a day off of work and we managed to get our brood, along with the help of grandparents, to Hicks Nurseries on Long Island. It has a lot of beautiful holiday stuff there – really nice trees and ornaments that lend dignity and beauty to the holiday. They also have a lot of the schlocky crap you’d expect people from Long Island to love (sorry Long Island friends but it’s true).
Hicks Nurseries on a weekday is a good time, on the weekend it’s a madhouse. It’s a nice madhouse and a nice place to get Christmas stuff, but a madhouse nonetheless – their credit card readers are also ancient and it declined my credit card even though it wasn’t overdrawn or anything.
While I try not to simply phone it in for the holidays, I want to lead by example for the children. If your kids see you going apeshit over Christmas, they’re going to go apeshit over Christmas too. If you act like Santa is maybe no big deal, then your kids won’t ask to stand in line for an hour to meet a man in a Santa suit. So when I saw people lining up an hour ahead of time to meet “Santa” at Hicks, I knew I didn’t want to linger. We did buy a tree though despite their credit card malfeasance.
For a good Santa with little to no waiting, head to Old Westbury Gardens. It’s a worthwhile place to visit any time of the year. It’s the former estate of wealthy attorney and industrial heir John Shaffer Phipps that is now open to the public and well preserved. There are interesting events there all year round. We brought our kids there for an arts & crafts event and discovered that they have a Santa Claus there on the weekends. There was no waiting. It was free (with admission to the grounds) and the Santa was friendly. Our girls did not want to sit on Santa’s lap and even expressed some skepticism afterwards (“Santa didn’t say ‘Ho, ho ho,’” one of our girls observed).
I’m very much looking forward to the holidays this year, and not just because I’m going to be getting some nice gifts and eat delicious food, but because I’m going to be spending more time with family, including my smart and tough daughters. Our family has had a lot of down moments this year, with death and illnesses putting a damper on everything. But getting to take time away from the busy workday and put in time with family, where it counts, is something to be joyous about, even in the most jaded of times.