January 28, 2007

Underneath the City (Hall)

There are many mysteries that lie beneath New York City, not the least of which are part of the transit system. I swear I feel the Second Avenue Subway rumbling beneath my apartment building (there are functional tracks). The Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in Brooklyn has a whole platform for unused tracks (as does the Delancey/Essex Street's JMZ line). A few years ago they discovered an entire tunnel under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn that you can only access now through a manhole.

The only subway station that I've seen closed since I've moved to the city was demolished as a result of the World Trade Center collapse, but there are a few others that are still standing. (The Transit Museum occupies such a station.) If you ride the 6 train downtown between 23rd St. and Union Square and press your face against the window, you can catch a glimpse of a very dirty 18th St. station. And if you stay on the 6 train at Brooklyn Bridge, the last stop, you might catch a glimpse of the closed City Hall station when the train turns around on the looped track to come back to Brooklyn Bridge on the uptown platform.

This weekend the Transit Museum hosted a guided tour through the old station, a much better look with the 11 chandeliers lit up. There are three skylights in major disrepair that also illuminate the platform, much of their original leaded glass shattered, blackout paint covering the remaining bits. When it comes down to it, it's a small station, only one platform, two entrances (one still filled with concrete), and a mezzanine with a big blank space where the ticket booth used to stand.

Another skylight above ticketing area, whose tar has been removed as part of the restoration of the station. Some of the bulbs need replacing but it gives a real indication of the original splendor of the station, something that was unusual for the IRT line even at the time.

View of the City Hall archway to the single staircase, leading up to the mezzanine, with the center skylight (and lead glass in tact).

As much as they've cleaned up the station, everything was still covered in black soot, and it's no wonder: the track is so curved that it not only creates a huge gap between the train and the platform, but also a horrible screeching sound that gives Union Square a run for its money for shattered eardrums. And steel dust. Eroded tracks. Black soot.

View of the platform facing downtown, with the gorgeous vaulted Guastavino arches looming above, illuminated by lit chandeliers.

It's too bad that the station was closed to the public in the 1940s, but it wasn't very popular back then. Brooklyn Bridge was more of a depot, a gateway to Brooklyn, and it was just steps away anyway (as are many of the train stations in Lower Manhattan, frankly). And Brooklyn Bridge could accommodate the longer 10-car trains, whereas City Hall's platform was too short (and not easily extendable).

There's a similar phenomenon with the South Ferry station, where for years you've had to be in the first few cars in order to get off there (as I experienced during my first trip to the Staten Island Ferry in 1997). They're actually doing major construction on that station to finally extend the platform...After 60 years...

The Transit Museum is hosting another of these tours in February, which costs only $20 but you have to be a member of the museum. Personally I think it was totally worth signing up for the membership just to get into the City Hall station, which I've been dreaming about for years.

If you want to do some exploring on the outside of the station, get out at the City Hall station on the R/W line, or the Brooklyn Bridge station on the 4/5/6 to Brooklyn Bridge. Walk downtown past City Hall, past the locked gates, to the public entrance of City Hall Park (either on the east or the west side). Towards the west side of City Hall, across the way from the police booth, there's a black subway entrance just like the green ones you see all over the city - we're pretty sure that's the functional "emergency exit" to the closed City Hall station. If you look on the sidewalk right by the police booth, and also in the grassy park to the left, you can also see skylights embedded into the concrete.

The most obvious of the skylights that you can see in City Hall park. This is the only one in the grass.

Here's a diagram that might help you find your way. We didn't find the round skylight over the ticket booth but there's such tight security over there, we didn't really have free roam over the park...

January 20, 2007

Fight Like a Girl

Many of you know that somewhere out there, Jim Kiernan has a wrestling video of me in my underwear in a Motel 6 in Albany. He hasn't put it up on YouTube yet, but he hasn't shared it with anyone, either. I don't even have a copy.

So I have a history of picking fights. When I first saw Gotham Girls Roller Derby, I really wanted to participate but I'm the worst rollerskater ever. I don't even think I could train to be good enough to try out.

But then I found out about the Pillow Fight League (PFL), which requires no skills except for the same kind of cute stage names and character costumes as roller derby, but without the rollerskates. Perfect. I saw their NYC debut tonight at Galapagos in Williamsburg, Brooklyn...

The Toronto girls totally kicked ass. Pillowfighting rules. I kind of wish I'd submitted myself for the amateur competition, but the only prize was the PFL DVD, and I wanted to survey the situation first and get my bearings before I actually participated. Besides, I had to go alone (how is it that I could find NO ONE to go with me tonight??!) and I'd rather bout in front of some of my friends who could report on my awesomeness. So in the future, if I could win some money in front of some of my friends, I'm totally in.

I have to say, in that back room in Brooklyn, this all felt very underground, like Fight Club or a cock fight or something. These girls - with names like Boozy Suzy and Betty Clock'er - are out to kill, and are cute to boot. I think in my regular wardrobe I have plenty of clothes to assemble into a costume (from fishnets to little frocks and everything in between).

Afterwards I foolishly attempted to grab dinner by myself at DuMont Burger but of course it was packed, so I took the J train to the LES and wound up back at Marshall Stack, for a Cuban sandwich and some delicious beer...It's nice to have a comfortable place to go again...

January 15, 2007

Underground History

It's a long weekend and I had a lot to do - a little work, a little play, but everything was something I could cross off my list of things I really wanted to do.

I started excavating my apartment to clean it up and put some stuff away and I ended up uncovering a big part of my past. My mother had given back all her mementos of my childhood: packed up all the essays, certificates, awards, ribbons, stories, and clippings in a big box and shipped them off to me. She didn't have any use for them but I feel a bit sentimental about them so I've kept them.

I've always gotten a lot of media attention. I have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. I was on TV a lot in high school when I used to speak at the Board of Education meetings on behalf of my favorite teacher who was about to lose his job, and I even ended up on The Montell Williams Show with a bunch of other kids from my high school because of racial conflicts we were experiencing. Mom didn't keep any of those tapes. She thinks she threw them out.

But I still have a whole bag full of clippings from the local newspaper. There were more than I remembered, actually - starting when I was in nursery school with a big full-color pic on the cover of the Lifestyle section of the Sunday paper, all the way up through senior year in high school when I graduated 2nd in my class and got a big scholarship to Colgate, and a feature on the back of the front section of the Saturday paper. Nice bookends to my time in Syracuse - with other awards, spelling bees, and "student of the month" features in between (not counting all the articles I actually wrote for the local paper as a teen reporter).

You can't find any of this stuff on the web. Nobody puts local news like that up on YouTube. The Post-Standard doesn't archive articles from that far back like the Times does (and who knows whether they even have them on microfiche?). So for now I have my own little time capsule of my life. I have to be the curator of my own little historical museum.

Fortunately when I'm interested in exploring worlds beyond my own, New York City is full of historical collections, not the least of which is the Transit Museum. I recently became a member (my first time supporting the arts in such an "official" way) so I could go to their upcoming tour of the abandoned City Hall station, but I figured I'd put my membership to good use and go back to the museum, which I haven't visited for several years.

Charles was a great tour guide and took us into a "staff only" area where we got to see the board that lights up and shows you were all the trains are in real time (and their still-working rotary phone back there, but Charles didn't have anybody to call just then, yeah). He also told us all about riding the old elevated trains (which can also run underground) out to Far Rockaway and took us on the very subway car that was featured in the film The French Connection. And name-checked his favorite movie, The Warriors, scoring points with me.

The old trains have been preserved pretty well, with new paint jobs in their original color schemes, working light bulbs and bells, straps still hanging above. The coolest thing is that they're on real working tracks with a live third rail, in an actual old abandoned subway station (on Schermerhorn between Boerum and Court St., where the HH shuttle used to run).

There were tons of kids there but I don't think they could really appreciate the tour, or, really, the history of it all. I suppose I wouldn't have been able to do when I was a kid, either. But then again, back then I was busy making history.

January 13, 2007

Put the blame on me, if you want to....

I'm 31 years old. I'd like to think I get better every year ("I am chaaaaanging...") but there are certain things intrinsic in me that aren't going to go away. At least not overnight.

I need a lot of attention, and I'm not shy about asking for it. I'm willing to take the bull by the horns. If I need or want something, I go get it. However, I recently asked my parents for some more attention and it may have destroyed what was left of our relationship. As part of a tirade I can't quite describe, I had to hear about what I was like as a baby - and let me tell you, from their perspective, it was not good. But the interesting thing is, I was pretty much exactly like I am now. So that tells me that I can't really be blamed...

Given my need for attention, and wanting to get what I want, last night I made the very conscious choice to break detox. I had become obsessed with the #s - how much I weighed, how much I lost, how much I gained over Christmas, how much I needed to lose - so much so that I'd forgotten that the whole goal of detox was to make my pants fit. Meanwhile I was pulling my loose pants up, agonizing over what kind of virgin cocktail to order at Temple Bar. (Turns out seltzer, mint and lime is quite a good option.)

So I broke detox and drank, blame me for being weak but there's no sense detoxing if it makes you miserable. It should be all about feeling good. And let me tell you, drinking the last remains of the Delirium Noel keg @ Marshall Stack felt good (as did the asparagus/goat cheese/truffle oil pressed sandwich, which really isn't that bad for you).

I don't think my love for jukeboxes is going to change anytime soon, either. They have a good one at Stack, lots of classic rock and a bit of funk and soul, enough to encourage me to pump in a buck to hear "Strange Magic" by ELO and "These Eyes" by The Guess Who, both songs I own. It's funny, people complain about paying $1/song on iTunes, but people will still pay $1 to hear 2 songs only once and not even own them. I'm happy to pay for my song downloads. I like owning my music. Blame me for being old-fashioned. I was probably like that as a baby.

After a great night and something like six hours at the bar, I weighed myself this morning. I'm a pound less than I was on Christmas Eve, which is my new detox low. That felt good too. Say what you want about numbers, but I had a goal, and I got what I wanted.

So apparently Baby Sandi was logical and analytical and capricious - cuddling one moment, crying another. She loved her daddy. She wanted attention but not too much. And whatever she wanted, she had better get it. Things haven't changed that much. But don't blame the baby.