Thursday, September 24, 2009

Grudgingly, the G train.

I've been struggling with the G. Really, I'm in denial. Its original purpose was so bold, so inspired, so innovative: to have one single solitary train that would bring a rider from Brooklyn to Queens, and vice versa, without having to go through Manhattan.

Those of you who live in either of these boroughs know what I'm talking about. Say you live in Astoria or Long Island City or even Hunter's Point, and all you want to do is get to Greenpoint or Williamsburg. Without the G train, you have to make an hourlong trek through that all-important isle, to which all roads (or tracks) lead, to get to someplace that in reality you probably could have walked faster because they're actually right next to each other.

But the G, ah, the G! No Manhattan for its passengers, just Queens to Brooklyn, Brooklyn to Queens, back and forth all day long. With full service beginning in 1937, it is the only train now running to use the IND Crosstown Line. Unitl 1985 they called it the GG, and it stretched from the odd nook between Red Hook and Carrol Gardens all the way to Jamaica, Queens in a crazy outer borough zig-zag. Brilliant!


Troubles seemed to have started for our dear old G train in 1997, due to the terribly problematic 63rd street tunnel, through which only the F train runs. Apparently the G somehow got in the way of construction, and so service was cut back to Court Square on evenings, nights, and weekends. This stop is *technically* in Queens. It is in fact directly under that hideously shiny CitiBank tower that can clearly be seen from 53rd street in Midtown if looking across the East River. Of course, standing outside the Court Square station, you can practically throw a rock and hit Brooklyn. But nevermind that.

Then, in 2001, the V train happened. Because of overcrowding on the E and F trains (and no one can argue that the E train is not ridiculous), the V was introduced to help bring riders into and out of, uh, *Manhattan*. For some reason, the system in northeast Queens is made up of one huge channel. Once the V was introduced, too many trains were competing for use of the same tracks: the E, R, and G, and now the V. Guess which one got axed? (Hmm, could it be the one that wasn't going to Rome?)

Of course it was the one train that didn't serve the Almighty One, the Great Manahatta. G train service to the upper part of Queens then sort of inverted: it would run all the way out on evenings, nights, and weekends -i.e., when the V train does not run - and during prime time its terminus became Court Square.

Service was thus truncated, but it didn't stop there: in order to have G trains run more frequently, the trains themselves got shorter. Instead of running trains of normal length less frequently, the MTA felt it would be better to have trains half the length of the platform come more often. They took the "extra" cars to make "extra" trains for the line. (I can only guess that they were just that strapped that no full length extra trains were to be had?) The overall result of this being that unwary riders waiting too far along the platform could easily miss the train entirely. The first time I rode the G, I was totally bewildered when the end of the train whizzed by me and kept going another car length or so, but then did indeed stop and open its doors. I was so dumbfounded in fact that I almost didn't make it onto the train. They hold the doors open extra long for foolish newbies like me.

The south end of the G strikes one as totally arbitrary. It is in fact at the highest station in the system, towering 88 feet over neighborhoods and highways and offering a clear view of the old Kentile Floors sign - a sign which would mean entirely different things to me if I didn't work in asbestos personal injury litigation. Oh, how one's work can change one's perception of the world... Oddly, the tracks then almost immediately dive back underground, giving something of the feel of a rollerocaster. No one ever believes me when I tell them that New York City's physical geography is interesting. But I'll tangent more on that station in a lil bit.

Anyway. By this point you're probably asking yourself, has this girl ridden this damn train or what? And the answer is: yes. Twice. And yet never how I'd wanted, because I still haven't been able to catch it running all the way out to Jamaica. See, it used to. I know it did - I've caught it up at Steinway and Broadway, far past its current pseudo-north-terminus. But ever since I've been trying to catch it on its full route, it's been thwarting me. The MTA's official standing is that it will be ending at Court Square "until further notice". I've tried to be tricky and catch it on federal holidays, when trains often run on a "Saturday" or "Sunday" schedule and thus tend to do things they otherwise wouldn't, even on a Saturday or Sunday. But no, they're not even falling for that one anymore. My last such attempt was on July 3rd, but no such luck.

So I've just had to accept the fact that the G Train now runs from Smith and 9th to Court Square - regardless of what the official story of the MTA is and regardless of what the maps say. It's a short bit of a line, and my rides on it have been so fragmented that I have no choice but to give this ride to you in something of a photoessay.

But wait! Get this! As of July 5th and for the next several years (word on the street says four, but who knows with these MTA projects), the G will actually run five stops past Smith and 9th Street to Church Avenue, its original terminus from 1937! Are you excited? I know I am. Now let's make with the pictures, huh?

Ely 23rd Street connects with Court Street, the fake northern end of the G. They're distinctly different stations connected by a long corridor that gets quite crowded during rush hours - so crowded that it has a powerwalk! The powerwalk even works sometimes. For my first ride, which happened last, ahem, December, this is where I started out - I much prefer entering on 21st street and walking down some long hallways to trying to wander around the damn CitiBank building to find the entrance that's open.

The aforementioned powerwalk. There is not very much art on the G line, and what little there is is almost all in this station. Unfortunately, it looks like this.

See what I mean? It's more interesting that dirty white tile walls, certainly. And I much prefer it to the advertisements that positively paper the walls at, say, Union Square. Is there any surface they *won't* put ads on? Yup: tile mosaic.

Court Square. This is the true beginning, for so many people each day. After the mad rush through the corridor beneath CitiMonstrosity, they dash down to this desolate platform... all too often to see that the precious G, which doubtless has been sitting idle for the past 10 to 15 minutes, has just closed its doors and begun to pull out of the station. (If you're lucky, another one has pulled in, and at least you can wait sitting down. Ho hum.)

I love these sort of classic silhouettes that the old stations provide... Of course, all of the stations are old. Until they finally finish the T, that is.

I love this guy. (Doorway? What doorway? I'm not blocking any doorway...)

Who's that guy? And why's he always reading?

I adore this tilework - it's so entirely different than anything I've seen in any other station. But I can't remember which station it's in! That's it. I officially suck. Process of elimination tells me that it's Classon, Clinton-Washington, or Fulton. Ugh, why don't I have a photographic memory? (Har har har.)

If you've read very much by Jonathan Lethem, you've heard about Hoyt-Schermerhorn. (Please, please don't ask me to pronounce it.) You may have also seen it in movies and not known it. See, the station has four sets of tracks running through it, but only the two interior sets are in active use. The two on the outside are "abandoned", and therefore used by Hollywood! If, for instance, they need to have a subway train come into a station and then leave it, these side platforms are ideal. I hear tell that a long-since-closed department store had display windows that reached down into the station (a la the S-Mart at Astor Place), but I've never been able to spot them, and I fear that they've been covered over. This is also where you'd get out to go to the Transit Museum... but that's a post in and of itself, now isn't it?

Carroll Street. Very cute neighborhood at this stop. You should check it out sometime.

I love this green tiling, truly. It's sort of the earmark of this part of the line - many of the lines have a color theme present for long stretches, which makes sense. It wouldn't be practical or cost effective to try to use a different palette in each station, and it also gives people an easy identifier that they've gotten on the right train home...

Look at me! I've gone past Smith and 9th on the G train, because I'm in bizarro world... and will be for like four years or so. Go figure. Here we've got goldenrod yellow tile - we're not in Kansas anymore.

And I've arrived at Church Ave. Notice: they changed the map to show the new G terminus. This is like, for reals, peoples. I hope Park Slope is happy. (I don't mean that in the sarcastic way. I mean literally, I think they're pretty happy about it. I'd be pretty happy if a new train line started coming by my neighborhood.)

I'm a big dumb jerk and I don't have any pictures of what the streets around the Church Ave stop look like. Hopefully if and when my work load ever slows down, I will get back down there and post an addendum.

But for now, let's back up to the "real" terminus, because oh how I dig it so.

Now's the time that we gush about Smith and 9th, a superlative station in the NYC subway system - literally, in that it is the highest station. As in, really really high off of the ground, like woah. 88 feet doesn't sound that high, except that you're out in the open... and the platform doesn't feel exactly flat. Also, how rad is this tiling? It's under every lamp post along the platform. I love this kind of detail. And see? Still with the green.

I wouldn't want to have to wait up here on one of our terrible New York in February nights, when it's twenty degrees and the wind is raging through (wind chill negative two? Mmm hmm). But man, it's worth all those stairs and escalators just for the view.

The view at night is indeed spectacular, but the view during the day is nothing to shake a stick at either.
I love old signs like this - which has a certain twinge of irony to it seeing as I hate advertising to the point that I don't own a television. If this was for Sketchers I'd hate it. What can I say? I'm a bundle of contradictions.

And, you know, there's this. (Look hard. You'll see it.)

You really notice the height when ascending or descending. At Smith and 9th, if you actually want to get down, you must descend 18 stairs... before you reach the first of two super long steep scary escalators. Eyeah.

And what do you see when you get outside? Well, you're sort of under a highway underpass. There's a bodega, and a bus stop, and the Ikea shuttle for Red Hook stops there. So there's always a huge influx of college students and yuppies-in-training... much to the chagrin of the people who actually live in the neighborhood and just want to take the bus home. But hey, we can't call it progress unless we're ruining someone's neighborhood, right?

Well, alright darlings. That's my G train story. It's been a long time coming, I know. Ten months, actually, is how long it took me to actually get this post written. But the good news is that I've already ridden the J train! And then there's always the K to talk about. Oh, what, you didn't know there was a K train? You have so much to learn...

(In case you're real confused right right now, this is the latest installment from my Subway Project.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

FDA: a new dawn regarding food labeling

It seems that someone over at the FDA has noticed that consumers might not realize what packages do and do not tell them about processed foods. The agency may have even caught onto the fact that some consumers are being mislead by health claims on packages of foodstuffs that are really better left on the shelf. While all packages are required to have the nutritional data chart somewhere on them, most consumers are much more likely to read the prominently placed, boldly colored logos on the fronts of packages rather than the boring chart in a tiny font on the side, back, or bottom with all of its numbers and percentages - aren't they?

Well, the gov'ment wants to find out. Badly enough that they're conducting an internet study of approximately 43,000 people, in fact! As per the FDA's statement, the goals of the study are as follows:

(1) identify attitudes and beliefs among consumers toward health, diet and label usage; (2) determine relationships between those attitudesand beliefs, as well as demographics, with food label use and non-use; and (3) evaluate the relative importance of these attitudes between consumers of various age groups to determine whether barriers to label use differ between younger consumers and older consumers. The information collected from the study is necessary to inform the agency's efforts to improve consumer understanding and use of the food label.

This sounds like a worthwhile venture to me, and I truly, truly hope that it leads to some kind of real change in what kinds of health claims food companies are allowed to make on their packages. If you care about these things, head on over to the internet listing for the study and leave a comment showing your support!

(For you more conventional types, you can also send snail mail to Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852. Just don't forget to include the docket number: FDA-2009-N-0345. Happy writing!)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Paleontology dork alert.

OK, so you may or may not know that I'm a huge nerd about fossils, and that I'm mostly into invertebrates, and that cephalopods are really where it's at. But well damnit, you should. So read and be edified. (Thanks Jason!)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Oh, the idiocy.

Man, it's amazing that anybody is allowed to just say any old thing on the internet. Regarding a recent post on Marion Nestle's blog Food Politics, a guy named "Albert" pulled out this gem:
Food Politics? You should call this blog Food Fascists. You people are really, really scary. You make Fruit Loops a political issue? I suppose you’re very happy about Californian farmers having their water supply cut off. Right? I mean you want to control every morsel of food that we eat. I think the American people are waking up to you radical fascists trying to gain control of every facet of our lives. It was close, but hopefully you and your kind have been exposed enough to be stopped. I know its a cliche, but if you believe that the government mandates what we can and cannot eat, you really should go live in some communist country. We are not going to let you destroy America.
Destroy America, huh? Like by say, destroying its natural resources by using them improperly? Oh, wait, no that's not us, the people who dedicate such time and energy to creating change in the food industry. Hmm, maybe by tainting all of the lakes, rivers, streams, and underground water supplies? Oh, no, that wasn't us either. Maybe it was by uprooting the foundations of every small town so that they are all skeletons now, with maybe a functioning Wal*Mart - unless of course it pulled out after putting all the small stores out of business. Perhaps it was by luring in immigrants with seemingly open arms, for them only to discover that "free housing" meant fifteen to a trailer floor and "living wage" meant less than the country's minimum, until you're injured in unsafe work conditions, in which case you're SOL. Huh, no, NONE of that was us. That was ALL the enormous mulitnational corporations that have taken over our food supply and so much else about this country, and in fact so much else in our globalized world.

Here was my response.
Oh dearest Albert. Actually, all we want is to take *away* the complete and utter control that giant corporations currently hold over our entire food supply and give it back to individuals. If new laws can help that happen, so be it. Sometimes we need the government to step up to entities that have gained too much power and say "Hey, you guys can't do this." Like when they break up monopolies. And if the current state of food corporations doesn't represent monopolies, I don't know what to call it.

We want the food companies to do wild, crazy things like a) be honest about the nutritional quality of their food, b) produce food that's safe to eat, and c) do so in a way that doesn't unnecessarily harm people, animals, or the environment. You're right - we're a bunch of wackos!

You think you're fighting for freedom of choice, when actually you're fighting so that you can continue to do exactly what the corporations want you to - make them lots and lots of money.
Will people ever realize that loving your country does not mean following its leaders blindly, or supporting its companies till the death? That dissent is utterly American? A girl can dream.

P.S. - Which is it Al? Are we Communists or Fascists? Or do you even know that there's a difference? Why don't you accuse us of being dirty dirty Socialists! Then make sure to go enjoy public transportation, the interstate system, Social Security, the public education system , your local library, Medicare, Medicaid, and the mail that gets delivered to your door six days a week while you meditate on how awful and un-American Socialism is.