Archive for the ‘trains’ Category

documenting NYC commuting culture

January 15, 2008

So, my family is obsessed with modes of transportation, specifically public transportation systems, specifically trains. Whenever I came home to New York from college in Massachusetts on the Amtrak my father and my uncles sat down with me and asked me all the details of my ride, even though I took the same train home every time. How many stops did it make? How long did it take? When did it switch from diesel to electric power? How long was the stop over at New Haven?

Similarly, they want details of every subway ride that I take in New York City, particularly if it involves going into Brooklyn, their hometown. Since the subway lines have changed in Brooklyn over time they do not know the Q, N, or F trains. They know the Brighton Line, the Sea Beach Line, and the Culver Line. They know the IRT, the BMT, the IND. My grandfather worked as a subway car repairman at the Coney Island yards, and one of my uncles just retired from the MTA after 30-something years and was honored with the highly-coveted Lifetime Unlimited MetroCard. My father and his 4 brothers collected Lionel trains when they were younger and now my dad has enough trains to take over the entire living room when he puts them up at Christmas. He also has a collection of tokens that he will never throw out.
I guess its in my genes, but I find the subway culture, and utilization of public transportation in NYC so unique and worthy of further study. More people use public transportation to get to work in NYC than in any other city in the country. I don’t even know what it would be like to go to work in car, by myself. I think I would get lonely. I do almost all of my reading on the train. When you are commuting by train, yes, it’s crowded. Sometimes people are rude and pushy and downright nasty. Sometimes trains break down and get stuck. But there is a sense of camaraderie, that we are all in this together. Sometimes on Mondays I think, too bad its Monday and I have to go back to work; but then I look around me and realize so do all of these other people.
Anyway, the real reason for this post – a reporter from the NY Times is going around commuting with people and documenting a new commute route each week. I love it; it is so good. I want this to be my job. Read it here.
For more information on subway culture, read Subwayland: Adventures in the World Beneath New York by Randy Kennedy, which is a collection of essays from the former NY Times Column “Tunnel Vision” about the people who ride the subways, live in the subways, and work in the subways.