Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Stroll Down the Memory Tunnel or 14th and 6th

Sometimes my travels on the NYC subway system leads to memorable and forgettable experiences. But this particular trip brought back memories of my youth in riding the subways during the dog days of the 80's.

As usual my trip was side swiped by bus delays and construction issues. I end up taking the Bx5 bus (since the Bx36 and Bx39) were nowhere to be seen in the increasingly harder rainfall. I take the Bx5 to the last stop which is Hunts Point and Westchester Avenues where I can take either the 2 or 5 trains at the Simpson Street station. As my luck would have it, there is no 5 train service due to construction so I had to get to work in a twisted manner.

I took the 2 train to 14th Street (and 7th Avenue). Luckily for me the train ran express. Then I walked upstairs to transfer to the 6 train. Now I had forgotten how long the walk is through the tunnels to get from the 2 to the F. I remember riding the trains and walking through the stations as a young kid during the 80's. Hopping on the trains during half days from school just exploring the big bad city. I guess the tunnels didn't seem so long to me as a child or I am just getting older.

So for those of you who have never transferred between said trains, you walk the entire city block underground at an incline until you reach the L train 14th Street Station at which point you walk upstairs to the F train. Now aside from the walk, here is where the memorable moment came. As I walk up the stairs to the downtown F train station, I was hit with a smell that I haven't had hit my nose in a long time. The station had an "aroma" of stagnant water, urine and feces all rolled into one. It was a smell that I hadn't experienced since before the Guiliani administration in the 1990's.

I truly believe that most people who have emigrated to NYC in the last 15 years are spoiled when it comes to riding the subway. Most train cars today are relatively new and have functioning air-conditioning units. This was not true back in the 70's and 80's. An air-conditioned car was a treasure rather than the norm. I remember sweltering cars whose windows and emergency car doors had to he propped open to let air circulate since the overhead fans could only do so much with the hot air (Watch old NYC movies like the original Taking of the Pelham 1-2-3 for a visual). The stations were also a mess: dirty and in disrepair. Today, at most times you can see the employees of the MTA maintaining and cleaning the stations. And the smell that came out of these trains and stations...That's what my excursion today reminded me off.

Wow, talk about taking a stroll down memory lane. It made me realize that no matter how many fancy buildings go up, how many of the old bad hoods get gentrified and how many outsiders come to live here, the NYC that I grew up in still exists and rears its ugly head every now and again. And it brought a smile to my face through the holding of my breath.