Thursday, March 06, 2008
That's Horace Greeley, for no good reason other than he was there in New York.
The biggest problem with today’s piece (and a looming problem for tomorrow’s) is the lack of photos. This reason for that lack is I’m a moron.
I took a fair amount of photographs while we were in New York. However, I’m not a very good photographer. Therefore, many of them – the majority, really – were unusable. They were out-of-focus and blurry. I don’t know much more about photography than to point the camera and click the button. If it looks good through the viewfinder, I expect it to look the same in the final product. It doesn't always work out that way. Even so, there were a few more good ones than I have at my disposal now. That’s because I used a digital camera and, when I was attempting to download what I had shot, I deleted a few that I had no intention of deleting. Again: moron.
So, a couple of the shots I’ll be using here have been gently purloined from the best website there is concerning the New York subway system, NYCSubway.org. If you own one of those photos, and would rather I hadn’t used it, just let me know. I’ll remove it.
And now, having wasted your time with tales of my ineptitude, let’s get on with it. Let’s get back to New York.
(Part One – Part Two)
SATURDAY, MARCH 1st
The first thing I noticed upon awakening was that my legs were tremendously stiff and sore. I didn’t realize just how out-of-shape I was until then. We had walked a good deal the previous day, including many trips up and down stairs in the subway and elevated, but nowhere near enough to make an old catcher’s legs hurt this much. Well, there’s only one thing to do when you find yourself wickedly out-of-shape: make a vague promise to exercise sometime in the future and then have dough and cheese for breakfast.
I wanted another bagel mit schmeer. MY WIFE wasn’t interested in a full breakfast, since we would be eating a somewhat early dinner with her brother that evening, so we decided to go to the coffee shop next door to the hotel and just get something light. In her case, that meant a fruit cup. In my case, “light” means anything that won’t break my foot if I drop it on it.
They had bagels, of course. Every restaurant in New York has bagels. The whole town is lousy with bagels. Panhandlers ask you for a dollar, and if you give it to them, they ask you if you'd like a bagel in return. I told the counterman I wanted a cinnamon raisin bagel. He nodded. I said I wanted it with a schmeer. He said, “Que?”
He was a young Hispanic gentleman. If I had asked him to plant daisies in my armpits, he couldn’t have given me a more confused look. This amused MY WIFE greatly, of course. Yesterday I had made a big deal out of letting her know that EVERYBODY in New York knew what a schmeer was. Now it appeared that at least three people knew what a schlemiel was, since there appeared to be one in the immediate vicinity. I got my bagel, with cream cheese - once I asked for it that way.
(This war was not over. I was determined to order a bagel mit schmeer one more time and get it, just to bring the score in my favor. I would wait and seize my opportunity. There were plenty of bagels left in this town and I was just the boy to eat them until I got what I wanted. "Tomorrow," I said to myself...)
We walked to the subway at Grand Central and went inside. We figured we’d eat on the platform while waiting for a train. MY WIFE is usually daintier than that, but not me. I’ve eaten worse things and in worse places. I was a carnie, after all. I sat myself down on some stairs and enjoyed my bagel – or, at least, as much as one can enjoy a bagel when one knows that he has just plain old cream cheese on it, instead of an exotic schmeer.
My plan for our day, before dinner with MY WIFE's brother, was to show MY WIFE one of the best rides the New York Subway has to offer. A few months back, when I auditioned unsuccessfully for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, I had killed the time between my arrival in town and the interview by riding the A train, of Duke Ellington fame, out to Far Rockaway and back. It is the longest trip in the system, 32 miles when taken from its start at 207th street in Harlem. The last 4 or 5 miles, in Brooklyn and Queens, are what make it special. It comes out of the tunnel and becomes an elevated line, traveling past Aqueduct Racetrack and JFK airport, and then out over Jamaica Bay, on a low trestle. The views are wonderful. You look out the window and see sailboats and commercial fishing vessels, seagulls dropping clams on the tracks to break their shells, and interesting flora and fauna on the sandbars that comprise the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. There is a stop right in the middle of the bay named Broad Channel. After that, the line splits, one part of it going to Rockaway Park and the other to Far Rockaway, which is where my train headed. It was such a long ride, I was afraid that I wouldn’t make it back in time for my interview if I continued all the way, so I got off at Beach 36th, a few stops from the end, where I went outside down to street level, had a quick smoke, and then saw the approaching return train, which I hustled back up to the platform to catch. When I was once again in the subway portion of the route, I decided to vary my trip back by changing over to the J train at Broadway Junction. I was glad I did. It was another elevated route, but this one traveled over the Williamsburg Bridge between Queens and Manhattan, and it was a real treat to be in the last car, looking out the rear window back on the elevated I had traversed already and getting an amazing – and, for me, amazingly non-terrifying - view of the bridge.
We finished our breakfast and caught the 4 train down to Fulton Street, where we switched and waited for the A.
Once on the train, I rhapsodized about the trip ahead to MY somewhat less-than-thrilled WIFE. She wasn’t grumpy or anything, but this was obviously something she was doing more because of my interest in it than hers. I had the feeling she would have rather been checking out some trendy shops instead of spending her morning in a smelly subway. Women!
We came out of the tunnel into the elevated portion of the journey and her attention was intrigued a bit by the streets full of Archie Bunker-type houses visible below. As we pulled into Grant Avenue, the doors opened and the conductor came over the intercom. She said, “This is a Lefferts Boulevard train. Change here for Rockaway trains.”
Aside from splitting into Rockaway and Far Rockaway branches, the A also has a separate branch that goes to Ozone Park/Lefferts Boulevard. I was sure this was a Rockaway-bound train when we boarded it, but, as with my surety concerning everybody in New York knowing what a schmeer is, I was wrong. We had three more chances after Grant Avenue to get out and wait for a Far Rockaway train or else we were going to end up at Ozone Park.
Well, we ended up at Ozone Park. We did this for two reasons. First, I had never been to Ozone Park, so I thought maybe that could be a fun ride, too. We’d both be seeing it together for the first time, so that was worth something. Second, and more important, I didn’t want to get out of the train at any of the elevated stops before we became irrevocably headed for Ozone. Once again, my fear of heights, blah blah blah.
Ozone Park may be a swell place, but the ride there isn’t, at least compared to the swell one out to Far Rockaway. MY WIFE, being as nicely supportive as a wife should be, asked me if I wanted to ride back a ways and get the train we originally intended to get. I decided against it. It would take a while – at least another hour for the new trip – and I didn’t want us to have to hustle to meet her brother later. Also, there was still the excellent ride over the Williamsburg Bridge if we changed trains at Broadway Junction, so that would still be fun.
At Broadway Junction, we decided to go outside before changing trains. I wanted to show MY WIFE the interesting configuration of elevated lines there. This is a view from street level.
You can see that there are lines crossing each other and at different levels. The L line travels above the J line here, making the criss-cross pattern of trackage you see in the photo. I don’t know, maybe I’m easily amused, but I find this system endlessly fascinating. There are just so many bizarre little twists about it. I suspect it may be more of a guy thing, kind of like The Three Stooges.
We went back into the station and took the long escalator up to the J platform. There is an even longer one up to the L platform, of course. We boarded a train, but not in the last car. In order to get the view I had had on my previous trip, we needed to be in the last car looking out the rearmost window on the train. Not having that view changed things dramatically. Again, it was an interesting El ride, but the spectacular – at least in my mind – was only available from that rear window. I thought about changing cars at one of the stops before the bridge, but again my fear of heights kept us ensconced where we were.
The ride over the bridge, while looking out of a side window rather than the rear, was also scarier for me than it had been before. Now I looked down some 100 feet or so into the East River instead of looking back at tracks and roadways and the truly interesting pedestrian and bike pathways that sat atop the bridge, higher than the train and automobile traffic. I think MY WIFE somewhat enjoyed it, but, all in all, the entire morning’s trip was much less fun than I had anticipated and I felt that I had somehow sold her a bill of goods and let her down.
We went back to the hotel and changed into good duds again, for our dinner with MY WIFE's brother. We had a 3:45 reservation at Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn. We would meet him at his house at 2:00, hang a bit, then catch a cab to the restaurant, which was located near the aforementioned Williamsburg Bridge - and which MY WIFE had spotted from above during our morning’s travels.
I don't want to compromise anything concerning MY WIFE's brother's identity or whereabouts, so I'll just show you his picture and tell you he lives in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Or maybe he doesn't, and maybe that's not him at all. For purposes of this blog, he will remain a man of mystery. Let's call him Zorro.
OK, I'm going off the deep end here. I think it's time I called it a day. Howsabout we pick up the story again tomorrow when I'm not sleep-deprived?
Tomorrow: Same as I promised you yesterday - Brooklyn; big overpriced steaks; MY WIFE's brother, Zorro; pissed off directions; etc. See you then!
Go To The End