What I Miss About New York: My First Subway Ride

A trainI was sitting on the couch at The House on the Hill, Modern Philosophers, when I had this overwhelming desire to walk down to the corner and buy a hot dog and a knish from a street vendor.

That got me thinking about New York.  As I glanced out at the falling snow, I longed for the days when I didn’t have to worry about snowy roads because I could travel underground on the subway.

My introduction to the subway was somewhat unique.  When I was 13, I won a scholarship to a prestigious high school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  I lived in Brooklyn, so the only way to get to school was to take the subway.  Every day during rush hour.  At 13, I was still scrawny and short and shy as hell, so the thought of this daily commute was a major cause of anxiety for me.

REgisNo one else from my grammar school had gotten into Regis, so I had no classmates to join me on my journey.  Thankfully, my Dad took the subway into Manhattan for work and volunteered to accompany me on the first leg of  my journey.  The thing was, he worked down by Wall St, and Regis was on East 84th St.

That meant that I was going to be on my own for a majority of the trip.  During rush hour.  On the subway.  Which was so scary.  And packed with strangers.  And rats.  And muggers.

Needless to say, on that first day, this pre-Modern Philosopher was more than a little frightened out of his mind.  I wished that I’d just gone to the local high school with all my grammar school buddies.  What was I trying to prove?  Did I think I was some hoity-toity Upper East Side rich kid who was too good for Brooklyn?

subway mapI’ve never been good with change, and this was a huge one.  After seven years of grammar school with the very same classmates, I would be spending the next four years in a different borough with students from all over New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

When my Dad said goodbye to me that morning at his stop, it took everything I had  to hold back the tears and not beg him to take me home.

You know what, Modern Philosophers?  Not only did I make it to school alive, but I also met several other freshmen who were from grammar schools in my part of Brooklyn.  We made a plan to meet the next morning so we could all travel together.

The even better news?  There were girls from their old schools who also took the subway to Manhattan.  Girls!  They would be trapped in the subway car with me for the morning commute!  They’d have to talk to me.  I could finally get over that fear, too!

movieBefore long, taking the subway became second nature.  I knew where to stand so the door would open right in front of me, which train to catch to ensure getting a seat for the morning commute, where to switch trains to maximize meeting up with cute girls, and where the secret movie was hidden in the tunnels just after the Dekalb Ave. station (that’s an image of the movie to the left).

Having to take the subway to high school terrified me that very first day, but I am so glad that the situation was thrust upon me.  Going to school on the Upper East Side, having Central Park right there for gym class, all those museums being just a few blocks away, and meeting a whole new group of people broadened my horizons.

It also prepared me for life away from home.  The subway commute was the beginning of my journey to independence.  Okay, so I might not have figured out how to talk to girls until I went to NYU, but looking back now, it was a change I so badly needed, and I miss the subway for the sense of freedom it brought to my life.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip down Memory Lane.  Unfortunately, there’s a train broken down ahead of us, so we’re going to be stuck here for a while.  And the air conditioning just went out, and I think…yep…there go the lights, too.

Thank you for riding the NYC Subway…

About Austin

Native New Yorker who's fled to the quiet life in Maine. I write movies, root for the Yankees, and shovel lots of snow.
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10 Responses to What I Miss About New York: My First Subway Ride

  1. ksbeth says:

    great post, austin. and good you went through with it and took the plunge )

  2. markbialczak says:

    Sauerkraut or onions on your Sabret’s, sir? A light touch of salt on the knish? Yum. Wish I had some, too.

    • Austin says:

      Sauerkraut on the dog and mustard on the knish!

      • markbialczak says:

        Good taste, sir. I’d go for mustard and sauerkraut on the dog and salt on the knish. But I do love mustard on the street pretzel. Go figure.

        I was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and continued to visit both sets of grandparents there often even after my family moved to Long Island when I entered first grade.

        My father was the first one on either side of my family who learned to drive, so I took the subway and el from Greenpoint to Shea Stadium with my grandfather frequently, through my teen years.

        Thank you for sharing your subway memories of growing up and bringing back mine.

      • Austin says:

        No problem. I’m from Bay Ridge. Would take the train up to Yankee Stadium all the time. Those were the days…

      • markbialczak says:

        Yes, they were. Now, snowy roads to drive in Maine and Syracuse, respectively …

  3. kriskkaria says:

    Took several trips to NYC to figure out the subway. Have it down now, I’ll probably forget by the time I get back again.

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