The view from the express bus
Changing jobs means figuring out new benefits and pay scales, learning new things and figuring out how to get your email to work correctly at your new job. In New York we have the additional calculus of our daily commute.
My old job was in the Flatiron District, which from Flushing meant a bus to the 7 train at Main Street, the 7 train to Grand Central Terminal, and the 6 train from Grand Central to 23rd St. When things went well, this commute could be as little as an hour. When things went wrong, this commute could be grueling. The 7 train is a deceptive beast that is almost always overcrowded and miserable and picks the absolutely worse times to crap out on commuters. During my last week at my old job, the geniuses at the MTA decided to have our 7 train boot out all of its Manhattan-bound passengers out at the Hunter’s Point stop – a stop with no other connecting trains. The 6 train was often overcrowded or late, and construction on Main Street meant that taking a bus home took longer.
I decided to go with a completely different route to downtown Manhattan, where my new job is. At the recommendation of my wife, I began taking the express bus into Manhattan. The express bus is a like a coach bus, but it operates within the city on very specific routes. The QM20 picks up passengers right across the street from my building; it and the QM2 can take me home via 6th Avenue near 34th. An R or W train (which are still too slow) can take me downtown from there.
The express bus is more expensive—$6.50 each way—but if you’re able to do it you won’t look back. If you catch it early enough you will avoid the worst of rush hour traffic (not always though) and even though you’re in the thick of rush hour on the ride home, it’s a more pleasant ride where you see an interesting cross-section of the city.
There is still your average public transit douchery on the express bus. You can see riders put their belongings on the seat or put their seats back as if they are in business class on an airline. But these are pretty minor when compared to some of what you can see on the subways. I have yet to hear the telltale clicking of someone clipping their nails like I would hear on the subway or regular bus. I have never seen anyone forced to stand for a lack of seats.
The express bus engenders its own solemn fraternity. Like the rest of the city it is an odd cross-section of workers and even a few retirees. A few people greet each other as old regulars – they take the same bus and see each other frequently. I already recognize a few regular faces, which is not something that happened very often on the 7 train.
I find it hard to read on the bus because I’m still enjoying the new view. Going into Manhattan gives riders a long view of the skyline but then the bus winds its way through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and across 34th Street. It is interesting to have an above-ground view of Manhattan waking up in the morning and a Herald Square not quite buzzing to life, with homeless people camped out not too far from Macy’s. The ride home takes us up 6th Avenue which gives a view of Radio City Music Hall and across 59th Street past the Plaza Hotel. Then it goes over the 59th Street Bridge where a fleeting view of Manhattan is starting to glow with the approaching night, and the light of dusk overhead usually contrasts with the brackish hue of the East River. Then it spends most of the ride through Queens on Northern Boulevard, where the car dealerships of Long Island City and Astoria melt away to the Spanish-speaking businesses of Corona.
The new job is a new adventure and so far I haven’t been fired yet. I’ll continue to take the express bus to and from work, taking in the city in a new way.
Parking in New York: A New Path to Anger and Disgust
When I moved back to New York City years ago, one of the greatest benefits was that I didn’t need a car.
My luck with cars has been terrible. My first car, a 1987 Plymouth Horizon, broke down constantly. I was a broke college student who couldn’t afford a new head gasket when my car put itself out of its misery via self immolation.
I bought my second vehicle from a shirtless man in the back woods of Georgia who was drunk at two in the afternoon and called his son “Molson” even though that wasn’t his name. My giant 1977 Plymouth Voyager van was mustard yellow with a big white strip. If you viewed it at the right angle you could still make out the lettering from the church that used to own it. It didn’t perform much better than my old Horizon. Its drive shaft fell off on Interstate 285 in Atlanta once.
My 15-year car-free life came to an end a few years ago when the wife and I bought a used truck. I don’t live in Manhattan anymore and Eastern Queens is not as much of an automotive purgatory as Manhattan. And being involved in music means I have to haul large speaker cabinets, guitars and drunk musicians throughout and beyond the five boroughs.
But the conveniences of city car ownership are paid for with the wages of anger and aggravation.
The roads are full of bad drivers and New York City is rife with people who not only drive terribly but feel entitled to do so. I’ve seen people in Inwood triple park rather than walk an extra 20 feet to a supermarket. I’ve seen cab drivers wait until they have a red light to drive across an intersection.
And parking in New York City is a misery that never goes away unless you are somehow incredibly wealthy. The city’s parking laws are a Byzantine morass of prohibitions that are consistently poorly-signed. A liberal interpretation of a sign can get you a fat ticket or worse, towed. I have not had the experience of paying vehicular ransom at a city impound lot, but every account I have heard from survivors indicates it is a Kafkaesque nightmare that can make someone hate our city for life.
My wife has lived in the co-op apartment we share for more than twelve years and was on a waiting list for a parking space for five years.
We thought our parking troubles were mostly over. We have a regular space. But the perpetual douchery of New York City driving revealed itself again just this past weekend.
My wife had taken our baby girls to visit relatives in Nassau County and returned home from three hours of tied-up traffic on the Long Island Expressway. to find someone had parked in our spot.
Normally the travails of someone with a reserved parking spot would fall firmly in the confines of “First World Problems.” But when you’ve waited five years for that spot and you’re a barely middle-class family with no margin for parking tickets or private garages and someone rudely parks their Mercedes Benz in your spot, violence is justified.
If someone had left a note on the car with their contact info and let us call them to move the car, it would have been no problem. We would have been annoyed but impressed by their willingness to be decent upon notice. Because of the late hour and our building management’s inability to get a towing company right, we were stuck without legal parking for the night.
Normally this would be license to get creative with vandalism. If this car had a sunroof, my dream of justifiable shitting through a sunroof of a snotty dickhead’s car would have finally been realized. I would have loved to stick bananas in the tailpipe, pissed all over the door handles and leave a steaming log of justice on the windshield. It would have given me joy to superglue some tasteless gay porn all over the windows and scratched giant curse words into the expensive paint job.
But since our space is reserved, the authorities would have us as their prime suspects easily. There was little we could do but leave a tersely-worded note stating that they were parked illegally and we had been forced to call the towing service (which was true, even though the towing service was out of business).
So justice has not been served. If you see a dark-colored Mercedes Benz S550 with New York license plate FTX-2898, please vandalize the shit out of it. Thank you.