Looks like business as usual in New York City

A crowd outside Best Buy on 86th Street in Manhattan, NYC

You look at what Governor Cuomo is saying, and especially Mayor De Blasio, and you’d think that death is literally stalking the streets, as if it would be like this if you went outside:

But instead, it’s almost like nothing is going on at all. I think people are mostly not traveling out of their neighborhoods if they can, especially on the trains, but people are out on the streets in force, especially now that it’s the weekend.

Heading downtown yesterday to 86th Street, the train actually felt crowded for 1:30 PM. On the way home, the platform was mostly empty, but the uptown 4 was standing room only when it arrived. It definitely wasn’t as crowded as it normally is at 2:50 PM, but it was still shoulder-to-shoulder.

The uptown 4 train platform at 86th street on 3/20/2020, almost completely empty of people
The uptown 4 train platform at 86th street on Friday afternoon 3/20/2020, almost completely empty of people

I think this says a lot about neighborhoods and socio-economics in New York City. People from the Bronx have to take the trains because most people from the Bronx don’t have jobs that they can do from home. You don’t see a lot of people getting on the train at 86th Street because most of the people that live in that area are able to stay home and/or work from home.

Proving the point, the train heading out of the Bronx this afternoon (Saturday) was almost empty.

An empty 4 train today 3/21/2020
An empty 4 train on Saturday afternoon, 3/21/2020. Photo credit: Marie Farless

86th Street and Central Park are are both packed, though. My wife couldn’t believe how many people are out. She said it looks like a regular weekend, as if nothing is going on.

A large crowd of people jogging and walking in Central Park today, 3/21/2020
A large crowd of people jogging and walking in Central Park today, 3/21/2020. Photo credit: Marie Farless
People in Central Park today, Saturday 3/21/2020. Photo credit: Marie Farless

You’d think most people would be at home or at least keeping their distance from each other, but they’re all bunched up in crowds.

I look at these people and think to myself, they’re out there huffing and puffing and blasting viruses into the air and then the next person is going to run through that. I read that coronavirus can hang around in the air for 3 hours, so if you’re running behind someone carrying the virus, you’re probably screwed, especially if there’s no breeze, but you won’t know it for about two weeks and in the meantime you’ll be infecting everyone you know and come in contact with.

Anyway, based on what Cuomo was saying today, everything except essential services will be shut down as of 8 PM Sunday night. I wonder if that means restaurants too? No more take-out? No more delivery? No more runs to the liquor store?

Plastic shielding and a sign at the entrance of a liquor shop requiring customers to remain outside
A liqour shop on Ave B and 14th Street in Manhattan, NYC with plastic sheeting and a table at the front door, creating a makeshift take-out window.

I wonder if that will push more people into panic buying at grocery stores today and tomorrow? And if more people will be congregating in parks afterwards?

A little history of Central Park…

Anyway, this situation with Central Park reminds me of when and why the park was originally built. In 1850, wealthy merchants and landowners argued that they needed somewhere to go for scenic carriage rides in the city. Another argument they presented to justify the expense of creating the park was that it would give working class people a healthy alternative to going to the saloons and hanging around in the streets.

Before Central Park was built, people just had nowhere to go besides their ratty tenements, the streets, or the bars. Battery Park didn’t exist at the time. Neither did the paths along the rivers. Those were all shipping docks and commercial areas, or simply didn’t exist because the land reclamation hadn’t been done yet.

Central Park probably didn’t work out that well for working class people back in the day because working class people wouldn’t have been able to afford the transit cost to get to there. Travel was harder and more expensive compared to wages at the time.

Everything is getting shut down

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, people have nowhere to go because the “saloons” and other restaurants are closed so they’re finally gathering in Central Park and probably other parks across the city. After Sunday, even more businesses are going to be closed so that’s even more people with time on their hands and maybe heading to the park. I imagine it won’t be too much longer before Central Park is closed too.

We started out with gatherings limited to 500, then 50, then 10, and now you can’t even have a 5 person game of basketball according to Cuomo. De Blasio is calling for the military to be brought in. It looks like they’re pushing for martial law and De Blasio has been fighting to restrict people to their homes since last week.

I get that COVID-19 is serious, but it seems like the response they’re demanding is exaggerated. With about 45,000 tests done, New York City has found about 6,200 people that already have the virus. That doesn’t really tell us much about how rapidly the virus is spreading in the city because the testing is still trying to catch up to the actual number of people that are already infected. But let’s say there are 10,000 cases in New York City. That’s about 0.12% of the city’s population of ~8.4 million.

I suppose they’re trying to prevent New York from winding up like Italy, but if the bar is so low, I wonder what’s going to count in terms of successfully overcoming the current situation. What I mean is, how few people have to have the virus before we can all get back to our regular lives?

And, more importantly, how are the state and federal governments going to overcome the economic hurdle they’re creating?

De Blasio, Cuomo, and the Federal Government need to figure out what they’re going to do when this situation drags on for weeks and months. People really aren’t going to be able to pay their bills. Putting a moratorium on evictions/utility cutoffs/etc. doesn’t even help, because once the moratorium is up, the evictions and cutoffs will start. You can’t expect people to suddenly have money after 3 months of not working just because the virus is gone and you declare the moratorium to be over. This situation is going to turn into a disaster. And maybe even sooner than 3 months if people run out of money to buy food.

Cyling with a GoPro Hero 7 Black

Testing out the GoPro Hero 7 Black at night.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I bought a GoPro Hero 7 Black. We’d been thinking about making the purchase for about a month and finally decided it’s something we’d enjoy having, and it has been kind of fun being able to record most or at least some of our rides. The battery life leaves something to be desired, but we solved that by just buying more batteries and another charger.

Like driving, cycling in New York City was something I said I would never do. Also like driving, cycling is now a regular part of my daily routine. I’ve found that riding a Citibike is easier as the last leg of my commute than waiting on the L train or taking the bus. It’s also faster, which is kind of sad. Maybe that will change when 14th Street is closed to all but bus traffic at the beginning of next year. Who knows? But we’ve also found using Citibikes to be a faster and more enjoyable way to get around Lower Manhattan when we’re out on the weekends. And it’s exciting, and having a camera on your head to record the rides is also fun, especially if something crazy happens.

My wife has used the camera a few times but every time I’ve wanted to over the last two weeks it has either been raining or I just haven’t had time to bother with it. I finally took it for a spin last night. The video looks great on my phone while watching both the local video and the YouTube upload, after it finished encoding at 1440p. It looks like crap on my laptop, but I don’t think it can display 1440p anyway, which is annoying, but that wasn’t why I bought it, I guess.

It’s a nice new toy. I’m thinking about getting another one so we don’t fight over the one we have. I kind of want a Pixelbook too though, so I have a more portable typing device that I can take with me when I’m out of the apartment. Decisions, decisions.

Here’s another video I took in the Union Square train station. It looks clearer, which makes sense given that there’s more light in the station.

My head wasn’t in the helmet when I recorded this. You’d have to be crazy to lean in that close to a train coming into the station. People get hit by trains every day. Someone died on the platform near where I recorded this a few years ago after they leaned out to check for the train and the train struck their head. That was pretty sad, because it was just a kid.

Museum Challenge: The New York Transit Museum – Fun and Interesting

No pole dancing allowed

Of all the museums I’ve visited in New York City, the New York Transit Museum was the most fun, even though it’s also (so far) the smallest. The museum is designed in a way that allows for interaction with many of the exhibits. There was a whole class of children on a field trip playing with the turnstiles when I first got there. I think the museum staff was aiming for making the place a popular field-trip destination. Besides all of the interactive exhibits, there is also a cafeteria/classroom area.Just because it was set up for kids doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for adults too, though.

Students on a field trip trying out old subway turnstiles.
Students on a field trip trying out old subway turnstiles.

Just because it was set up for kids doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for adults too, though. On the first floor or first basement level, depending on how you look at it, there are old buses or portions of buses that you can walk into and sit in. The driver’s seats are accessible and you can have a friend take your photo through the windshield. The newer buses are definitely designed better. The driver’s seat and the angle of the pedals were much more comfortable than an older model I tried out, which required me to keep my leg elevated all the time to press the pedals. I have no idea how people actually drove those older buses all day. Their right legs must have been twice the size of their left legs.

The bottom floor of the basement is where all of the old train cars are. They had everything from A trains, supposedly mid-90s to 2010 (some of which I still see on the A line, not sure why it’s in the museum), to trains from the early 1900s. A lot of the train cars looked similar inside. Even some of the same advertisements spanned decades. It was interesting to see how the seat configurations changed over time. I also thought it was interesting to see ceiling or rotating fans in some of the older train cars. Once a year, New York City runs some of these older trains on the 7 line (I think).

Vintage train advertisement.
Vintage train advertisement.

What really interested me, though, were the old advertisements. I’d like to go back and just spend a few hours studying them. You can tell a lot about people during a certain time period based on the products they were buying and how the appeals made by advertisers were framed. It’s also just neat to see the artwork styles.

Signage meant to regulate passenger behavior.
Signage meant to regulate passenger behavior.

 

More signage meant to regular passenger behavior.
More signage meant to regular passenger behavior.

Another awesome exhibit in the museum is of signs meant to regulate the behavior of passengers. The signs are from multiple transit systems around the world. Some of them are hilarious; all of them are necessary. Or at least, the ones for the New York transit system are necessary. I remember being shocked by how clean the trains and buses in Singapore were when I first moved there. The trains were so clean that sometimes people would sit on the floor, something that is totally out of the question in New York City trains. The buses in New York City are usually just as filthy as the trains. People litter everywhere here; they spit everywhere here. It’s a shame. The city would be so much nicer if people would take care of it, but they don’t. They just complain about how dirty the city is while contributing to the problem.

Anyhow, the New York Transit Museum is pretty awesome and I’ll definitely be going back at least one more time in the future. Take a look through the photo gallery below for more images of exhibits in the museum:

 

The New York Transit Museum//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Amazon Prime Offline Viewing on the Subway

Ragnar Lothbrook crossing a river in England with heads on his boat.

So, I was on the train today enjoying the fact that I can watch TV shows on my iPad using Amazon Prime. I’ve always wished I could download shows on Netflix and watch them offline while I ride the subway here in New York City, but that was never an option. Amazon seems to have that covered though, at least for Prime content. Things that are rented don’t have an option to download, but that’s fine. There are plenty of Prime shows I want to watch and can watch during that long commute to and from work every day.

For example, I’ve been trying to get around to watching Under the Dome season 3 for a while now. I also want to watch Vikings season 3. I’m not sure Vikings is quite tame enough for the subway, though. The show has episodes of random and gratuitous violence. I don’t mind, obviously, but while I was watching the show today, an older woman got on the train and sat down next to me. For a few minutes she was looking at my iPad screen, being nosy, but in a scene in episode 2 of season 3, Rollo decided to hack a prisoner’s leg off, because why not? It looked funny. With each downward stroke of the ax, I could see the woman next to me jumping or cringing a bit. She eventually just turned and looked out the window for the remainder of the time I was on the train.

 

Ragnar Lothbrook crossing a river in England with heads on his boat.
Ragnar Lothbrook crossing a river in England with heads on his boat.

I felt sort of guilty about that. I mean, it’s the type of show where people ride around in boats that have heads dangling off of them as a scare tactic. I guess I’ll just stick with Under the Dome on the train, and then move on to other shows that are a bit more tame.

An 18 Year Old High School Student Got Hit By An Express Train Today At Union Square

18 year old student struck by train at Union Square, 14th street.
18 year old student struck by train at Union Square, 14th street. (Image from: DNAinfo.com)

This morning when I was rushing to CCNY for a morning World Humanities class, I saw police stringing yellow tape across the top of the stairs leading down to the 4 5 6 platform at Union Square.  I stopped for a moment and glanced down and all I could say was “shit”, and then I kept moving.  There was blood all over the platform, the area was packed with cops, and I thought I saw what looked like a few … pieces.

It was interesting, but something about the situation didn’t make me want to stop and take a picture.  Maybe it had something to do with the janitor at the top of the stairs, his bucket of water and reddish looking mop sitting next to him.  It just seemed so… surreal all of a sudden.  We all go through these train stations every day, ride the trains every day, and in a moment of carelessness, we can wind up as a stain on the floor getting mopped up by a underpaid janitor using a dirty mop.

Life is brief enough as it is, and I feel bad for the person who got hit by the train, which I later found out was an 18 year old teen on his way to school.  He’s laid up in a hospital now, in critical condition.  The area the accident took place is right at the mouth of the tunnel and the trains enter the stations moving pretty quickly, so realistically, the kid will be lucky if he only suffers brain damage.  His whole life is shot, probably because he stuck his head out to check and see if the train was coming.  Those stations are noisy and there are lots of trains passing through, so he couldn’t have known one was coming up the tunnel right when he poked his head out.  It’s still a case of bad judgment though.  A very unfortunate case.

On my way home, I walked past the same staircase, so I went down to look around.  As I did, a train pulled into the station, and the conductor leaned out and was looking at the floor, where in the image above you can see all the blood.  I wonder if he was the rear conductor on the train that struck the kid this morning?

The lesson I’m taking from this is that the train will come, whether or not we stick our heads out over the tracks to look for it.  I’ll keep doing what I normally do: stand in the center of the platform and read while waiting on the train.

That Damn L-Train

Friday morning I had an adventure with the L-Train.  Sort of an adventure.  Well, mostly it was just a pain in the ass that made me late for class.  There was something wrong with the 7 train, so all of the people that normally take the 7 to get into Manhattan were taking the L.  I didn’t know this, of course, until after I was already in the station and on the platform.  I don’t have to take the L.  I could just take the bus from Avenue B to Union Square.  The L is usually a bit faster though.  Sometimes I’ve stood around for 20 minutes waiting on a bus, only to see three of them show up at the same time.  The L is usually more reliable.  Usually.  But when it fucks up, it really fucks up.

So, like I said, I swiped my card, walked through the turn-style and then down to the platform.  I stopped for a moment to take in the huge crowd of people.  They were packed in tight from the edge of the platform back, with barely enough space for people to squeeze through behind them.  That should have been my first indication that something was wrong, but I rarely ever take the train that early in the morning.  This was at 8:30 AM.  I have one class per week that starts in the morning and it only meets once per week.  Anyway, I took my position at the back of the crowd and waited.

About 10 minutes later, a train arrived.  The doors opened and people came flooding out, trying to push through the crowd.  Before they’d finished getting out, people were fighting to get in.  You know how it is.  The person running the train is playing the “Please stand clear of the closing doors” message before people even finish walking off the train.  Before I’d even managed to take one step forward, the people boarding were fighting to hold the doors open while they got onboard.  I got to the front and realized I couldn’t squeeze in, no matter how I tried, so the doors closed and the train left.

Ok.  That was disappointing, but I could just get the next train right?  Wrong.  About 10 minutes later another train approached the station.  Then it left the station, without even stopping.  Damn.  By this point, I was thinking I should have just taken the bus.  I’d have been at Union Square by then.  But I thought that by the time I got out of the subway and got to the bus stop, and rode the bus, another train would come and I’d waste even more time.  Besides, I wasn’t sure I could manage to get some sort of pass and I didn’t want to pay again.  I didn’t have an unlimited card.  So, I just waited.

15 minutes later another train finally showed up.  People streamed out of it, and then the crowd surged in.  I grabbed the pole in the middle of the train, between the doors and listened to a girl next to me screaming about some asshole who threatened her.  She had stepped off the train to let people out, and when she tried to get back on, someone stupid got confused and thought she didn’t have a right to get back on ahead of him.  Morons.

So, I was finally underway.  Maybe I wouldn’t be too late.  Or so I thought.

The train pulled into the next station, 3rd Avenue, and the conductor got on the intercom and told us that the train would be bypassing Union Square and not stopping until 8th Avenue. What the fuck?  So, I managed to get ONE station before having to get off the train and walk anyway.

When I got to Union Square I got in line at the ticket booth just in time to watch an old man scream at the guy for not letting him back into the train station for free after he had a problem with the L Train.  He screamed “Fuck you!” and then stomped over to the turn-style and paid again to get into the station.  That wasn’t very reassuring.  When I got up the counter, I presented my case, and for being courteous I was let into the station without having to pay again.  A small blessing.

So… to get from 1st Avenue to Union Square took me almost an hour Friday morning.  Thanks to the L train.  And the fun and games didn’t stop there.  By the time I got to the school I was thirsty, but all I had was a 20 dollar bill and the café and cafeteria wouldn’t give me change, so I had to leave the campus again, back the way I came, to go to a convenience store to get a drink.  What fun.

Luckily, when I got into the classroom, no great fuss was made about my being late.  Word of the 7 and L trains’ problems had preceded me.  I think from now on I’ll just take the bus, or walk, to Union Square.  The L train is too much of a pain in the ass to even bother with.

Boba Fett Spotted Playing Accordion on the L-Train Platform at Union Square

Ya. Really.

Boba Fett playing accordion on the L Train platform at Union Square.

Look to the left…

Boba Fett playing accordion on the L Train platform at Union Square.

Look to the right…

Play Zelda on your accordion all damn night!

This guy is awesome.  A quick Google search shows that he’s been doing this for over a year and he’s had a lot of Internet exposure (obviously) on YouTube and other blogs by people that have spotted him ‘in the wild’.

When I came down the stairs to the L Train platform and heard the accordion music, it sounded vaguely familiar and a little strange.  It wasn’t until I got home and Googled the guy that I realized it was Zelda music.  There are a lot of acts in New York’s subway station, but this is the best one I’ve seen so far.

Just to elaborate on that a bit, going through the subway is becoming more and more like taking a journey through a road show.  On my commute home today, I got to hear a speech from a pregnant woman on a train about how she’s trying to find help and was looking for handouts.  I got to hear an elderly black gentleman strum some country chords on a guitar, I heard some gospel music being sung, and then there was this guy.  Out of those acts, though, Boba Fett is the clear winner.

Oh, and as if this wasn’t bizarre enough, I saw a squirrel today on CCNY’s campus that was carrying around a shopping bag.  I guess consumerism is finally starting to rub off on New York City’s wildlife.

The Tokyo Circus in Lower East Manhattan

Tokyo Circus in Union Square Station, Manhattan, New York City.

On my way home from class tonight, I passed through Union Square station, and I happened to hear some really funky music playing.  There was a crowd so I stopped to see what was going on and saw this wildly dressed group of Asian people dancing around and having a good time.  I won’t lie.  My first thought was, “WTF Asian people.  Ha ha ha!”  They’re obviously slightly off center from normal, but they were holding signs that say “Be Yourself” and “Your smile is beautiful”.  It’s an encouraging, positive message, and I felt it was worth a dollar in the hat they had sitting on the floor.

When I got home, I took a look at the photos I’d taken and noticed a web address on the sign the guy on the right was holding that led to a site that identifies them as “Tokyo Circus”.  It has an ad that says they performed at a local bar on the 26th.  I guess they’re still hanging around to raise funds.  Maybe their performance wasn’t as profitable as they’d hoped.  This sort of thing seems a little out there, even for NYC.

After looking at some of the … unusual… videos they have displayed on their site, like the ones below, it makes me wonder just what my dollar is going to support, but at least it’s entertaining!