A lot of local media (and some national media) have been referring to this summer as the “Summer of Hell”, because of the construction going on at Penn Station. This week was the kick-off week for the worst of it. All kinds of extra buses were brought into Penn Station on Monday, but things went pretty smoothly, and gradually the number of buses was decreased over the course of the week. This hasn’t really affected me, because my travels have not brought me into the vicinity of that area. What hass been less publicized is all the other track maintenance going on all around the city, and how that has left people feeling.
Let me illustrate with my journey today. Note, I am not in anyway saying I experienced hell. I am lucky that I am not travelling with anyone who depends on me, nor do I have to be anywhere at a given time, nor do I actually have to go to my destination at all, so delays and schedule changes are part of my fun, even if it can be a bit exhausting.
Once again, we start with a simple plan. I was running an errand for a friend near the end of the N train line out in Queens. I thought, “Hey, I’ve never been to Queens (other than LaGuardia) – I’ll go to the Queens Zoo and explore around while I’m out there.” I went to the zoo web site and looked at a map, to get an idea of how big it was. I noticed an arrow at the top labeled “New York Hall of Science”. I googled it, and discovered that it was right next door to the zoo. Both are on the site of the 1964 World’s Fair. A two-fer!
I googled directions and set the plan. Walk down to the 231st Street station (I wanted to drop something off at the post office near by), hop on the 1 train, take it down to Times Square (42nd Street) hop on a 7 train out to the zoo and Science Hall, hop back on, transfer to the N train, walk 12 minutes to run the errand, then walk back, hop on the N back to 42nd then the 1 train home. I planned to be home by 6, and even set a reminder at that time for do open my umbrella, which was at home, and dry it out.
So it boils down to this: 1, 7, 7, N, 1. This is how it actually went.
As I mentioned, I needed to drop something off at the post office, so I headed toward the 231st Street stop. I didn’t actually get to the post office, because they have something here called mailboxes, and they aren’t only in front of post offices. This was great, because it saved me the two blocks of walking down to 230th and back. Pyrrhic victory.
I climbed the stairs up to the 231st platform only to discover (literal) red tape across the turnstiles. Oh yeah, same deal as Thursday – trains are running express to 242nd to 215th. If you want to be a hero in NYC, you can simply tell people that as they are climbing up the stairs that there is no train service. They are truly appreciative, and no one does it. So, a decision: 11 blocks north, or 14 south? I chose 14 south, mostly because I hadn’t yet walked down that section of Broadway, and I knew it would take me over the Harlem River, and I kind of like looking over bridge rails at the water flowing underneath. If I am walking over a bridge, I always stop and look down. You can see a lot of fish that way. But not in the Harlem River – too murky. You can see a fair number of boats, though.
Finally, I climbed the stairs to the 215th Street station, where there were kind of a lot of people waiting. This would be a good time to mention that the rails overhead while I was walking were eerily quiet. I had noticed this. Blocks are about a tenth of a mile long and take about two minutes to walk. I hadn’t heard any trains overhead for about half an hour – they should be about every 8 minutes. I thought I must’ve missed a couple in my reverie.
So, we, the people, waited. And waited. After about 10 minutes, a voice came over the loudspeaker and said “Due to construction, trains are not stopping at the 215th street station” and then a whole bunch of blurry stuff where I heard the word “bus”, but not the number, and “207th street”. The groans from the other passengers were audible. These people had already paid their fares. I have a monthly pass, which is kind of like having infinite lives in a video game – if you lose a life, or a fare, it’s no big deal, you just try again.
Off I go to 207th. What’s another eight blocks at this point? Plus, the neighborhood was not bad. I will say, though, that on a nice day, there are a lot of ad hoc car washes businesses set up all over the place.
When I got there, there was a woman coming down the stairs, looking disappointed. Several of us had just made the trek from 215th when we met her. There was a conversation in mixed Spanish and English, the gist of which was that the trains were not running at 207th, either. “Broken.”
There was this guy with red hair and a backpack that I had been a few steps behind for a while. While I was deciding whether to continue on to the next 1 train stop or try something else, he disappeared off to the right somewhere, no longer following the tracks. In retrospect, it became clear that he knew something I didn’t.
The buses were starting to become a more attractive option. What held me back is lack of knowledge about where the buses actually go. You will remember that the MTA is nothing like the Chicago Transit Authority – you may need to get on a northbound bus to go south in NYC. I asked Google to map me a route to Queens by bus: four unfamiliar buses and a bunch of walking. That was not an attractive option. Then I saw a Bx12 bus go by. I know that bus – it takes you to the Bronx Zoo! There are two Bx12 buses, the regular one, and the SBS (Select Bus Service). I have gradually come to understand that SBS buses are like regular buses, but with some efficiency improvements, like bus lanes, limited stops and off board fare payment, which is a fancy way of saying “you pay before you get on” (also, you only learn this fact by doing it wrong, although you could learn it by reading the signs all over the fare payment terminals, which I ignored because I have an unlimited pass – you still need to use it to get a receipt so you can board.) I was pretty sure that I could take the bus to the 4 train and continue from there. A SBS bus was just pulling away as I got there, so I bought my fare, and proceeded to wait for the next one. While I was waiting, I googled around to find the new route. It was a little tricky, because Google kept telling me to take the 1 train, and if I told it to not use trains, I was back to the four bus solution. Then I scrolled down a little farther, and found “Other subway routes”. If I walked about 4 or five more blocks, to the west instead of south, I could catch the A train and then the 7, and I’d be back on track, so to speak. That’s what the guy with the red hair knew. He was almost certainly already on the A train at this point. The rest of the trip out to the Science Hall and the Queens Zoo went as planned. Shocked, aren’t you? Don’t despair, the day is not over yet!
After the science museum and zoo, I headed toward my errand. Google suggested I take the 7, and the 7 to Queensboro Plaza and then the N train, followed a twelve minute walk to my destination. Yes, two 7s. I still don’t know why. The 7 I got on was going to the Queensboro Plaza, so I stuck with it. I eventually got to SingleCut Beersmiths to buy a particular beer for a friend. Honestly. It was sold out. I must’ve looked tired, because the bartender actually shook my hand and said, “Sorry, friend.”
At this point, it was about 6pm, and I had been travelling for almost seven hours (my fitness app told me I hit 10,000 steps a long time ago), so I wanted to have a relaxing meal. Although they served food at SingleCut, I wasn’t really interested in beer, so I set out to explore Astoria and find some dinner. I settled on MP Taverna, ate outside, and had a pleasant meal of Cypriot lamb sausage, pork tenderloin, chicken, Greek pork sausage. So good. I had some leftovers, which I just ate while describing my 1 train adventure to you.
On the way back, I stopped at a Greek bakery, Lefkos Pyrgos (Λευκός Πύργος for those of you studying ancient Greek. Yes, some of my readers study ancient Greek. I have an erudite audience), which I now know is named after the White Tower of Thessaloniki which explains its white exterior, and got some baklava to go. Cuz when there’s Greek bakeries, you get something.
N to 1 to home, or something like that.
Google said to take the N train to 42nd Street, then the 1 train, then walk the 10 minutes home. Now, I had already had some experience with the 1 train which was still fresh in my mind. Add to that the thought of 187 stairs, and the fact that, at this point, I had 25,664 steps on my fitness app, and you’ll understand why, when the train stopped at 59th Street and the announcement said “connection to the 4 train”, I literally (I am literally using the word literally a lot in this post) leapt off the train. I sometimes take the 4 train when I have to get to the east side of Manhattan. I have come to think of it as my short cut commute, not because it takes less time (it almost always takes longer), but because it drops me off at the top of the hill, just outside my apartment complex, leaving me with only 63 stairs to climb. Spoiler: Pyrrhic victory.
I followed signs on the convoluted path deeper into the bowels of the 59th Street station. I commented to a woman going down the stairs one step at a time, “These stairs have got to go.” She agreed. On the very lowest level is the 4 train. Only not tonight. A sign down there said that the 4 train was running on the upper 6 train tracks at the top of the station. Back up I go.
Mercifully, I didn’t have to climb all the way to the top; there was a long escalator that made the job easier. Eventually, the 4 train arrived, and it was packed. Who knew there were so many people in Manhattan at 8pm on a Saturday night? And, the train is a local (Local 4 to 125th), which was kind of cool because I didn’t even know there was a local 4, having only ever been on express 4 trains. Did you know that there are just a lot of stops on a local, at least before you get to 125th. 125th? Didn’t catch that did you. Either did I. Either did a bunch of other people on the train. The last stop for this train was 125th. Remember, I am trying to get to 238th, where I live. We all had to get off at 125th, while the train headed back downtown. Fortunately, there was an MTA worker directing us down the stairs to where we could catch the train for the second half of the trip, north of 125th. Construction.
We waited for a fairly long time (15 minutes) for the 4 train to enter the station from the north, stop, load, and head back north again. I told a guy carrying a Blue Apron box that I was going to stick with him, since he had food in case we didn’t make it home, and I offered to share my baklava should that happen.
I got off the train at Mosholu, and waited for the bus with about twenty other people. Two buses came nose to tail. About eighteen people went to board the first bus, Bx1, but I held back and got on the second bus, Bx2. Either would’ve taken me to my destination, but I had a plan. And it worked!
The Bx2 bus loaded faster than Bx1 because only about three people boarded – everyone else went for the first bus. Bx2 was able to leapfrog Bx1 and we were on our way. Also, because we had fewer riders, we made fewer stops, and we were speeding along. I made it to my stop a whole 35 seconds faster than Bx1, ten and a half hours after I started out, which is why I’m a little late posting this.