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The Kindness of Strangers

The photograph on your left went viral. What made it so astounding is that a cardinal rule of the underground is being blatantly violated. The man on the left has fallen asleep on the fellow on the right. This is a huge no-no, underground. Yet the man on the right instead of pushing the guy over, or scrunching his shoulder to awaken the sleeper allows him to continue to sleep on his shoulder. This continued for a half an hour. This act of subway kindness shocked the city.

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Subway Times Square – Photo by Stanley Kubrick

The subway is the lifeblood of Gotham. When Hurricane Sandy hit a couple of years ago, it became clearer than ever.  It was impossible to go anywhere that wasn’t in walking distance; people trod the streets like zombies, seeking outlets for lifeless phones. There were no newspapers, and food was in short supply. The huge lines at the supermarket prior to the storm had dismay me, so I didn’t stock up, so my ‘frig, it was pretty bare.  I zigzagged up and down the streets of Hell’s Kitchen looking for an open deli or diner. Most were closed, and the ones that were operating had long lines snaking out the doors. I kept looking, and finally found a place on 50th Street that was somehow completely empty. I sidled up to the counter and ordered two eggs, scrambled soft, with crispy bacon. Guy made ’em like nothing was going on. Minutes later the place fills with people out the door. Timing’s everything!

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R-142 Modern Subway Cars – Photo by Robert Chase

I stepped outside, it was raining, so I slipped under a theater marquee and devoured my sandwich. It was the best egg sandwich I ever had.  I also remember the stillness, it was quiet, very few cars, no roar of the subway coming up from the street grates, just a few people venturing out, it was very, very still.  Even though my plaint is quaint compared to how other people were impacted by the super storm.  We all experienced the storm in our own way. To this day, there is still damage to the subway that has not been repaired. The Montague Street tunnel that carries trains between Manhattan and Brooklyn has been completely shut and is under repair. The brand new South Street terminal was flooded after only being open for a month, the storm caused 600 million dollars of damage to it and it’ll be closed for two more years.

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Jazzbo the Clown Hunkers Down for Long Wait

On our private New York City tours I’ve always got my eyes peeled for the unusual and the strange. We’ll notice details above us, as well as below us. The photograph of Jazzbo the Clown makes me laugh.  His despair is clear, he’s just missed the train, it’s late at night and there’s no telling how long he’ll have to stand on the platform, it’s dingy, it’s 1958, the trains are rickety, there’s no A/C. The images are often mini-histories, fractional moment of time that can capture an era in a fleeting second. Maybe he has a long ride too, and it doesn’t look like he has anything to read, perhaps he lives in Far Rockaway, appropriately named. The station could be hellishly hot, or frigid, but we can’t tell. Could he be a bit sotted, Jazzbo? No, not him!  If he’s coming from a kid’s party why wouldn’t he have changed before heading home? Perchance he’s on his way to a bar mitzvah. Some kids are scared of clowns, here’s why. The photo reeks of four am, but it could be two o’clock in the afternoon. This photograph offers no truths except one – Jazzbo is standing on the 42nd Street subway platform waiting for the Rockaway Express.  Where are you now Jazzbo? We might get lucky and see something as unusual on one of our private New York City tours.

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