The Underground

Been playing more subway roulette the last few days. I’ve had an unlimited subway pass for the last week so I’ve been trying to make use of it. One factor in playing subway roulette is identifying when a train is approaching. Sometimes the wait seems really long and you start to get antsy when a rumble can be heard. This can be deceiving when you are in a hub station, because what seems to be an approaching train is actually coming from above and serving a different line. Often times on entering the station, people begin to scramble because they hear the noise and run for the platform, only to find it’s the train going the opposite direction. Sometimes, it’s worth it, because the way it’s been hot and humid lately, some of the tunnels fill up with heat and become uncomfortable saunas.

Sometimes it’s nicer to wait outside. Myrtle stop, J & M train. Building undergoing renovation.

Sunday night I went to check out another guitar, this time in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn. It was over an hour on the train so not exactly close by, even though it’s the same borough. I’ve recently learned that the city had big plans for their metro system and dug many tunnels all over that were not ultimately used. This was near the time of the Great Depression and ultimately budget shortfalls derailed their plans.

It explains a lot of areas of Brooklyn where there are not convenient trains, or you must take indirect routes to your destination. This also means there are ghost tunnels that have been long ago barricaded, and in some instances, there are even old trains left behind. Up until a few years ago there were sections that you could take tours of, but they aren’t running them currently.

There is the city hall station turnaround that was closed in 1945 because it wasn’t used very much and the train cars changed to a larger size that made the gap for getting on and off the train unsafe. The number 6 train still circles through there but you have to vacate the train before then. Although according to this article it is possible to continue riding. There’s some good pictures of the station as well:

City Hall Station

FDR had his own special line, Track 61 so that he could make a speech at the Waldorf Astoria and then sneak away in his custom train protected with bulletproof glass.

There may be secret entrances that homeless people, or graffiti artists know of, but I don’t have access until I meet some of them. I watched the ’80s horror movie CHUD recently, about Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers terrorizing the streets of SoHo late at night. It has lots of dark gritty footage and a few appearances by the cheesy looking monsters. At one point two cops walk into a diner at Spring St and Lafayette next to a triangular park called Petrosino Square. They get about two minutes of screen time before being killed by the CHUD. I thought it was funny because the cops are played by John Goodman and Jay Thomas a.k.a. Eddie LeBec, Carla’s husband from Cheers.

It’s kind of funny to see two actors you recognize and have their characters killed off right away. Even then John Goodman seemed like a star, just the way he walks into the scene you think he could be an important character. Nope. Anyway, I won’t spoil the movie by telling you what CHUD really stands for because you can watch it on Netflix instant watch and see these guys for yourself. Plus you can see the J train at Chambers street station which is an eerie old station not too far from city hall. Yes, that J train, the one that rumbles by my apartment every 12 minutes, which I think seperates me 3 degrees from John Goodman.

Petrosino Square. The diner was on the left.

These shots from Chambers St Station are across the tracks from the platform I was on. The stairs and that side of the platform are not in use. Very creepy, especially when it’s 3am and you’re the only one there like I was.

I also just watched the Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, the original, and while I found it very dated, it provided lots of insight to the subway system. For instance, did you know the conductor pokes his head out the window for three car lengths as they pull away from the platform to make sure nobody is caught in the doors and being dragged? That’s nice.

The most striking thing was that there were land line telephones and typewriters in the movie that would make it seem out of place today, but the subways still had that familiar squeaking of their brakes and the stations looked exactly the same. Oh yeah and Jerry Stiller a.k.a. Frank Costanza plays loudmouth wisecracking transit cop Sgt. Rico Patrone.

I ended up in Bay Ridge after the sun had set, it’s much like a lot of areas of Brooklyn, but a fairly quiet neighborhood with it’s own local bars and restaurants. There are more single family homes than where I live, but still in a very compact, New York style. The guitar ended up being in great shape, with a case, and for only $50 it was definitely worth it. I went to a park next to the Belt Parkway, found an overpass and crossed to a bike path on the waterfront. With a view of Staten Island and the Verrazano bridge, I played my new guitar in the hot night while mosquitoes bit my legs and lightning flashed over Manhattan to the North.

Queens

I went to buy a used acoustic guitar from Craigslist. This ladies’ daughter had attempted to play, but gave it up and so the guitar just sat around. I was just looking for something decent, but inexpensive, it seemed to be a good deal. So I took the J train out to Queens. The day was really muggy and you could see the haze looking over to Manhattan.

Empire State building barely visible

It was the first time I’d been further East/Northeast on the J train and it goes behind a few miles of hill that’s mainly covered by an old cemetery. The train is still elevated all through the area and most of the neighborhoods were made up of old three story town homes. Right before the J train met the E train it went back underground and I got out at a station that was newer in a retro futuristic way, with vertical orange brick tiles, a platform that narrowed on the ends like you were in an airplane fuselage, and escalators with a constant loop of a woman’s then a man’s voice reminding passengers not to let their children get swallowed by the hungry metal teeth of the automated stairs.

I connected with the E and headed West towards Manhattan for a few stops and exited at the Forest Hills stop. The area was decent but nondescript, and slightly familiar. I walked a few blocks and remembered driving nearby a few months back to buy my bed frame. I was connecting more dots on the map.

I met the lady with the guitar but that turned out to be a disappointment. It was supposedly played just a handful of times, but the back of the neck had some major gouges taken out of the wood. This was the only part I had not seen pictures of. I went lowball on my offer, explaining that this would affect smooth playability. She was in no mood to negotiate and I was not desperate for the guitar, so I walked. Quite literally actually, I crossed a freeway to a park and then went further West to the site of the 1964 World’s Fair, Flushing Meadows, home of the tennis U.S. Open, and Citi Field where the Mets play.

The Himalayas

This massive globe is called the Unisphere and there used to be fountains underneath it. I’m not sure if they still start it up in the summer, but today would have been a nice day for it. I’m sure there were more crowds when it opened in ’64 but now it’s a good place for lots of families to picnic and play soccer. These pictures are two little kids on mini scooters that were racing around the Unisphere. It’s never too early to get your kids into motorized vehicles.

I went past Arthur Ashe stadium and caught the 7 train from next to Citi field and headed South through Queens and towards Brooklyn.

On the way I stopped off on Roosevelt Ave, where the train runs overhead and most every business seems to be hispanic, with tons of street food and people everywhere. There was the occasional Chinese dive restaurant and a Korean guy shouted some Spanish at me, “Massaje! Coger!” Not today.

Cartoons and Cigars

Sorry, we’re all out.

The Question is What’s the smallest park you can build.
Answer Triangle. Look close, that’s the name on the sign.

New York Driving School: We teach you how to honk your horn and curse out drivers in 57 different languages.

I veered off Roosevelt and went further West, and the wind was picking up. There have been lots of thunder showeres the past few days and it looked like one would arrive soon. I passed through some decent looking neighborhoods with some cool old buildings and grabbed a beer at a Mexican restaurant just as the downpour started.

And it poured heavy, so I stuck around for another beer. And another. When I left the air was hot and so heavy with moisture that the outdoors smelled like a steam sauna. Walking down the road I had this view of Manhattan as the sun was setting and I cut back over to Roosevelt to catch the subway.

The funny thing was the neighborhood no longer had a latin flavor, everything was kababs and halal and Middle Eastern script. The very last food cart I noticed before I entered the subway station advertised Potala Momos. I had no idea what they were, but I noticed these Asian guys eating dumplings and another sign on the cart that said: “MCA aka Adam Yauch is a friend of Tibet”. Of course, momos are Tibetan, everyone knows that.

Subway Roulette

I’ve been doing a lot of subway riding this week. Going to places I haven’t been before, or just hadn’t been to in a while. It’s always nice when you can fill in the gray areas of your mental map and understand an area, instead of having it be a big void. It’s easy to succumb to the big void in big cities, especially if you are riding in a car, especially if you aren’t driving the car. Unless you take the time on foot, you can be very easily disoriented. Sometimes you may have been to an area really close to where you are, but you may not even realize it. I had a few of those moments recently where I came around a corner and suddenly noticed I was somewhere I had once been before.

The other day I wanted to go to the lowest tip of Manhattan, Battery Park. Whaddaya know, I was there fifteen years ago. Recently I was nearby to see the construction of the new World Trade Center tower, but this time I was taking the 6 train to the last stop and coming back North. Or was it the 4, or the 5? It gets tricky sometimes, for instance the 4, 5, and 6 are all green and generally go to the same spots in the middle of the lines, but they can also veer off at the extremities. So maybe I had to jump off at the end of 6 service and wait for the 4 to take me to Battery Park.

There were tons of tourists around Battery Park that day, and the famous bull had barriers around it and a line up of people waiting to take pictures. When I was there my first time, people could freely take a picture from any angle. The most popular being of the bull’s giant brass balls. Apparently, threats from Occupy Wall Street have prevented this bit of touristy photo op fun.

These pictures show the legacy of the early planning, or lack of planning in lower Manhattan. This is all the area from below the grid. You know about the grid right? “Everybody Loves the Grid!”

Try and visualize how these streets in the background all come together.

The next night I was coming home from the West side of Manhattan in the Chelsea neighborhood. This involved waiting for the blue E train. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then there was an announcement about connecting to the F train, or was it about not connecting to the F train? I can never understand their announcements. So instead I got on the L at the next stop, to connect to the F at 6th ave, but I never go to 6th ave, and I had one of those Dungeons and Dragons adventures up stairs and down underground passageways wandering in search of the connecting tracks for my next destination. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter any large spiders, orcs, or muggers. When I made it there, the M train was pulling away, which was confusing and disappointing, because A) I didn’t know the M train ran through there and B) had I been there to catch it, I would have been able to take it most of the way home. Are you confused yet?

New York has one of the oldest subways in the world. It’s probably the most comprehensive and quite possibly one of the most complex to navigate, just look at this:

Buenos Aires, Argentina; first opened 1913, 68 stations, 30.1 miles of track.

Vienna, Austria; first opened 1976, 101 stations, 47 miles of track.

Sao Paolo, Brazil; first opened 1974, 64 stations, 46.2 miles of track.

Toronto, Canada; first opened 1954, 69 stations, 42.4 miles of track.

Shanghai, China; first opened 1995, 285 stations, 264 miles of track.

Paris, France; first opened 1900, 300 stations, 134 miles of track.

Berlin, Germany; first opened 1902, 173 stations, 91 miles of track.

Tokyo, Japan; first opened 1925, between the Yamanote line, Tokyo metro, Toei Subway that’s 315 stations, 218.1 miles of track.

Seoul, South Korea; first opened 1974, 314 stations, 241.9 miles of track.

Madrid, Spain; first opened 1919, 300 stations, 182 miles of track.

London, England; first opened 1863, London Underground & Docklands Light Railway together = 315 stations, 271 miles of track.

New York City Subway; first opened 1904, 421 stations, 207 miles of track.

421 stations! None of the populous cities of China, Japan, or Korea are within 100 stations of that. It makes for some interesting challenges to get to your destination sometimes. Imagine what the MTA goes through with the nearly constant schedule of new construction and maintenance. Then think of the logistics of keeping these running all over the city to keep people moving.  I’ve been on some trains when from out of nowhere another train appears along side. They are usually two similar trains, but one may be the express train that doesn’t hit every stop. It’s pretty surreal because I’ve been riding along when the darkness outside the windows is broken up by the flash of lights from inside the other subway car. Suddenly you are staring at people ten or fifteen feet away from you while moving along at about 30 mph with one train maybe moving slightly faster and their images flickering by like an old movie as support beams and other barriers block you every few feet. Then one train turns away, rises, or drops and like that there is only darkness.

Riding the subway on this big network of tracks that takes me around the city is like being on a giant roulette wheel. Sometimes as I stand on the platform and the train pulls up I see hundreds of faces go by in each car and wonder how my luck will play out. Will there be anywhere to sit? Are there any pretty girls to flirt with? Did that bum shit his pants? Yeah you never know when it’s gonna be your lucky day.

Defaced pt.2

The same day I posted Defaced, I read an article about The Spear, a painting by Brett Murray. It depicts South African President Jacob Zuma in a pose that looks similar to Vladimir Lenin. In addition, his is junk hanging out. This made a lot of people really angry, especially those in the ANC political party and religious groups. But aren’t the Church and State always yammering on about something that offends them? Something trivial and unrelated to real issues, usually?

Well it didn’t take more than a few days of being on display at an art gallery with half assed security before it was dedicked defaced. First with some red X’s and then just covered in black paint.

The white guy is apparently an art professor. How about we call him what he really is. A bitter, failed, artist. Love it or hate it, Brett Murray had apparently sold it for about $15,000. Now it’s not a king’s ransom, but assuming it didn’t take all year to paint, it’s a living. Then again, this attention will probably help his career too.

I found a few more pictures from the subways to add while I’m at it. It’s a couple from the J. Lo’s pregnant movie and Men in Black 3, which I really like, because you can see the layers of previous posters chipped away. How avante garde surreal dadaist.

Saving Face

The long awaited IPO of social media giant Facebook has finally happened and so far, it’s getting bad reviews. First of all, NASDAQ’s IPO listing software had a major fail and was not reporting trades accurately on opening Friday. This caused brokers and traders to not know if they had purchased shares, or how many, and at what price! It was hours before they gained this information and had to sort through it all as they were more than likely trying to continue trading.

I know what a pain in the ass this is because I have worked in the industry doing trade support and when the system you are using goes down or whatever glitch happens, suddenly the phones start lighting up and all the brokers are calling in saying “Hey I just bought this but I have no confirmation.” Or “I sold this at $50, they only gave me $49.” Trust me, this is maddening, because sometimes these guys didn’t enter their order like they thought, and the lowly assistant gets the task of going back and finding the exact moment the trade happened and deciphering what went wrong and then trying to prove it to the trading agency.

Maybe if all these talented engineers put their efforts into stock trading software instead of building the next cool social network, Facebook wouldn’t have had that issue. Ironic, huh?

But no, we feel the need to hype Web 2.0, the social integration that promises to let everyone know you farted and how bad it stinks. Honestly, can you tell me what Facebook does? Sure everyone is on there. Your mom is there now. My mom is there. Everybody we went to high school, jr. high, and elementary school with is there. It’s like a great big party and we’re all there together, and I know what you like, and you know that I’m following Gotye, and I know what you had for breakfast, and I can stalk my ex and future girlfriends and isn’t it just so much fun? Great, don’t let me spoil your party, but tell me about the business side of this company.

I’ve seen how the financial world works, and I can tell you how it’s a rigged game for the major players, but there are some fundamentals to looking at a company that can tell you where it’s going. Do you remember widgets? Widgets are fictional units used in business class to represent a product a company sells. Sell ten percent more widgets each year and your company is growing. The closest thing Facebook has to a widget is you. Depending on your age, gender, kids, likes, etc, you represent information that advertisers use to manipulate companies into paying money for. But honestly, when was the last time an ad on Facebook, or even something somebody posted on Facebook, caused you to go out and buy something? Facebook is very popular, I’m not taking away from that but I don’t see it’s value. I like the Condescending Wonka Meme Generator but I’m not going to buy stock in it. BTW thanks for introducing me to that SJ.

Image

Occupy Wall Street has been a big issue for close to a year now, and there are still groups and protests continuing. I don’t agree with many things about it, but I do understand their frustrations. How about Occupy Madison Avenue? Mad Men like Don Draper have been pushing us to buy, buy, buy, and consume yet we don’t fault them for greed, debt, and a struggling economy. Furthermore, financial markets, banking, insurance companies were all developed before the birth of the U.S. and are deeply ingrained in society, so pointing the finger at one street in Manhattan is slightly misguided.

The biggest winners in this latest game are the underwriter Morgan Stanley, because they collect around 1% of the share’s value for bringing the company to market, of course the Zuck with all the shares he owns, everybody who works for Facebook that has significant shares, and David Choe, the graffiti artist who painted the first Facebook office seven years ago and was paid with a reported 3.77 million shares.

If you’re some member of the public that thinks they will make money buying Facebook stock, good luck with that. That’s exactly who the current shareholders are hoping will propel them to actual riches instead of paper riches. Paper riches you say? Yes, own a stock and watch its price rise and fall and your net worth with it. But it means nothing in spending terms until you sell it and get real cash money. The real test will be when the holding period for share holders expires in a few months and Facebook employees and David Choe scramble to cash in for whatever value is left on their stock. Early indications are not good because the second day of trading has closed with shares at 34.02, or 10.99% below the initial offering price of $38. If you remember Internet bubble 1.0 and how great stocks like AOL went crashing down as people made the revelation that it wasn’t the gatekeeper to the internet after all, well, big sell offs have a way of becoming avalanches. But don’t listen to me, take Randolph and Mortimer’s advice.

I’ll Have Another

It’s happened again ladies and gentlemen, a horse has won the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. Let the hype begin.

First off, let’s look at what this entails: Win the Kentucky Derby. Win the Preakness Stakes. Win the Belmont Stakes. Easy right?

This has only happened three times in my lifetime. This has only happened three times in both of my parent’s lifetimes. Think about that, it really doesn’t happen very often. There have been lots of close calls. In 2005 Afleet Alex won the Preakness and the Belmont, but had placed 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. You can’t hype the Triple Crown by starting off without that first win.

Since the Eleventh and last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed in 1978, eleven horses have started off with Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins, but came up short at Belmont. The last horse to make the attempt was Big Brown in 2008, who came up lame and did not finish. Part of the difficulty is the amount of time between races and the increased distance at Belmont. Kentucky is 10 furlongs, Preakness is 9.5, Belmont is 12, which is an extra quarter mile more than the Kentucky Derby. People who run usually specialize in a certain range. Sprinters can run the 100 and the 200. Michael Johnson was a freak of nature because he won Olympic Gold in the 200 and 400, but 400 runners usually run only the 400. Then you have 800 runners who can sometimes compete in the mile, but not always and so on up to marathons. Plus not every horse races all three races, so there will be horses with more rest coming to race the Belmont.

Why care? Isn’t the Sport of Kings just an archaic relic of old times? Possibly. But we love knowing who or what is the fastest on two legs, four legs, or wheels. You can believe I want to see Usain Bolt run the 100 at the Olympics in London this summer. I would provide first hand coverage for anyone willing to sponsor sending me over, too. But back to the horses, it’s an opportunity for the owners to pocket some nice prize money. And for any horse to win the Triple Crown, there would be a great demand for his services in the form of stud fees that would be good for the owner and the horse, of course.

For the casual fan there’s the opportunity to gamble and drink which is always lots of fun, especially if you win. My friend Jeff lived in New York the year Charismatic was aiming for the Triple Crown. His coworker was going to the race and asked him if he would like to place a bet. Jeff knew absolutely nothing of horse racing and he picked the name that stood out, Lemon Drop Kid, and ended up making 61.50 to 1 on his maybe 20 dollar investment, not bad. Which is really the point, find a long shot, and hope for the best. Funny thing is Lemon Drop Kid’s grandfather was 1977 Triple Crown Winner, Seattle Slew.

Looking at names, I’ll Have Another is kind of catchy. It could imply drinking, which as I said before, goes hand in hand with horse racing. It also could refer to winning too. If I’ll Have Another wins another, he will be immortal in horse racing. His main competitor so far has been Bodemeister, which sounds more like a skier dude from the ’90s. “Did you see the Bodemeister hit that gnarly air? It was sweet!” Oh wait, that’s Bode Miller.

Word is that Bodemeister won’t be running at Belmont, which means the Bodemeister is kind of a sore loser. But there are other potential spoilers out there that are favored at the longer Belmont distance. The lineup won’t be set until a week before the June 9th race, so we’ll have to wait to see what kind of gambling odds are out there.

In the mean time, I have to find a way to get out to Belmont Park Racetrack in Elmont, New York and check it out first hand. I looked it up and I’m only fifteen miles away. Twenty-five minutes by car or an hour and forty minutes of mass transit. Hopefully I can convince someone with a car. Maybe I will witness history. Maybe I’ll make some money. Maybe I’ll come back broke and drunk.