A Month of Tracking My Subway Rides

This morning, after a particularly unacceptable rush hour subway experience that made my friend Lyz one hour late for work, we decided we would start keeping track of our daily subway rides for the next month, and, at month’s end, let the MTA know about all of the indignities we had experienced — from delays to impossibly slow-moving trains to long waits.

It’s true that the MTA already knows about these frustrations, in fact, it sanctioned them with its brutal budget cuts earlier this year. But the fun of this exercise is to try to get a sense of just how bad the MTA has gotten, and whether, when we complain about the subway, we really have adequate perspective. Are we dwelling on the few infuriating rides we’ve had and ignoring all of the times we made it from Point A to Point B without even noticing, or are our commutes filled with consistent head-banging frustration?

I’m particularly attuned to such frustrations, because my commute is pretty brutal. I recently started a new job at Columbia University Medical Center, which requires me to commute from Kensington, Brooklyn, to Washington Heights, Manhattan. That means I ride the train across about one-third of Brooklyn and most of Manhattan twice a day. (My commute used to be much shorter, from Kensington to Union Square in Manhattan). I might move, but for now, I’m riding about one hour and ten minutes each way, from Church Ave (F line) to 168th Street (A line) with a mercifully easy switch at Jay Street in Brooklyn.

Anyway, without further ado, I give you my experience of today, Nov. 30:

The morning got off to a bad start. I arrived on the Church Ave. platform at about 7:25, as the G train, which starts here, was showing no signs of moving. For some reason when the G starts up here, it always takes the train conductors forever to get the train going, or to switch, if one conductor is relieving another. So I waited for about five minutes as the G sat there. Finally, it left, and the F came right after. The rest of the commute was amazingly quick and painless. I had a seat almost the whole way on both the F and the A (which basically clears out after it’s gone through the Wall Street-area stops). The train got to 168th St. at 8:25, which is seriously a record. Not so bad.

Evening commute: I arrived at the 168th Street stop at about 5 p.m. As I was walking through the station, an announcer said a Brooklyn-bound A train — my train — was approaching the station. Like many other rabid commuters, I increased my pace to a swifter walk-jog to try to make it to the platform to catch the train. When I got downstairs, the train was just arriving at the station, but it was empty and not stopping. So much for that train. About five minutes later, the announcer told us the next train coming was not serving customers. Two trains in a row were out of service?! But as the train pulled up, it was pretty full, and stopped to pick us up. So it in fact was serving customers.

As the train moved south, toward 125th, it started slowing down intermittently, as I’ve found it often does during this particular stretch of the commute. These train slowdowns I think are caused by signal or track issues, but I’m not really sure. Either way, there is something infuriating about them, especially when you’re on an express train.

The rest of the ride was pretty smooth, except for several failed attempts to close the doors at the Fulton Street/Broadway-Nassau stop in downtown Manhattan. At 5:45, I was at Jay Street waiting to transfer to the F. The platform was crowded with people, suggesting the train was taking awhile to come. I always have wishful thinking that the train will arrive right away when I come into this situation, but I actually had to wait five more minutes for it to come. About three minutes into the wait, an announcer informed us that the delay owed to a passenger who had gotten sick at Broadway-Lafayette. The funny thing is, I had almost the exact same experience yesterday with no announcement about a delay. The F has just been terrible at running frequently at around 5:45, when I’m waiting for it at Jay Street.

I got off at about 5:55 at 4th Ave.-9th Street to head to the gym in Park Slope. Not a great train ride, but could have been worse.

My neighborhood’s weird gentrification issues and our lazy police precinct

There are a lot of things I like about where I live, Crown Heights, recently profiled in the New York Times real estate section. But one thing I hate about the hood, and one thing I can assure you almost anyone who was attracted to it from reading that article would hate, is the noise. It isn’t constant–most of the time, I can get a decent night’s sleep or enjoy a quiet early evening’s dinner. But when it’s loud, it is loud. For instance, tonight, J.S. Studio, a hair salon on Franklin Ave. is having a banging party. I know. I went over there. They have a turntable in the back, on the patio. I kindly asked them to turn it down. I was really nice. I told them I had to work tomorrow. A guy who works there was really nice too. He even invited me to the party. I came in to have a water, but it’s Sunday night, and it actually didn’t look that banging. (Not many people were there). Plus, come on, I just want to chill out before I go back to work. He also promised me he’d turn it down, though not after telling me I was the only one to complain.

Anyway, I came back to my apartment and the noise has since gotten louder than before. I called the usual suspects: 311 (took about 25 minutes of holding), Police Precinct 77 (I told the officer who picked up that he could ask one of the officers who is stationed on Franklin Ave. to just walk a couple blocks and ask these guys to turn it down. He gave the typical lazy, CYA answer they give over there, which is call 311. If calling 311 did anything, Officer, I would have just kept it at that. But it doesn’t. NYPD basically tells you every chance they get that noise is not their priority, even though that is the top complaint that 311 gets and noise from businesses is a violation of the city’s code. Sometimes I wonder what we pay these people for?).

So here I sit, at 11:35 on a Sunday night, with a fan and an anti-noise machine on, a window closed, and ear plugs in, and I can still hear the drum beat of whatever awful music my neighbors are playing.

I’m not alone in my neighborhood, but one disturbing thing is the way people try to make noise complaints into issues about gentrification. When I was talking to the guy at JS Studio tonight, he mentioned that he had lived here all his life and this was typical. On that Brooklynian chat board, one commenter said this:

Outdoor parties using a pa system are normal for crown heights. didn’t u know that before moving there? why are you imposing your values and background on people who have lived there for a long time.

And the fat female friend of the guy (sorry to be mean, but she was not friendly), retorted to me that it was early. Which I really hate — when noisy people start trying to turn the tables on you about what time it is, when it isn’t their business about what time you need things quiet. (What if I worked at 4 a.m., and had to go to sleep by 9 p.m. or something. Ugh).

It’s funny, because every store owner I have talked to about the neighborhood — save maybe the owner of JS Studio if I had asked them — says it has changed a lot for the better, and I’m guessing it has something to do with more quiet, more businesses and less drug dealing. And yes, I’m sure prices have gone up, too, but that is a fact of New York that I don’t really blame on people who move in and try to make a neighborhood better. I blame it on the city government, which initiated rent deregulation in the ’90s, at the urging of landlords, most of them big landlords. I don’t see why the choice has to be affordable/noisy or unaffordable/quiet. That’s absurd. And making it into a race issue, or class issue or gentrification issue is absurd. It’s a city. You have to respect your neighbor, or love your neighbor, as the bible says.

There’s a new sheriff in town at the Prospect Park Y pool

Today I paid a long overdue visit to my gym, the Prospect Park YMCA, to go swimming, because it was too damn hot out to run or bike. And lo and behold, there was a new sheriff — er, lifeguard — in town, and he was laying down the law. In contrast to the practices of the average Prospect Y lifeguard, this one ordered me to go back and shower immediately. I’ve never been told to do this before, and I don’t really get the reason. After all, what they call showering really means running some water quickly through one’s hair to make oneself look damp enough to go in the pool, even though we are about to submerge ourselves in a pool. How does it clean us off to take a perfunctory “shower” before swimming? But whatever, rules are rules.

When I returned to the pool, the lifeguard would not let me sign in on the pool clipboard, something all swimmers are supposed to do to indicate which lane you plan to swim in and the color of our suits and swim caps in case the guards need to get our attention while we’re swimming. Instead, he insisted on taking my name and information. I guessed my new, officious friend was doing this because the sign-up sheet usually looks like a page of hieroglyphic scribbles, rending it almost useless.

Having made it through the red tape, I hopped in and started swimming in the fast lane. This is not my favorite lane, because I’m not fast, but the medium lane was of course full. (It always is). After swimming a few laps, I grabbed a kickboard and kicked across the pool. As soon as I got to the other side, I was approached by the lifeguard, who told me using the kickboard wasn’t allowed — only freestyle. I didn’t catch if this is only a rule that applied to the fast lane.

I didn’t totally mind this lifeguard’s fastidiousness. After all, I can get behind keeping the pool clean and efficient. But when time came for him to evict people from the lanes, i.e. when it was clear some people had been in for more than 30 minutes, he stood idly by. So I wondered, why enforce a “busy work” rule, like requiring someone to take a shower, and not enforce a rule that would allow more people to use the pool?

Best of Craigslist

I like when people make things clear about what they want when they’re looking for a roommate. Here’s a guy in Williamsburg looking for a roommate:

I clean up the kitchen when I’m done, I don’t play loud music at night, I don’t bring people back late at night after hanging out at bars and stuff – the apartment is a bit of a sanctuary from the intensity of New York if you know what I mean. Having said that – it’s cool if you want to have people over and stuff – the main thing is just to be considerate. I don’t mind if you’re straight or gay and I am totally open to being friends – I think it’s just important to be clear about the fact that being room mates is as much a business arrangement as it is anything else.

And this one, which finds in the neighborhood a pretty specific lure:

Loc’n at edge of Caribbean neighborhood with excellent cheap eats. C-town grocery around the corner has great Asian sauces and Jamaican curry selection.

And of course, why the neighborhood (Ditmas Park) is better than Park Slope:

Two avenues from Cortelyou Rd. strip, with Sycamore, The Farm on Adderley, Mimi’s Hummus, Flatbush Food Coop (unlike Park Slope, the coop doesn’t require you to be a member to shop there), farmers’ market, etc.
The local bars and restaurants are fewer but much higher average quality than in Park Slope, and way cheaper. If you’re considering living in the Slope, you can get a better experience and similar commute for less money in Ditmas.

Weekend in Brooklyn

A few happy encounters from one of my first weekends in new home, Brooklyn.

*I tried on a couple of dresses over my clothes at a flea market in Park Slope. The tiny Carribbean vendor seemed pretty determined to find me one that fit. She quickly rejected the first one, which I actually thought would have fit fine when it wasn’t worn over my day’s outfit. However, she took an immediate liking to the second one, which I thought looked too big when I caught a glimpse in the mirror.

“Too big?” she said, incredulous. “Yeah,” I said apologetically. Then, she started muttering words under her breath. She did not heed my continued explanation about how the sleeves were too long but just kept shaking her head and saying “too big” disgustedly. As I walked away, I could see her muttering and looking my way as if she were putting a curse one me.

*This morning, I went to visit my brother at a coffee shop that he works in a lot. One of the other regulars there, a middle-aged Hungarian guy, greeted us this way: “It’s the Chicago Mafia!”

*This evening, as I was returning from the store, I was greeted with a question I don’t get every day. “Are you Jewish?” a young Hasidic man who was standing on the street accompanied by a boy asked me. “Uh, yeah?” I said. “Can I blow the shofar for you?” he asked. “It will take two minutes.” Me: “Sure, right here?” Him: “Well we can go over there.” He pointed a few feet away from us.

And indeed, this Hasidic Jew proceeded to blow a small shofar for two minutes and then, when he was through, go through the reasons Jews blow shofars on Rosh Hashanah. It was all coming back to me: Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, God creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh and something else. As this young man left to go to his synogogue fifteen minutes away, I felt a little less guilty about not going to one myself this year.

Mortgage envy and tradeoffs

I love Salon comments. This week, Mary Elizabeth Williams writes about her family’s slow descent into a subprime mortgage  to help them keep on the heels of the joneses who can afford nice brownstones in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It seems a little self-absorbed to do an article like this and fail to report outside one’s own situation. It might have at least protected Williams from comments that scorn her for whining about the rich people in her neighborhood when she does not have it so bad. (In her defense, this is an excerpt from a book, so maybe the rest of the book goes more broad). As a few other commenters point out, if she and her husband chose to be freelance writers, didn’t they know they wouldn’t enjoy the same lifestyle as NYC’s  bankers and lawyers? Unfortunately, in New York, that lifestyle is simply being able to afford a house. Anyway, here are a couple of the most interesting comments. Emphasis added, in some places.

What the writer fails to appreciate is that if you want to live an unconventional life, you can’t complain you are unable to afford the perks of those who’ve slaved in the salt mines doing “regular jobs” for years.

I’ve seen this in people who’ve gone overseas on their own initiative and then come home 5+ years later and don’t understand why they can’t immediately live like those who never left. Whatever they did “over there” isn’t on the radar of American employers and the absence of a credit record won’t help them with lenders.

I guess I feel fortunate that I don’t envy the lifestyle of anyone else. I always knew what I wanted and was cognizant of what I would have to sacrifice to achieve it.

Yikes–you’re gonna get killed in the letters section with this!

I can understand wanting to shill your new book, but man are the folks on this site not going to give you the love right now.

She’s not talking about the titans of Wall St, earning multimillion dollar bonuses. She’s talking about people who are doing well.

Why are they so much more comfortable financially than she is? Because they looked at the market and figured out what it took to earn a salary that suited the lifestyle they wanted. They went to B school. They took jobs that maybe weren’t “fulfilling’. I wanted to be a writer, my husband wanted to be an airplane pilot. We’ve spent a lot of our careers in Accounting. We haven’t always lived in the place we’d prefer to live. However, we have a very nice life and we probably are the sort that MEW hates.

You can buy an entire city in the plains states for the price of a New York loft. And believe it or not, there are people outside of New York with a full set of teeth and a head full of brains.

I do have to say, living in NYC is definitely worth some extra money.

Yeah, my daily trip to work is enough to tell me that there are plenty of people out there who are worse off, but if every sad story has to compete in this way, what’s the point? The author’s experience is rather topical and I appreciate the view from the inside.

The lamentations are predictable, but the market has always defined the tradeoffs: How much are you willing to trade safety, convenience, space and stability to live out your vocational dreams in a close-in, culturally hip area? How move-in ready do you need your cultural surroundings to be—do you want to build it from scratch or have others to spend time and do all the heavy lifting constructing it for you? If you opt for the latter, you’ll pay top dollar, so working for the corporate master may be in your future. The built-in equilibrium is that today’s urban pioneers have already left in search of new affordable frontiers. So, your “spoiled” expensive neighborhood has likely become a sterile chain-store filled anywhere USA — filled with self-congratulatory drones living vicariously through the efforts of the former residents, the glow of the area’s former coolness rapidly dissipating.

The way these people put it, the tradeoffs can be pretty easily defined.
Conventional vs. unconventional job=Well-paying job vs. less well-paying job=Carroll Gardens vs. Jersey City. Well, at least it did. Who knows what will happen during the repression (recession+depression).
I know where I come down, at least at the tender age of 25: As Art Buchwald, not Einstein, supposedly said, “The best things in life aren’t things.”

Photos in New York: Message on a bridge, Fearcession

img_4440writing on the side of the Carroll Street bridge over the Gowanus Canal

img_4443Outside Zabar’s on 80th Street and Broadway.

Read me in the paper

I have another article in the Brooklyn Courier-Life.  Check it out:

Christians, Jews, Muslims and agnostics gathered at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights on Sunday for the Dialogue Project’s 7th Annual Interfaith Teach-in. Organizer and founder Marcia Kannry estimated that 185 people participated in the Teach-in, which was sponsored by a variety of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim organizations in New York City.

The Dialogue Project formed in 2001 to bring groups who are affected by the conflicts in the Middle East together to talk about their differences.

This year’s Interfaith Teach-in comes at a time of both excitement and alarm over race relations in America and in New York. Kannry cited hopeful and discouraging events beforehand that could be talked about.

Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American President of the United States headed off fears that the country was not ready to elect a non-white person, but the alleged ethnically-motivated murder of an Ecuadoran man, Marcello Lucero, 37, in Long Island on Saturday, Nov. 8 showed that there are still racial tensions in many communities. Read more of this post

Drinking in the Battle of Brooklyn

Last night, I mustered up the fortitude to go by myself to an event honoring the 232nd-anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn in Park Slope. Professor John Walsh of Hofstra University spoke on the history of the American Revolution battle at The Gate bar in Brooklyn.

The largest battle of the War and one of the bloodiest–2000 colonists died–is not widely-remembered around New York–perhaps in part because the Americans lost it thoroughly–but, according to Walsh, it still left much hallowed ground in Brooklyn.

“If somebody has a house around here with a backyard, and you started digging, there’s no telling what you would find,” Walsh told the crowd, noting that a Belgian man found the remains of a British soldier in his yard not too long ago.

The Professor came with handouts–a map of the battle sites in Brooklyn, an article about a war relic from the Journal of Field Archaeology, and an article from the American Historical Review written in 1896–and often read from his notes, but the scholarly tone did not reach the cheering section that was hanging out in the corner. When it looked like the lecture would begin about an hour after scheduled time, the group started chanting “John, John, John,” though they appeared to be friends, not hecklers.

Read more of this post


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