When I look at the Manhattan skyline, I shake my head in disbelief. To imagine buildings this tall, so close together, so many of them and built from the 1800’s on….it just defies the imagination and boggles the mind. And it doesn’t end there. Just go downstairs.
Leaving the street and taking the stairways down into the subterranean city of the subway, there is a whole new world. I found a concrete cave…..an endless concrete cave. Peering down the cave, I can’t see very far. It turns into blackness. From the platform, it’s a few feet down to the tracks. There may be 2 or 4 or 8 tracks laying side by side. Turning to look for some direction, I see a map of the boroughs of the city. There are red, green, yellow, blue, brown and purple lines all over the map, labeled A, C, E or 1, 2.3 or Q, R, F, M or P. It may be 7, B, D, F. I don’t know and I think that if I get on one and go into that black hole, I may never be heard from again. The old Kingston Trio tune, “Riding the MTA” starts playing in your head. But that only happens the first time. Once I took my leap of faith, got a few trips under my belt, the scary went away.
After the scary is gone, the subway system starts looking differently. I see the agent booths, the turnstiles, the platforms, and the trains themselves all bustling along taking all the people to all the places they are going. That is when the awe set in.
These long sleek trains roll through tunnels dug deep under the city, under the sky scrapers, from the bottom of Manhattan, north to Harlem and The Bronx, under the rivers into the other boroughs, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, and into New Jersey. Almost 6 million riders per day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 850 miles of track and 472 stations. And all this started 113 years ago, in 1904, with shovels and picks.
I arrive at my stop and get off the subway and climb the steps to the street. I have to stop when I get to the sidewalk to catch my breath. I realize just how deep underground, extensive, complex and fascinating the subway system has become and I am impressed. I have just traveled the length of Manhattan in a matter of minutes and it cost me $1.35. It boggled my imagination!
Some things to understand in the subway world. 1. Don’t trust your sense of direction, there is uptown and downtown. 2. When your train arrives, be sure to get on it. It is relentless and unforgiving for staying on schedule. 3. If you have questions, ask someone. New Yorkers are more than willing to help. 4. The platform musicians are there for your entertainment, drop some change in their case.
And if your imagination gets boggled, that’s all right.