Every year during Christmastime, the MTA in New York City runs this special “Nostalgic subway train,” made up of subway cars from the 1930’s and 1940’s. On a few Sundays during December, it runs back and forth between Queens and Manhattan. To ride this old train costs the same as a regular ride and it makes the same stops as the M train. Many regular subway riders had no idea this holiday train exists, and when it pulls into the station, they stare in wonder, as if they are seeing an iron ghost.
This holiday gimmick attracts three subsets of visitors: families with kids into Thomas the Train, Japanese tourists who read about this in some tour book, and very geeky, hermit-looking, New York men who wait all year for this occasion, and can name the model number of a specific E-train running in 1955.
And then there was me, of course. I’m probably closest to that last group of train geeks, but not THAT bad. I certainly didn’t wear a t-shirt that showed the map of the NYC subway circa 1972.
So, on the day after Christmas, I spent a good part of my day hanging out in the subway with other train geeks, unaware that a major blizzard was occurring outside. (Ironically, the only trouble I had with mass transit today was with a modern bus that got stuck in the snow on the way home)
I can’t imagine many of you will be interested in this little video I made on my iphone. I’m publishing it anyway, mostly for my childhood friend, Barry.
A few of these old style subway cars were still around, even into the late 1970s. I remember these uncomfortable seats from when I went into the “city” with my parents. The sounds of the old trains — the racket, the heat, the open windows — is a great way to connect to the classic era of New York life, not the upscale world of Madison Avenue, but of the working class. The subways were gruffer and noisier. I forgot how the lights flickered all the time, making the experience a little seedy, like the gritty street scenes from the old movies, where guys smoked and wear hats and were knifed in the alley for looking the wrong way, certainly not the same, slightly-boring Manhattan of today where Times Square is populated not by real-life Guys and Dolls, but the M&M store.