A cool vaulted city of cream and green earthenware, like a German beer stein.
-unknown journalist, 1904*
New York City is sensory overload, pure and simple. It stuffs you full of its importance the second you enter city limits, regardless of how you arrive. Its airports will delay the arrival of your flight. Signs at the edge inform you that you cannot turn right on red if you are arriving by car, and the insanity of the vehicular traffic at rush hour will move you to tears of frustration if you haven't experienced it before. Even my first-ever day of riding the subways well over a decade ago was harrowing - on the trip to my destination that day, the train was halted between stations as the conductor told us over the loudspeakers that a body was being removed from the tracks. On the return trip on a completely different train line, the train was stopped twenty blocks before my place of residence because a train before mine had crashed at its station. At least this time the train was stopped at the station with its doors open, because I ended up taking the option of disembarking and I hoofed it on back home.
So, yeah, it's overwhelming. It's a place that can chew you up and spit you out, and it did that to me over ten years ago, when I was working three jobs just to live and my desperation to be a glassworker and live took me down to New Orleans. This giant meat grinder of a city is still doing it, for all of the reasons I've previously discussed...but that doesn't stop us from having some kind of affinity for this place.
We got to know it, Dan and I. The little guy was born here. We made friends here, friends that we still make it a point to visit. I still have family here - my aunt and cousin in Manhattan, my grandparents just outside the city limits in Green Acres...uh...Mill Brook. But nothing really grabbed us more than our wish to shrink this city, to make it deceptively manageable through imprinting its streets into our brain cells, through ingesting the interlocking arteries of the subway lines, feeling every rock and pebble and crack in the sidewalks with our ever-rushing feet.
Dan and I must be certifiable. We have no fear of driving in four of the five boroughs (and the only reason I don't include Staten Island in that assessment is that we never had much cause to be there). The subways are not something for us to dread, either. And, since the little guy is in love with anything on wheels, we tried to take him to one of our favorite family haunts today and failed kind of miserably, we thought. We drove into Queens, parked in our old neighborhood, and caught an R train bound for Brooklyn. After some lengthy visits with former co-workers of Dan's (and current good friends), we walked over to the Transit Museum only to see something that is a rarity. There was a major line headed around the entrance to the decommissioned underground station that houses the exhibits of transit gems such as turnstiles through the ages, a mock-up of a bona-fide MTA bus, and subway cars dating from the turn of the 20th century. Rather than wait on line in the freezing cold (there were snow flurries today - flurries, I tell you!), we chose to take the little guy on another subway ride into Grand Central Terminal, where there is a Museum Annex. And there was a fantastic exhibit there of the designs of Heins and LaFarge, the firm that created the overall look of the Interboro Rapid Transit, circa 1904...but we had to make a fast exit, because an overtired little guy was making a nuisance of himself in the other half of the museum annex - the museum store.
Back on the subway for us, this time on the 7 train.
weepy Little Guy: Daddy, I'm sad (and we know why: we wouldn't buy him this toy train).
Silence from us.
Little Guy: Daddy, I'm sad.
Little Guy: (in a more regular tone of voice) Daddy, ask me why I'm sad!
Oy vey. We're stuck on the number 7 with a real piece of work in my son.
And then we come out of the underground, onto the elevated tracks. The city is laid out before us, stark and slightly cold. Bits of sunlight warm it up a tinge, and my son is transfixed. For a minute or so, before he starts asking us at each stop if we are getting off there, and there, and there, he is staring out the window, at a view that is something to behold.
Who needs a museum?
*the above quote talks about this place, which we unfortunately missed seeing - the station is opened once a year for small tour groups.