Adventures on the New York City transit system

May 26, 2023

For many of my readers, I have to assume that you probably have never been to New York City, and, if so, never boarded a car on the NYC transit system, colloquially called “the subway.” It is so named because it operates several feet below the surface of four the city’s five boroughs. For some reason or another, there is nothing running under Staten Island. Actually, the reason is that the borough of Staten Island is topographically what it is called, an island, making it impossible to have an underground connection to any other borough. With that bit of information put to one side, let me get into the core of this piece.

Running under the City of New York through dark tunnels with twists, turns and switches, and quite a bit of metal-on-metal noise are trains, usually 10 cars in length, that transport New Yorkers from home to work, or home to school, or here to there. My initial full-time experience with the subway was to travel to high school daily from the borough of Brooklyn to the borough of Manhattan. This is not a school bus ride through the countryside, but a trip with hundreds of adults packed into train cars, and I do mean packed. There was (is) no distance between human beings as we traveled uptown or downtown to our various destinations during peak times called the rush hour. Arrid, Secret and Right Guard were hopefully making the ride somewhat bearable, although the variety of personnel from a myriad of homes did give the nostrils quite a bit of exercise.

In most cases, we had to navigate the change of trains at certain stops in order to reach a given destination. For example, my ride to school started on the D Train (Independent-IND) with a transfer to an A Train (IND), and then two or so stops after that to a 4 Train (Interborough Transit-IRT). This final train ran under Lexington Avenue on the east side of Manhattan. My stop or station for school was 86th Street. All of this travel took about 40 minutes, and it was essential that my initial entry to that D Train was the same time every day. I was 13 years of age when this routine began, although I had quite a bit of practice riding the subway with my mother during my pre-high school years. It was also essential that I boarded the train at my home stop at the same time daily to join a classmate named Tom who has remained my best friend to this day.

The New York City Transit System operates under and above ground from a northern point in The Bronx (Van Cortland Park) to a southern point in Brooklyn (Coney Island, an amusement park). There are several tributaries of the system to service the borough of Queens. A New Yorker can get almost anywhere in the city via the subway. The trains remain crowded for the greater part of the mornings or afternoons/evenings, with some spacing of humanity occurring at various intervals of time. In case you are interested, there is a stop called South Ferry where our Staten Island friends of whom I spoke earlier boarded the transit system from their watercraft, itself an interesting mode of transportation. By the way, many of my high school classmates and my favorite teacher travelled on the Staten Island Ferry in order to eventually reach Manhattan.

We are talking miles upon miles of track with an electronic third rail that provides the power by which the system operates. Yes, an all-electronic mode of transportation that has existed for decades. There are also other systems of rail travel to serve the dwellers of the suburbs north and east of the city, not to mention the buses. When I was a member of the traveling public, the subway fare was 10 cents, and then it required a 15-cent token, which raised both eyebrows and ire back in the 1960s. Students were issued a pass allowing for reduced-price transportation. I have no idea what the one-way price is today, but $2.50 sounds to be in the ballpark, and the passenger needs a thing called a Metro Card.

If you are so inclined, I invite you to plan a trip to Manhattan or any other borough, and do please ride the subway. I make no prediction of whether you will be fond of the experience, but I can predict you shall never forget your ride on the New York City subway.

This is the final Around Town column from Peter Carter, submitted just before he passed away suddenly May 8, while visiting family in Las Vegas.

Since his Cape Gazette columnist debut Aug. 20, 2021, Peter had built a loyal readership among Cape Region residents and visitors. His writings offered personal and general perspectives on topics ranging from history, education, sports, business and entertainment to community gatherings, outdoor adventures, holidays, family and friends. Coming to the Cape Region from New York City by way of New Jersey and northern Delaware, Peter brought a wealth of experience and talent to his role as a Cape Gazette contributor.

“It was with great sadness that we learned of Peter’s untimely passing. He will be missed by all of us here at The Cape Gazette, and by our readers who had the pleasure of getting to know him through his column over the past couple of years.” - Chris Rausch, Cape Gazette publisher.

See Peter’s obituary on page 34 of the Friday, May 26, Cape Gazette.

  • Peter E. Carter is a former public school administrator who has served communities in three states as a principal, and district and county superintendent, for 35-plus years. He is a board member for Delaware Botanic Gardens and Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation, and the author of a dual autobiography, “A Black First…the Blackness Continues.”

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