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Summer in subway stations


In a recent scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I came across an article titled “Only True New Yorkers Can Get 10/15 on this Subway Challenge,” which had been successfully completed by its click-baited sharer and a former classmate of mine. Equally susceptible to the promise of such an accolade, I hesitantly navigated questions about express versus local trains and the correct pronunciation of “Houston Street,” ultimately receiving a perfect score (“You Are About as New York as They Come!”) and a congratulatory GIF of Ellie Kemper ’02 gleefully clinging to a subway handrail. Having spent only two consecutive summers navigating the city itself, I agreed with many Facebook commenters who suggested that the questions could probably use some toughening up, especially if just ten correct responses made for a passing score. Nonetheless, I accepted the faux status as a personal victory.

The opportunity to intern in Manhattan, even if only for a few months at time, has given me a real shot at eventually earning the esteemed “New Yorker” title, one I’ve aspired to since I was six years old and walking down Fifth Avenue at Christmastime, marveling at decorated storefronts from underneath the too-big brim of the blue hat I purchased from a street vendor. Fifteen years later, I would spend most of my time walking down Canal Street instead, or sitting on the J train — my usual vessel for the commute between Manhattan and the Bushwick rental where I lived with two roommates. As a part-time intern at an art nonprofit and a full-time empanada-eater just about anywhere I could find them, I accumulated a number of subway memories over the summer months, a selection of which are organized here by nearest MTA mecca.

Broadway Junction: On our way home from a free concert in Prospect Park, my roommate and I waited at Broadway Junction for a train that came at least 20 minutes after its Google Maps arrival time. The app was usually reliable, so I was feeling betrayed. I remember taking a Snapchat of my shoes against the painted yellow line while we sat.

Halsey Street: Among the late-morning commuters on the Manhattan-bound J train — most of whom headed off to the kind of Williamsburg workday existences that are characteristic of an 11 a.m. start time — I thought that I should be deeply-contemplating-her-podcast girl. I had just gotten into podcasts at the end of the spring semester and could sense Terry Gross encroaching on my penciled list of all-time favorite people. A renewed interest in literature, however, determined my people-watcher’s label as always-reading-a-different-book girl. Unfortunately, tossing a fresh paperback into my purse rarely meant I had finished the previous one. Rather, a tendency to get only a few pages into one book before wandering into Barnes and Noble and buying five new ones was cause for such quick turnover. I started reading “A Little Life,” gave up on reading “A Little Life,” started re-reading “Animal Farm,” decided not to re-read “Animal Farm,” did re-read “The Great Gatsby” and “Of Mice and Men,” and read, in varying degrees, “The Sellout,” “Consider the Lobster,” “Invisible Man,” “Howl and Other Poems,” “Lolita,” “The Elements of Style,” “White Girls,” and “The Opposite of Loneliness.”

Canal Street: Half-running up the stairs of Canal Street Station, I would usually be at least two minutes late to work, accounting for the occasional slow barista and untimely crosswalk sign. Two minutes late was typically still early, however, as most of my co-workers arrived after 10:15 a.m. anyway, save for the couple of weeks of crunch time before an exhibition opening. On Wednesdays, I took minutes at our weekly team meetings, which always concluded with a vote on which flavors of La Croix should be ordered for the coming week (it was agreed that Grapefruit has a weird aftertaste and that Peach-Pear is generally the better choice).

Astor Place: Going out in New York City is a lot like going out in Princeton, in that you usually go to the same handful of bars. The primary difference is that there are just a few thousand more of them in Manhattan. While trying to coordinate with friends, my roommates and I sat waiting for the train at Astor Place before stepping away from the platform edge and up the stairs to the street above just as the train arrived. After suffering the full 11-minute wait, we decided to go somewhere within walking distance instead.

Essex Street: After brunch the morning after, we walked in last night’s shoes, our feet covered in next week’s blisters, back to the train at 33rd and Park. Only halfway home, my friend darted out of the train and onto the platform to throw up in a tall Essex Street station trashcan, which was a real shame considering how overpriced the pancakes were.

Chambers Street: A teenager runs from the turnstile and jams the front wheel of his bike into the closing door at the last possible second, effectively stopping the train. He and the conductor compete. The conductor tries to open the door just enough for the boy to get his bike wheel out, but not enough for him to fit farther into the train, committed to the idea of punishing him for holding us up in the first place. I wonder if the conductor has a son or daughter. The boy eventually gets into the train after a 10-minute-long ordeal. Meanwhile, I’m deciding how long I can acceptably stare at the cute baby in the stroller before his mom starts to get weirded out. It can be a real gamble.

Marcy Avenue: Taking the J from Brooklyn into Manhattan means crossing the Williamsburg Bridge, at which time you undoubtedly hear a nearby camera-clad tourist ask her boyfriend if they’re on top of the Brooklyn Bridge, to which he wrongly answers “Yes, honey,” every time. If you’re like me, you reach for the right-hand side of your headphones to click the volume up a few notches until the obligation to sweetly correct them goes away.

W 14th Street: Going entirely out of my way for the same beef empanadas at Gansevoort Market on West 14th Street was common practice. And if you’re not drowning them in the spicy mayonnaise that comes on the side, you’re doing it wrong.

“True New Yorker” or not, my subway know-how is certainly on the rise, now with two summers of city living under my belt. Perhaps a better indicator than any online quiz, however, is the first time you’re asked for directions by a group of tourists, or even a new resident — a milestone I reached one night two years ago while heading home to Brooklyn Heights from my babysitting job on West 72nd Street. Late-night service changes forced a short layover while switching trains at Times Square, where a group of British women must have thought I looked local, or at the very least, approachable. I pointed them in the right direction of the uptown platform, and they praised my eagerness to assist. “No one in London would have been so nice — New Yorkers really are helpful,” one woman said. I smiled to myself and headed home.

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