Photos: Second Avenue Subway

Photos: Second Avenue Subway

Throughout the nearly seven year history of this site, I’ve occasionally covered, photographed or written about the various sociopolitical concerns and events of our day, the day-to-day wanderings, adventures and ramblings of my life, my personal thoughts and feelings relating to music and life in general — and in some way, I’d like to believe that it adds to a deeper, much more personal feel to the site as a whole; after all, there’s a human being who is sharing small bits of his life to you, dear and constant reader. Now, while this post isn’t music related, in some way it’s a bit of a love letter to my birthplace and hometown, a place which has deeply influenced this site’s eclecticism — and I think this post will remind many readers that while New York is a tough place, that there are few places in the US — hell, very few in the world, really — that celebrate and embrace diversity and acceptance in a way that reflects the better angels of our souls and hearts. As I’ve mentioned many times on this site, Queens is not only the most diverse part of New York’s five boroughs, it’s arguably the most diverse place in the entire world.  I attended schools and grew up with Punjabis, Indians, Jews, Nigerians, Trinidadians, Francophone Africans, Liberians, Greeks, Russians, Puerto Ricans, Hondurans, Mexicans, Jamaicans, American Blacks, Italian-Americans, German-Americans, Romanians, Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Polish and a number of kids of who could claim heritage from several different countries. They were Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Sikh, Igbo, agnostic, indifferent, atheists and anything else you can think of and they all came from poor, working poor, and middle class families but as a result of being around all of those diverse people, you became familiar with aspects of their cultures, their foods, their dialect and so on. And you can find almost every single cuisine somewhere across the city. You want Afghan food, I know at least three different places  — two of them in Queens. You want Ethiopian, I know a couple of places uptown. Chinese? Do you want Szechuan? Tibetan? Mongolian? Hong Kong? You want a Kosher Deli? Mexican? Jamaican? French? Italian? Shit, I fucking got you. Russian? Polish? Irish? We can go all damn day, man. (Trust me, there’s a reason I’m talking about this and it’ll reveal itself in a bit, if you’re patient and can bear with me, here.)

Now, if you’re a native New Yorker or if you’ve been here for some time, there have been several jokes that involve the ridiculous and impossible pipe dream that was the Second Avenue Subway line. The most popular would be related to someone mentioning some other equally ridiculous thing happening like the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl or anything else you can come up with. And then you (or someone else) would ironically say “but we’ll see the Second Avenue Subway before the Browns even see a Super Bowl!” The subway line, which would go North and South along Second Avenue was originally proposed in 1919 as part of a massive expansion of what would eventually become known as the Independent Subway System (IND) — now, best known as the Eighth Avenue line and to replace the Second Avenue and Third Avenue elevated lines, which both the city and residents along the lines wanted to tear down. Additionally, the line would ease the massive crowding that commuters experience on the Lexington Avenue line, a line that sees 1.3 million commuters daily. [Some further explanation is needed here for you non-New Yorkers: when the subway was built, it was comprised of two privately owned, joint-funded operations the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and the Brooklyn -Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT) and the aforementioned Independent Subway System (IND), which was the only purely publicly-owned entity of the three. The three different systems were merged in the 1940s and then were then absorbed by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which runs every single commuting option across the region in the late 1960s.]

Initially work was slated to begin in the 20s with a segments of the line being completed throughout the 30s but work was halted because of the Great Depression. Throughout the next 50 plus years, a cadre of planners, city agencies under several mayoral administrations devised a number of plans and projections for the line, each with a different projected start date; however, each time, plans were canceled almost as quickly as they were devised, and usually because of funding issues. Interestingly, the MTA actually started work on the Second Avenue line in 1972 but work was halted in 1975, as New York was in the middle of one of the worst fiscal crises of its history. Sadly, only a few short segments of tunnel were completed and it included some work on the 63rd Street Line — work that continued in fits and starts more than 25 years. But it did result in F train stations on Roosevelt Island, 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue and 57th Street and Sixth Avenue. Interestingly, the completed work on that section was built with the provisions for future connections to a now theoretical, oft-talked about Second Avenue line.

Almost 100 years after it was proposed and 35 years after the first construction began, the MTA began work on the first phase of the line, consisting of three stations 72nd and Second Avenue, 86th and Second Avenue and 96th and Second Avenue with a connection to the F train at 63rd and Lexington began in April 2007.  While the line and its stations gradually began to take shape over the next decade, the overall cost of line’s three stations began to become astronomical and among many New Yorkers, there was this uncanny sense that we’d see what previous generations have seen: work being halted yet again because the city ran out of money — or changed priorities after a war or terrorist attack or some such thing.  But a little over ten years from when it started, the Second Avenue line is actually a real, live thing.

As you imagine, like countless other New Yorkers, who have heard all the jokes and stories about the train line that went nowhere, the holes in the ground for no particular purpose, I decided to check out the brand, spanking new line and stations — complete with new subway smell! — in its first week being open to the public. And as a native New Yorker, the fact that after 100 years the Second Avenue Subway exists is profound surreal; in fact, when I checked out the three new stations with my fellow New Yorkers, I can say that we all looked at everything with a mix of profound disbelief (this is a thing? wait, this is actual a thing? and wait, this all smells — new. I’ve never smelt new subway anything); amazement, with the recognition that people died without ever seeing this come to fruition; and a bit of impatience because — well, New York. Obviously, I took a shitload of pictures but what I will say is that it was an incredible sight to behold with some incredibly moving artwork. Check out some pictures below.

63rd and Lexington Avenue, F and Q Train Station, 3rd Avenue Entrance

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Caption: The biggest feature of the new 63rd Street and 3rd Avenue entrance of the 63rd and Lexington Avenue F and Q Station is Jean Shen’s “Elevated,” a piece that features depictions of men, women and children from the what appears to be the 1930s and 1940s — complete with overcoats, suits and ties, fedoras and dresses. The extensive piece captures New Yorkers of the past with dignity, respect and a playful sense of humor as you’ll see above.

72nd Street and Second Avenue

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Caption: The highlight of the 72nd Street and 2nd Avenue Station is Vik Muniz’s “Perfect Strangers.” Muniz’s piece is the highlight of the entire first phase of the line, as he manages to capture the basic decency and humanity of everyday New Yorkers from a variety of circumstances and backgrounds with a profound sensitivity and empathy. Looking at each of Muniz’s subjects is much like looking at yourself, your neighbors, your friends, your girlfriend or boyfriend. After all, only in New York will you see a depiction of a Sikh man with a regal and elegant air, an Indian woman in a gorgeous sari, playing with her cell phone, a shy yet proud gay couple, a black woman doctor and so on — because that’s New York is about.

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Caption: Some of the gleaming, new features of the 72nd Street and 2nd Avenue Q Train Station. It even has a new subway smell, folks! As a native New Yorker, it’s so very strange. 

86th Street and Second Avenue

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Caption: A subway  map with the three new stations of the Second Avenue Subway. Yes, it’s a real thing. An actual, real thing.

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Caption: E Pluribus Unum — the national motto “Out of Many, One.”

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Caption: The highlights of the 86th Street and 2nd Avenue Q Train Station is Chuck Close’s “Subway Portraits,” which includes a rather haunting portrait of the legendary Lou Reed. I can only imagine what it would be like to be stumbling from a nearby bar and seeing Lou Reed staring at you.

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Caption: The highlight of the 96th Street and 2nd Avenue Q Train Station is Sarah Sze’s “Blueprints for a Landscape.” This piece is full of flowing lines and papers strewn about like falling snow — and it has a quiet sort of elegance to it.
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Caption: More of that ugly typography as seen from the side of a newsstand at 96th Street and 2nd Avenue.  
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Caption: A newstand at 96th Street and 2nd Avenue — complete with that ugly typography strewn all over it. Ugh. 
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Caption: Excelsior, the state motto as seen at the 96h Street and 2nd Avenue Station. Ironically, the state motto is seen from a down escalator — and I don’t think that anyone actually thought of that before since it’s latin for “Ever Upward.” Uh, what?

For these photos and more, check out the Flickr set here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskLfrc95