Tag Archive | Manhattan

The Horror That Is The 7 Train

Speaking in 1999, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker said the following about New York City:

“Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing…”

Saturday Night Live’s Colin Quinn, doing the weekly news spot, said this about Rocker: “He might be a bigot, but he’s definitely been on the 7 train.”

Despite all the romantic notions you may have in your head about New York, there are some traditional New York experiences that are never pleasant no matter how much you romanticize them. Being mugged is never fun; neither is stepping in dog shit or having to smell a homeless person.

Another old New York tradition that is no fun is the 7 train. The 7 train is a human cattle car of endless misery and inconvenience. It perfectly combines all the incompetence of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority with the rancid overpopulation of our city that makes New York the cultural calling card of the dying American empire.

I live in Flushing, Queens and work in lower Manhattan. I have an hour-and-15-minute commute each way when things go well, but things rarely go well. I take a bus to downtown Main Street Flushing, which has a crowd density similar to that of Times Square, and board a 7 train that takes me to Grand Central, where I take either the 4 or 5 train (also no joy) to the Bowling Green station near where I work.

Today I managed to get down the overcrowded stairs to the train platform only to miss the closing doors of a not-very-crowded 7 train by seconds. The next express train arrived soon but sat on the platform for 10 minutes and didn’t leave the station until it was wall-to-wall people.

Sometimes the 7 train likes to quit on you and dump all of its passengers out a random stop. “This train is out of service! No passengers!” the conductor will announce. Sometimes the express 7 train decides to go local, sometimes without telling its passengers until they’re at a stop they didn’t plan on making. On the weekends, the 7 train doesn’t run any express trains at all and often will have large service gaps that will leave its passengers scrambling to shuttle busses or trying to find alternate trains to take.

In September, when the U.S. Open is happening at the U.S. Tennis Center, the 7 train is flooded with tennis fans who are clueless as to where they are going and completely unschooled in subway etiquette. Sometimes a perfect storm of passenger clusterfuck will happen and you’ll have Mets fans and U.S. Open fans cramming the same trains heading to the Willets Point station.

The 7 train will often stop service entirely or delay service torturously or decided it doesn’t want to run express trains at the height of rush hour. Often the reason the MTA gives passengers for this is “signal problems.” One winter I asked an MTA worker on the platform why express service was abruptly canceled and he answered, “It’s cold outside, sir.”

I don’t bother trying to get a seat on the 7 train. Those are the dominion of sharp-elbowed Asian women who push their way onto the trains before the unfortunate souls who have to commute to Flushing can exit. I actually prefer to stand. I’ll actually have more room standing and the ride isn’t that long. Besides, I sit on my ass for eight hours at work. I usually try to position myself directly between two car doors in the center of the car, where the crush of passengers will be slightly less.

It is often standing-room only before the trains leave its first stop, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to cram themselves on to the train at later stops.

The 7 train is one of the oldest lines in the city, so its rails are close together and the cars that fit on the tracks are narrow and without as much room as other trains. It is also the only subway serving some of the most densely populated parts of the city and it terminates (for now) in Times Square.

And the 7 train is about to get worse. The geniuses who run our transit system decided it would be a good idea to cram 15 pounds of ham into this 5-pound bag instead of 10, so the 7 line is being expanded all the way to 34th Street and 11th Avenue. This means more crowding on a subway line that can barely handle what its current ridership. Joy.

There are some upsides to the 7 train. Most of it is above ground, so you can see some beautiful views of Queens and Manhattan that you won’t see from any other train line. Also, while it is regularly packed to the gills, most of the riders are working New Yorkers who are not there to cause problems; you don’t have the thug element of the A train or the hipster abominations of the L line. Because the trains are so crowded all the time, you have fewer homeless and crazies. I have never seen a “Showtime!” subway dance troupe try to ply their obnoxious trade on the 7 train.

For all its faults, the 7 line has stood the test of time, and if overcrowding doesn’t bring it crumbling to the ground this year, someone will be bitching and moaning about it 100 years from now.

Revenge of the Outer Boroughs

This past weekend the wife and I attended a co-ed baby shower for my friend and spiritual advisor Rabbi Jay Levitz and his wife Sarah. We were in Oceanside, Long Island, New York, a short drive outside the city for us, as we live in Eastern Queens. As we talked with Jay, the conversation turned to what constitutes the “bridge and tunnel crowd.”

We all agreed that the term was more of a cultural construct than a geographic one, though we acknowledge that the two go hand in hand in many ways. Where I live now in Queens is not a trendy area at all and is too far from any of the celebrated night life to become popular among the moneyed classes or the upwardly mobile youth any time soon. That is actually a blessing. We happen to have decent access to public transportation, though getting into Manhattan always involves at least one bus and one train. My commute to work is at least one bus and two subways, and it is terrible, subject at all times to the fickle whims of the increasingly incompetent MTA.

The “bridge and tunnel” term may have been initially meant to denote people coming from outside of New York City—especially from New Jersey, considered by many to be a cultural leper colony filled with only guidos and hill people. But my current settings would qualify me as a bridge and tunnel crowd person when I venture into Manhattan for cultural events.

Manhattan was once the undisputed epicenter of New York City’s cultural life. Now that cultural life is much more diffuse and spread through the outer boroughs, most prominently in Brooklyn. New movie theaters, restaurants and music venues are more likely to be opening in Brooklyn or Queens today than in Manhattan. Accordingly, real estate prices in the outer boroughs are still going through the roof.

This shift has made use of the term “Bridge and Tunnel” a bit outdated, but the cultural chasm between whose who perceive themselves as cultured city residents and the people who travel to the city only on the weekends to party is not gone. Someone who takes the Long Island Rail Road from Mineola to see a concert in Brooklyn is considered part of the bridge and tunnel crowd, though they did not use a bridge or tunnel (yes, I understand that the LIRR in Brooklyn does use subway tunnels and uses overpasses on its way to the city; shut up).

And these social demarcations between what is city and what is not stretch to the outer boroughs as well. I mentioned that I drove to Long Island to attend a baby shower this weekend, but as I live in Queens, I already live on Long Island. When New Yorkers talk about “Long Island” they don’t mean the Island itself but Nassau and Suffolk Counties, the parts of the Island that lie outside of the border of New York City.

I could never justify the expense of living in a more trendy or celebrated area of Manhattan. I had a chance to move to the Upper East Side one time. I looked at an apartment in Yorkville and realized that I would be doubling my rent and would still not be able to fit the modest furniture from my small studio in Ozone Park, Queens into the new place. It wasn’t worth the money. I could have said I lived on the Upper East Side, but I’d be living like a hobbit.

So while proximity to Manhattan is become less and less of a cultural touchstone to judge a neighborhood, I propose a new measure of the value of where you live: proximity to live Shakespeare.

A good measure of the value of any place to live is how far away you are from some free Shakespeare. When I lived in Inwood in uptown Manhattan, it had yet to become a trendy place to live and people hadn’t heard of it. But I lived across the street from Inwood Hill Park which had free Shakespeare plays every summer. Score.

I can’t easily walk to free Shakespeare like that, but I am a very short trip from more than one of the venues of the free Shakespeare in the Park in Queens.

Some will argue that this Shakespeare standard is an unfair way to judge where you live, but I don’t think so. I don’t want my children to live in a world where they can’t easily see some free Shakespeare every summer. I’ll be dragging their soggy asses to Two Gentlemen of Verona this season; I won’t need a bridge or tunnel to get there.

A Mayoral Lack of Horse Sense

Horse_and_carriage_in_Central_Park._Fifth_Avenue_side,_NYSeveral years ago, while visiting the tourist sites in Manhattan around the holidays with some family, we were walking on Central Park South after a stop at The Plaza. As we passed by the line of hansom cabs, my Grandmother remarked that she had never taken a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. My father set about rectifying that at once, and a few minutes later they were on their way in a horse-drawn hansom cab.

My dad’s spontaneity and love for our grandmother was admirable and made the day more memorable. If he visits New York next Christmastime, he may not be able to take a hansom cab ride.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged, days before his recent inauguration, to do away with the hansom cabs.

Animal rights activists, including the predictable coterie of celebrity actors, have long denounced the horse-drawn carriages as manifestly cruel. They’ve been aiming to have the carriage rides outlawed for a long time.

De Blasio was inaugurated with much fanfare from his liberal supporters who are happy to see a Democrat in office once again.

But doing away with the horse-drawn carriages is foolish pandering to a lobby polluted with fringe players and the loss of a fine tradition and lots of jobs. Cruelty to animals is terrible, but animal rights activists are never too far away from taking a hard left turn to crazy town, and outlawing horse-drawn carriages is a fringe activist power-grab that a mayor is supposed to be wide enough to sidestep.

The New York City Police use horses regularly, and there are a few stables that offer horseback riding within the five boroughs. Space for horses is hard to come by in most of New York, but so is space for anything.

Being generous and assuming for the sake of argument that conditions for the horses are bad, the solution is not to outlaw an industry but to improve and regulate the care of the horses. It’s not wrong to use horses to pull carts. It’s OK to ride horseback and it’s OK to ride an elephant and a camel. There are lots of animals that are not suitable for riding, but horses are alright. This is actually common knowledge and the fact that there’s a serious debate over banning the industry shows how a more extremist animal rights community has been successful in framing the debate. Luckily the carriages won’t go without a fight.

What’s more, de Blasio is potentially putting hundreds of working-class New Yorkers, whose Teamsters Union endorsed him, out of work. For a politician who came into office on a platform of fighting for middle and working class New Yorkers with the nebulous pledge of ending “inequality,” putting hansom cab drivers out of work is the political equivalent of crapping in an inaugural ball punch bowl. Mayor de Blasio likely knows this, so hence the announcement during the holidays and before the hullaballoo of his inauguration.

There have definitely been drivers who overworked or abused their horses. One driver was even arrested for animal abuse when found to be working a horse that had an infected hoof. But the carriages are regulated and inspected and have been under significant scrutiny for years.

If we let animal rights activists start calling the shots, we’ll start on a slippery slope to becoming a city of pathetic vegetarian tree-huggers.

New York Things to Watch in 2014

Happy New Year 2014A New Year is almost upon us, and New York City will have lots of things going on, per usual. Here are some things to watch for, look forward to or get ready to hate in 2014.    

            New Mayor: Bill de Blasio is the first Democrat elected mayor in New York in more than 20 years. He managed to unite New York Democrats and ran a very smart campaign. He’s inheriting a shit show from outgoing Mayor Bloomberg in the form of multiple city worker contracts that have expired. Thousands of city workers have been working without a contract for years and they expect their liberal Democratic mayor to pay up and fast. De Blasio knows he can’t give his many supporters everything they want. He’s got to walk the tightrope of trying to hold together a liberal coalition that wants to increase taxes on the wealthy without scaring away the rich New Yorkers who provide the city’s much-needed tax base.

Super Bowl: The Super Bowl will bring more money to New York City, even though the game is being played in New Jersey at Giants Stadium or MetLife Stadium or whatever corporate behemoth blows a wad of cash to put its name on it by next year. Of course, the powers that be are hard at work making sure that the game will be expensive and less fun than your average Jets or Giants routing that normally takes place there. They have banned tailgating at the game, which is like banning praying in church.

            Extended 7 Subway Line: The No. 7 subway line is scheduled to open in June 2014, but the authorities ran a special train just so outgoing mayor Bloomberg could ride it before he left office. It currently runs from Flushing, Queens to Times Square in Manhattan. The extension will run to 11th Avenue and 34th Street, near the Javits Convention Center. As a commuter who takes the 7 train every day to work, I loath this upcoming extension. The 7 train is a crowded clusterfuck of a subway line. Unless the MTA has a magic train fairy ready to plop massive double-decker trains on the line right before the extension opens, they are about to make a bad situation much worse. The silver lining is that it will make it easier for people to get to the Javits Center for conventions. But really, slow-moving tourists who don’t know where they’re going is not what we really need more of on our subways.

            Fulton Street Transit Hub: On the good news end of public transportation grand openings in 2014, the Fulton Street Transit Hub in lower Manhattan may open in 2014. The Fulton Street subway station has been a maze of construction closures for close to a decade now, and some of the improvements are already evident. It has been delayed and scaled down from its original, more elaborate plans, but it will be a vast improvement.

            Real Community Organizing: We’ll see more real community organizing in New York in 2014, and by community organizing, I mean citizens getting together outside of government institutions to do things for themselves. Most people think of community organizing as people getting together to petition for increased benefits or air grievances of one form or another. But as our fractured city and nation find official institutions continually lacking, more New Yorkers will see the wisdom in doing things for themselves. You’ll see more Community Supported Agriculture (not just for hippies anymore), more home schooling (not just for religious fanatics anymore) and the like. New Yorkers are resilient and inventive. That won’t change. 

How to Go Crazy Properly

tear-hair-outI sat in a room full of very well-behaved financial professionals and analysts wondering why no one was going insane. It was a day like any other and it was a financial conference in Manhattan didn’t suddenly give in to the orgiastic wills of the dozens of assembled people.

Most of us lose our minds at one point or another but almost always too slowly to register to the outside world. We let our own fears and disappointments torture and kill us, carving our minds and souls to shredded pulps.

Given the state of the world, I’m surprised more and more people aren’t dropping out of civilized society by going crazy. Many times I find myself in a situation where people’s acceptance of what’s given to them or the state of their surroundings is maddening and ought to result in a violent outburst of creative violence, but it never happens. And if it did, it would never be contained enough to be justified and righteous.

So even though I sympathize with crazy to the nth degree and feel the temptation to bring that measured and sane violence to our insane world, I can’t stand the people who force their insanity on the world around them.

The people who scream and rave in public, who throw themselves in front of trains or off of buildings, are childish egotists who think they are special enough to force others to notice them and rearrange their lives for them. You have every right to be crazy and are probably right to be insane, but force yourself on others and you’re not better than the rest of the cruel, cruel world, probably worse. That is one reason we have art, music and literature: it’s how we turn the pain of being alive into something worth living for.

You have to embrace your insane rage in the right way. The only worse than letting your insanity kill you is letting it make you an egocentric asshole first.

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