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.

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