Category Archives: Gotham

Token ring

Peter Kaszczak remembers New York subway tokens.

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Corey Kilgannon counts the last four outdoor phone booths in Manhattan.

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300,000 relays

James Somers explains something that I should have understood before: why they call it an interlocking.

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George Bell, 1942-2014

A sublime (in the older, aesthetic sense of slightly frightening) piece by N. R. Kleinfield on the death and life of George Bell, who died alone in Queens. Memento mori, indeed.

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31 July 2015

What’s the fastest way to get to Far Rockaway? (Or at least, the coolest?) Take the A train with Scouting New York.

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Now I understand why the “next train” announcement is so echo-y

Juicy views of the model board at NYC’s West Fourth Street control tower.

The spokesmen for the subway system walk that fine line between letting people know that the system is safe, but oh so riddled with technical debt.

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Stand clear of the closing doors

Not to be outdone by WAMU’s profile of Randi Miller, the voice of Metro, The New Yorker offers this video video vignette of Charlie Pellett, the voice of NYC’s subway.

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The city that never sleeps

Dave Taft offers a splendid 24-hours sampler of the wildlife to be found within New York City, be it animal, vegetable, or fungal; native or alien invasive. He even finds something remarkable about the ickiest species on his list, Macrobdella decora:

Generally an animal no one wants to find, the American medicinal leech is attractive, as far as leeches go. Green or dark brown overall, this native leech has orange spots with a lighter belly.

The color illustrations by Matt McCann, in the online edition of this story, really pop.

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Halfway down the block before realizing that you’re headed the wrong way

A simple, analog solution to SOSED (Sudden-Onset Subway Exit Disorientation): low-profile wayfinding signs on the stairway risers, designed by Ryan Murphy and documented by Vicky Gan. Much more useful than smartphone beacons, also discussed in the post: who wants to be staring at a screen when you and 1,000 of your new best friends are trying to get off the platform and into the light?

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Wild! Life!

Brandon Keim explores vacant lots and bits of waste ground in New York, and likes what he sees (even the non-natives), ruderal plants bursting with life.

… verdancy is not the result of careful management, but life’s inexorable course, present wherever we don’t suffocate it.

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I’ll have another

At Shorpy, a delicious photograph from 1963 of the Bombay Bicycle Club bar in New York’s Essex House.

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New York snaps

the viewEvery once in a while, I get a look at New York that turns me into a happy-snapping, cornfed tourist. This view of SoHo, Tribeca, and the Financial District, with 1 World Trade Center in the background, taken from the sky level of the New Museum, is one such.

can't resistCan’t resist stopping for building-mounted street name signs. Bleecker Street, just down from the intersection with Carmine Street.

retrofit?I saw dispensers in two buildings encouraging the BYO water bottle idea: at New York Law School (filling stations from Filtrine), and here at the American Museum of Natural History.

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In the United States, warblers number more than fifty species, and during spring migration they are among the bird-watcher’s special joys—their gay colors flitting through the fresh green like vagrant snippets of rainbow.

—Eugene Kinkead, “Central Park Bird Walk,” The New Yorker, 2 August 1969
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Roosevelt Island and nearby

almost from QueensI took a vacation day Monday, before my training classes midweek, to explore some offbeat places in New York. I’d never been to Roosevelt Island before, so I got that tram ticket punched. The park at the southern tip of the island was closed, but the views across the East River from just outside are just as good.

northern lightAt the northern point is a lovely, tiny lighthouse, dwarfing the Triborough Bridge in this perspective.

still a few aroundBack on the “mainland” of Manhattan, a painted advertising sign persists on 2nd Avenue. I look at the sloped lettering of PORTOVAULT and now I understand where Ben Katchor’s signs come from

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In the down under

Two trip reports of illicit underground (sewers, subways, and steam tunnels) explorations of New York by Steve Duncan and Erling Kagge offer different perspectives. Jacki Lyden’s long piece for Weekend ATC is relatively straightforward, albeit with a dose of Radiolab sound effects. Alan Feuer’s diary for the New York Times, on the other hand, takes a hard left turn midway. The story turns into the story of the documentors of the project.

Wednesday, 12:15 a.m.
114 Delancey Street, Manhattan

…there are problems: the entourage has gotten too large. Everyone wants to go into the subways: me and a photographer from The Times; Jacki and an NPR producer; Andrew the videographer; even Will Hunt, the spotter. There were four of us in the sewers; now there are eight. What, I think, has happened to the intimate expedition?

Steve senses the concern and hastily announces that he, Andrew and Erling will go ahead; the rest of us can follow at a distance. I fail to see the point in exploring without the “explorers.” I confront Steve, tell him this is useless. Is this an expedition, or a media event? Disillusioned, I leave.

4:03 a.m.
West 181st Street, Manhattan

From home, I e-mail Steve and Erling: “I understand why you guys wanted to publicize this poetic adventure. … Unfortunately, the thing that wanted to be publicized was slowed down and rendered moot by the distracting number of people you brought in.” I add that it’s become impossible to describe two men on a journey when, in fact, a media army — with sound booms, cameras, video equipment — is in tow. I wish them well, offer no hard feelings.

3:32 p.m.
620 Eighth Avenue, Manhattan

An e-mail and an epiphany. The epiphany: When Ernest Shackleton went to the South Pole in the early 1900s, he himself documented the journey in a diary. Not so, in 2010, in media-soaked New York, where, it dawns on me, the crowd of chroniclers is fitting in its own way.

Another twist in Feuer’s version of the story that is more This American Life than The Gray Lady is the abrupt end to their visit with the woman known as Brooklyn, dweller in the Amtrak tunnel: B.K., her boyfriend, shows up and throws the whole lot of them out.

I’m uncomfortable with Lyden’s lack of reciprocal acknowledgment that another reporter and photographer were accompanying the urban spelunkers.

At any rate, the naturalist in me finds it interesting that one of Duncan and Kagge’s routes follows Tibbetts Brook through the Bronx, a waterway long ago confined underground by pavement.

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