Sunday, August 17, 2008

Distinctly Designed to Divert Disaster: the D Train

Yes ladies and gents, it's four trains down now. And the D train was something decidedly different, a deviation from my disorganized doldrums. The divergence laid mainly in my approach to the expedition: this trip lacked a certain, I don't know, hysteria? that had characterized the first three. It encompassed many firsts for this project: I went alone. I took my time. I shot fewer but more pointed photographs, which were then infinitely easier to organize. (At this moment, as I embark upon my post writing this Sunday morning, they're sitting in a nice neat folder in the order in which I want to use them. Can you believe it? I know, right?) The train was tri-borough, stretching from the Bronx through Manhattan and into Brooklyn. These are all good things. Let's see how it turns out, shall we?

So it was that last Monday morning I headed out on my mission, once again by way of the M60. That bus is a brilliant little parlor trick for Astorians, and it's really too bad I discovered it the day after I finished moving from Harlem to Astoria. Ah, such is life. I needed to avoid rush hour not only because it's hell (hell of course being other people), but because the D train does some deceptive dashing during the rush, skipping huge swaths of stations and so forth. I can't be havin' that. Slow lots-of-stops trains for me, mister.

After arriving at 125th though, it's no mere hop to 205th street in the Bronx. It's a trek. That's alright though; there was entertainment. Between 163rd and 174th my car was treated to the self-proclaimed next winner of American Idol belting his rendition of "I shot the Sheriff". (Yes. Seriously. That's what he sang.) He asked us for 'constructive criticism'. Should I have mentioned to him that he's tone deaf? Immediately following him there was a guy selling candy. (On my way back south I saw the same kid again, at which time he identified himself as "the candy man".) I bought some candy hoping that if I did he'd say yes when I asked to take his picture. He said no. Because selling things on the train is illegal, probably.

Upon arrival at 205th, I seemed to be under intense scrutiny. While it's still legal to take pictures in the subway (despite best bureaucratic efforts), The MTA doesn't like it much. So when I climbed off the train and started snapping pics of the control booth, the emergency exit signs, the train, the switchboxes, and everything else in the station, I did not automatically become the most popular girl at the prom. The stares were so intent, in fact, that I gave up fairly quickly and went upstairs to see if there was a bathroom.

There was. Using it felt a little taking-my-life-in-my-hands-ish, but that turned out to be a complete misconception. It's actually quite a nice neighborhood up there in Norwood. Lots of houses, churches, and little playgrounds. Neighbors out and about, walking, talking, playing with their kids. Mailman addressing people by name. That kind of thing. I quite liked it. I would have spent more time exploring had there not been eminent threat of enormous thunderstorm...
There was this little old dude on the corner, and I just loved him. I want him to be my grandpa, or he reminded me of my grandpa (obvious impossibilities notwithstanding). It's probly the hat. I hope he has grandkids. I hope they love him.

My first stop art installation wise was Tremont Avenue. The piece is called "Uptown New York", and I had pictured some sort of amalgamation of trite overplayed 20's puttin'-on-the-ritz stuff. I couldn't have been more wrong - the mosaic is amazing. Really, really cool, both in the way the artist used the textures of different kinds of glass and in the overall design. The image shows only the righthand side third, the dimensions of the station making it rater difficult to get a (good) full width shot. I definitely suggest stopping by next time you're in the Bronx - it's at the south entrance. Oddly, while this station seems to have a mezzanine level running the full length of the station, it's entirely closed off. From the two entrance ends there's no visible sign of construction or anything; the only way to know the mezzanine connection is there is that on each platform downstairs, in the middle, there's a stairwell leading to nowhere. There are lights on. I don't get it. Google tells me nothing, nothing!

Next stop: 161st Street, Yankee Stadium. Apparently they're tearing the old stadium down soon, so that they can build another one; I hear rumors that they're using some public funds to do it, too. Always a good way to make friends, tearing down well loved landmarks. At any rate, the art there is... something. It's structural and functional. It certainly makes the station interesting. It's sort of destruction-esque though, at least on the mezzanine; like, here's what the stations will all look like, after THE HUGE EARTHQUAKE. Odd. If you've ever been through you know what I mean. But anyway, at least it gives people something to sit on.

Truth be told, I did not make a lot of stops on this journey. I've already basically traveled this line once (on the B train), and being without assistance I was afraid I would run out of time or something. But as we all know, you don't have to get out of the train to have amazing subway experiences.

Somewhere around 125th street my train was joined by a perfectly respectable looking man. Mind you, now, that this is one of the west side trains that makes what I've come to think of as "the big jump" - from 125th to 59th, straight. Our new friend began addressing the train. His concerns were trifold: first, the minimum wage. It's too low. Alright man, I'm with you. You can't possibly live on minimum wage, and anyone who's ever tried knows it. Second, nuclear power. (Um, what?) Third, gas prices. (Ok kids, we just may have a crackpot on our hands.) By this point he's kind of babbling. See, apparently ConEd has a Nuclear Plant smack in the middle of Manhattan. And it's degrading. And you know what happens when it degrades? We all gonna die! But nevermind that we're all gonna die for just a minute. Somehow despite the fact that we're dead, by 202o, our kids are gonna be homeless. And we're gonna be homeless. This, of course, is going to be because of that minimum wage issue - and gas prices. He started asking for signatures, and I was sorely tempted, but I think I'm on enough governmental lists as it is.

I didn't get out again until Broadway/Lafayette St, way down in the Bowery. It's an interesting station, surprisingly large, and it has an art installation. The art is comprised of two distinct phases; one is simple periwinkle tiling in a sort of Pan-American-Indian kind of design. This part isn't interesting. The other, though, is these metal cones with translucent bits around the I beams in the mezzanine. They're rather ugly, or at least not all that attractive - until that one magical moment when you happen to catch them lighting up. Then they become really cool, and stay really cool even thought they're almost never lit up. I can't figure out the flashing schedule at all. It's just one of those things.

I emerged from the station to get some lunch; it's a neighborhood I know well. Houston has always been my least favorite street in Manhattan, partly because it's really hard to cross on foot and largely because some part of it, and a large part at
that, has been under construction for as long as I can remember. Granted, my real experiences with New York only stretch for about six years now, but still. If a street sucks every time you pass it for six years, then a street sucks. (For you out-of-towners, this street isn't pronounced like the city in Texas. It's pronounced as if the u was a w. Some dude's name, apparently. Incidentally, SoHo = South of Houston.) On D train day, I found this concrete box, and I think this is as picturesque as Houston ever gets.

When I went back to the station I found this guy, working for a living. Hey, what's the difference between a flutist and a flautist? About fifty bucks an hour! (OK, that one works a lot better when you're saying it out loud...). That goofy old hippie dude was playing his heart out, and being completely ignored. I think busking on the subway could toughen up any performer. They should incorporate it into the curriculum at the performing arts schools here. Ooh, or better yet, at schools in other cities. "And for your last semester, you'll be stationed in New York City, doing interpretive dance at Columbus Circle... Don't worry, we here at the University of Chicago will cover the fines... no, we can't bail you out of jail..." They'd never be scared of an audition again.

I basically didn't get out in Brooklyn. I've been to Atlantic-Pacific, and I seem to have a deep rooted hatred of that place. It's probably unfounded. (It's time for Name That Quote! "The Atlantic is greater! "No, the Pacific is greater!" "No...") The D skips the 1st and then the 3rd through 6th stops into the borough during the day. Shortly after jetting past these, we were outside. I love that. We did go over the Manhattan bridge, but learning from my last bridge experience I didn't try too hard to get good pics. Maybe one of these days I'll get lucky and my train will have to stop on the bridge for a minute or two in a spot that offers some nice views... until then I'll have lots of great blurry pictures of support beams.

From 18th Avenue you can see a huge suspension bridge, which I'm making an educated guess to be the Verrazano-Narrows bridge from Bay Ridge to Staten Island. It looks like the pictures on the internet, so I'm thinking it's a safe bet. There are actually much better views than the one I've captured here; I couldn't get the pic fast enough before the train doors closed.

The day began rainy, and then became quite beautiful and sunny. The rainy day feel stuck, though, and many people on the long train ride were sleepy by the time we neared Coney Island.

Ahhh, Coney. I love that place. How can you not? I've waxed on enough on my blogs about its magic, and about the tragedy impending down there; if you don't know please visit the Coney Island USA for details and lend whatever support you can. Because damnit, this country would not be the same with condos in the middle of what should be Astroland.

Despite the positive turn in weather, I didn't really venture into the happyland. I was exhausted, and it was late. But I did manage to get some photos. And because it's so visual down there, and I'm such a visual person, this will now become a photo blog...

This little guy was the first thing I saw upon exiting the train. Maybe they know that people will be tired from their long day on the beach? Or... that people drink on the beach? Hmm. Hard to say.

There are many interesting and, yes, beautiful silkscreened images on the glass brick walls of the Coney Island station. They show the freakshow days of yore, the wonder wheel, et cetera. And then there's this guy, and he makes absolutely no sense, and he's by far my favorite.ISN'T HE FREAKING AWESOME?

There's a police outpost built right into the train station, and that's probably a good idea for a whole lot of reasons. It's quite cute actually, with the little posts with glowing globes outside and all. Aww, look at the cute little police station. I'm sure that's exactly what they had in mind when they built it.

I love this view.

As a vegan, I think I'm officially required to loathe Nathan's. It may be written into law. And in fact the annual hot dog eating contest never fails to turn my stomach. But... look at it! I'm sorry, but that place is freaking awesome! Of course I want their menu to be (vastly) different, but it's an institution. It can't be denied.

Upon re-entering the the D train for my journey home, I discovered a possibly homeless and definitely crazy man in the last car. He was yelling for someone to go away, and accused that entity of being from Idaho. It is of course possible that he was yelling at me. He could have been yelling at someone (or something) not visible to me. Or he could have been yelling at this here seagull. If so, the seagull wasn't perturbed in the least; in fact he was thrilled with the bounty obtained when crazyman missed his target at throwing his Chinese leftovers into the garbage can on the platform.

And then of course, home again home again. I could have cheated and got on the N train, a straight shot shot back to my place. But it always feels more valid to take my designated train at least back into the city, so I did. And if I hadn't, I wouldn't have gotten to see a couple of teenagers playing tonsil hockey from Coney all the way to Atlantic/Pacific. I've often thought of what a boon the subway would have been in the High School years, when getting some time to yourselves is damn near impossible. So for proving my point, thanks kids. And thanks, D train.

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