Not even COVID will make me abandon it
This spring I spent two weeks having an affair with an electric car. But I have come to my senses and returned to my family: the letters and numbers of the New York City Subway. Why such loyalty to a beat-up old sprawl of train and track, a system that has lost two thirds of its riders since the pandemic tore the city apart? Because I owe the subway for my child’s earliest education and the basis for the bond we formed as father and son.
Unlike undergrounds in most cities, Manhattan’s system is iconic, instructional and oddly child friendly. You need only know that the “1–2–3” line is red and that the “4–5–6” is green and that these numbers may take you up or down the island of Manhattan. Letter-wise things are less clear. Why are A’s, C’s, and E’s blue and F’s, B’s, and D’s orange? To the adult this doesn’t quite make sense. For a child it is sense incarnate.
As a freelancer with a working partner, the task of whiling away afternoons often fell on my shoulders. When my son was still small I would strap him in a carrier facing out at exactly the height of the subway map. Even before he could read I sensed him staring at it, parsing red from green. Soon he began making specific destination requests.
“Today I want to go to Van Siclan Avenue!” Where was Van Siclen Avenue? What could possibly be there that was of interest to him? But to Van Siclen Avenue we went. His excitement grew as we neared Van Siclen Avenue in the same way other children might thrill at the sight of a highway sign indicating “next exit, Disneyland”. And he was never disappointed. We would arrive at Van Siclen or some other far flung station and descend the platform. I always hoped we’d stumble upon some undiscovered ethnic neighborhood with interesting food. But mostly these stations were in thrown-together neighborhoods with random assortments of check cashing and fast food establishments. The most exciting thing we ever found was an odd revamped diner at a desolate station called Hunters Point Avenue. I ordered a grilled cheese for my son and was presented with a bizarre brioche and gruyere creation that he hated and that cost seventeen dollars. Later I would read in The New York Times that the diner was a new hipster restaurant called M Wells and that it was worth the trek. We had…