Rand McSteffie

Steffie’s college roommate is back at school for some summer classes. Steffie thought it might be nice to bring her their shared television and some other things we’d stored here in Connecticut. So yesterday afternoon, with her friend Sam in tow, Steffie set out for Long Island.

It’s really not a difficult trip and before long they were there.

Flash forward to departure time. By this time Sam, suffering from a headache, dozes off in the front seat. Steffie hops onto the Meadowbrook and heads home.

Everything was going so well, so smoothly until she got to the Cross Island Parkway. That’s how Helaine and I get to the Throgs Neck Bridge. The problem is, just at the point you exit to the Cross Island there’s a sign beckoning you to a different exit for the Throgs Neck!

Confused, Steffie followed the sign… and so began her great adventure through the boroughs!

Instead of heading north, into the Bronx, she was heading west toward Manhattan. Somehow she got on the Long Island Expressway, driving past the apartment where I grew up, past Queens College and the New York World’s Fair site.

Her exact route isn’t certain. She doesn’t totally remember and probably had no way of knowing anyway. I am reconstructing it from a conversation we had a little after 1:00 AM.

“You know that tunnel,” Steffie asked?

“Did you go up on a very high section of roadway with a great view of Manhattan?”

Holy crap! Steffie had made her way to Long Island City and was heading into the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

“It went on forever and was really narrow,” she said.

She’s right. The twin tubes of the Midtown Tunnel run around 1¼ miles. The lanes are narrow and the tunnel does curve. Even worse, as you leave you’re faced with three choices, “Uptown, Midtown and Downtown,” none of which would make any sense to Steffie!

She remembers Lexington Avenue and seeing Times Square on her right. She was totally lost.

“You know the glass building?”

Glass building? I looked at my toes – where all answers emanate. Glass building… uh… “You mean the Javits Center?”

It was around this time in the conversation that Steffie admitted that she knew she’d drive in Manhattan at some point, but had hope she’d wait until she was around 40.

Back in the car she pulled into a parking lot, hoping to find an attendant. No dice there. She yelled across at a taxicab stopped at a light. As he explained, the light turned green.

The time between a green light and horn honk in Manhattan is measured in milliseconds.

The were signs for the Holland Tunnel. She knew she didn’t want to be there. There were also signs pointing toward the George Washington Bridge. That sounded more familiar.

She didn’t know it at the time, but she was now heading north on the West Side Highway.

On family trips, we often make a decision as we approach the George Washington Bridge. If there’s heavy traffic on the bridge heading into the Bronx, we continue north and wind our way through the Bronx and Westchester. If the coast’s clear, we take the easy way – I-95, the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Steffie looked at the bridge and decided to continue. It’s lucky for her she did, because as it turns out, she would have taken the GWB. She would have headed across the Hudson into New Jersey!

Heading north, the West Side Highway becomes the Henry Hudson Parkway. She drove through the toll, over the Henry Hudson Bridge and into the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Now nothing looked familiar! Exits came and went, but no names she recognized… until Mosholu Parkway.

Unfortunately for Steffie, she knew the name because we’d had brunch at the Mosholu, a boat moored on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. She took the Mosholu anyway.

Even with a map, it’s tough to reconstruct her trip from here. She did panic a little when she saw signs pointing to Albany. A little after that, a sign for the Hutchinson River Parkway.

Steffie headed north on the “Hutch,” finally breathing a sigh of relief as she passed the “Entering Greenwich” sign. She was back in Connecticut.

The 100 minute trip had taken her four hours. She had visited Queens, Manhattan, The Bronx and was within a few hundred yards of Brooklyn.

Steffie probably expected Helaine or me to get angry. We didn’t.

Do I wish she would have called me at some point? Of course.

It’s a great story we’ll have forever… one of those family fables grandparents will someday tell grandchildren about their mother.

I Never Thought I’d Have One

A piece of email just flew in. Popfile, my mail filter, saw it as spam and relegated it to the spam bin (which I still quickly check a few times a day). As I clicked the button to delete it, I realized I had seen the word “TransitStore” on the subject line.

I fished it out of the delete folder.

The New York City Transit Authority has recently retired the rust red subway cars which made the trip from Times Square to Main Street Flushing on the “7” line. Called “Redbirds,” these cars were among the best ever bought by the NYCTA. They didn’t break down a lot and aged much more gracefully than earlier or later models.

Originally bought to spruce up the line for the New York World’s Fair in 1964, they survived nearly 40 years. Imagine driving a 1964 car on the streets today – a car that was in use around the clock 7 days a week. It’s an accomplishment.

I’ve taken hundreds of trips on the “7.” It wasn’t my first choice when going to school, but was often my transport into Manhattan. With two local and one express track, it managed to be local only at the hours I wanted to ride. It was built as the city was changing the named streets of Queens to numbered streets. Stations are named for streets that haven’t been around since the depression.

With the cars out of service, and probably waiting to become an undersea reef somewhere, individual pieces have been removed and are now for sale. That’s what the email was touting.

I started to write this blog entry, looking at the memorabilia, when Helaine walked in. Why don’t I get something, she said. I had never thought to do anything more than longingly browse.

I’ve made the order.

The front destination sash, which says Times Square – but should also say Willets Point/Shea Stadium, World’s Fair, Main Street Flushing and a few other points from my past should soon be here. It won’t mean much to Helaine and Steffie, but for me, it’s a big deal. I’ve silently wanted one of these for at least 45 years.