100th Anniversary of the Subway

All kids like trains, I suppose. Kids from New York City like subways. That’s me.

New Yorkers have been taking subways for 100 years. Today is the actual anniversary of that first trip under Manhattan.

Growing up, I went to high school taking a bus and then one or two subway trains (depending on my rush and desire for a seat). It was a long ride.

The optional train was the Express – the “E” or “F” train. The required subway was the “GG.” It is now called the “G,” but it’s the same.

The “GG” is the only subway line in New York that doesn’t go through Manhattan. It started in Queens at Continental Avenue running parallel to the express track that went into Manhattan. At Queens Plaza it turned left, south toward Brooklyn.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the “GG,” which started in an affluent Queens neighborhood of tall apartment buildings, went through some of the toughest, most crime ridden, poverty stricken, neighborhoods in New York. Ignorance, for me, was bliss.

Sometime during my four years of high school, I made friends with a motorman on the “GG.” He’d open the cab door a bit and we’d talk as the train rolled on. He was an Irishman. I think his last name was Sheridan. He spoke with a thick Irish brogue. He was a union man in the TWU – Mike Quill’s union.

Even when I wasn’t on his train, I’d usually ride in the front car, my nose pressed up against the glass, looking at the tunnel and tracks.

The “GG” has an interesting ride. Though we took the same route as the express trains, for a few stops they disappeared. I’m not sure if they took a more direct route or were over or under us. They just weren’t there, where you expected them.

There was one spot that looked like it had been planned as a spur. The tunnel opened to the right side, though no tracks were laid.

In Brooklyn, at one stop, a third track appeared. The station had two platforms with the “GG” on the outside tracks and a phantom track in the middle. If it was used for anything, I never saw it.

The “GG” had old cars. In the late 60s, as stainless cars started appearing on other lines, the “GG” kept rolling with equipment from the 30s and 40s. The seats were padded beneath a wicker material or some red rubbery replacement. That was probably the last time New Yorkers were trusted with padded seats that could be ripped apart and vandalized. The cars were lit with incandescent bulbs that blinked every once in a while, as the train made and lost contact with the third rail.

To cut down on theft, the subway’s bulbs screwed in the opposite direction of the bulbs you use at home. Pretty clever.

I knew these trains well – their ins and outs. If there was someone you didn’t like, all you needed to do was take the ‘arm strap’ above and push it back until it would go no further. A black shower of very fine metal would come down, staining whatever was under it.

I always wanted to ‘drive’ a subway. I know that’s the wrong term. It’s still what I wanted to do. Even today, if given the opportunity, I’d take the controls.

When our family goes to New York. We often take the subway to go from place-to-place. My family thinks of it as necessary transportation. I think they know in the back of their mind, it’s still a fun ride for me.

Blogger’s note: Photos accompanying web entries should reflect the actual content. In this case, they are random subway shots I’ve taken. I wasn’t clever enough to anticipate my blog and shoot the “GG” in 1967. Photography in the subway is now prohibited. This is a real shame. I loved taking available light shots while underground.

One thought on “100th Anniversary of the Subway”

  1. Hey, this beats my story of how I got to school as a kid; it is much more exciting than my bland yellow bus excursions. However, while we are on the topic, I do have one interesting note. Our bus driver only had one ear. Being the inquisitive (nosey and inappropriate) kid that I was, I said, “hey, what happend to your ear?” The bus driver was really nice about it. He told me that he was in Vietnam and got hit by shrapnel! This was my first history lesson.

    Later on that year, our neighbor, Frankie, took his life in his 20’s. I found out that he too had been in Vietnam. His family would come in to check on him and he’d be hiding under tables and beds, shaking and sweating. He was having flashbacks and he said he could not live with it anymore. So there you have it … see what an array of memories can come up on the topic of “rides to school”!!

    Needless to say, I have never joined the military and I never will. My brother however, does not feel the same. That was until he got sent to help fight the war as a 37 year old National Guardsman and father of 2 young kids!

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