Maswood Alam Khan from Maryland, USA
I love trains moving on railways since the day in my childhood when along with my parents we the whole lot of ten siblings boarded a train for the first time to my earliest memory. It was a few decades back on a wintry morning in a railway station in Sylhet, a north-eastern district town in Bangladesh. My infatuation with train, its sounds, its sways, its whistling and even its smell from clouds of smoke and soot coming from its locomotive—-every single thing about a train—-grew deeper and deeper as I grew older.
The typical railway station ambience, the gentle and rhythmic swinging and rocking of carriages, passengers hurrying on the platform and huddling inside the compartments shouting and talking with each other, tea hawkers screaming “Chaa Garaam” (“Hot Tea”), lullaby-like clicking and clacking sounds of iron wheels clattering and rattling over steel tracks, the airs, the graces and all the beauties of diesel locomotives and especially the colossal look and movement of those Beyer-Peacock steam locomotives spewing swirling smoke and weaving their ways through the greenery of our rural landscapes have since been beguiling me so much that in spite of all the inconvenience and mismanagement in train journeys in Bangladesh I hardly missed a chance to get a ride on a train whenever or wherever there was an opportunity.
This time the opportunity for me to ride trains to my fullest contentment has opened up after my arrival at Maryland in USA. To keep an appointment to meet two resource persons in New York last Friday, I could have easily spent only 35 dollars for a round-trip journey by any of those Chinese buses that shuttle almost every hour between major cities throughout the day. But I spent a fortune to enjoy rides by Amtrak train for up and down journey between Baltimore and New York. It was for my love of train and it was worth spending five times more money than what would have cost me if I had chosen the Chinese bus service.
During the last few weeks I had to go to New York for business purposes quite frequently and it was always the subway I travelled by to meet my friends, relations and appointments inside the city of New York. The Subway attracts me so much that it is perhaps only for the subway I feel like frequenting the city even purposelessly.
Elsewhere in USA, I find myself trapped in a prison-like situation where I have but to depend on someone else to give me a lift by his or her car if I wish for an outing or for a shopping. But the city of New York is open to all—-anyone who owns a car or anyone who solely depends on his pair of legs—-to move to anywhere at any time thanks to the New York Subway, the cheapest mode of transportation for a population of more than nineteen and a half million and for more than forty-four million foreign and American tourists visiting the city every year. Anyone with a backpack and a little money in his wallet to buy snacks, drinks and subway tickets may comb an area of 1,214 square kilometers of the metropolis, round the clock and throughout the week.
On 27 October 1904, people in the city of New York walked down flights of stairs, paid a 5.0 cent fare, and for the very first time rode beneath the city’s streets aboard New York’s very first subway. Now, one has to pay a two-dollar-twenty-five cent fare for a single ride on the same subway. Of course—-today’s subway is way safer and more modern.
The Subway that opened for business in 1904 was modest in size and scope. Today exactly after 106 years this subway is one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the world, with 468 stations in operation, 369 kilometer of routes delivering more than one and half billion rides every year covering all the five boroughs of the city: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.
The size and bustle of New York initially seemed to me extremely nerve-racking and the subway map of weaving and intertwined colored lines completely indiscernible. But gradually I could understand the geography and mathematics of the system and found the subway as a great way to navigate and explore the city at cheaper fares. Understanding and using the subway system in New York is the key to making your visit to the city accessible, enjoyable and memorable.
The New York Subway stations are silent sentinels of many stories of compassion, love, violence and loss experienced and witnessed by the subway riders for the last one hundred and six years. Commuters gleefully witnessed love in the making on the platforms and also witnessed suicide attempts on the tracks. Many such experiences have been dramatised in fictions and movies.
Poignancy of parting and separation will overwhelm you if you from the comfort of your seat look out of the window at the vintage subway signs and stations names—-so old and so immutable—-and try to visualize the old days when like you a traveller, already old, dead or forgotten, gazed at the same signs and station names the same way you are now gazing.
From the homeless people living in the subway tunnels, to the City Transit Authority employees working round the clock behind the scenes, to the locals and tourists riding shoulder-to-shoulder in harmony, discord and indifference, to the fiancés waiting for his fiancées—-all are in a kaleidoscope of perspectives on this most public station of public places. Seven million people board the subways of New York City every day, each one with a story to tell. Each commuter is in a living drama replete with tragedies or comedies. It is the very venue where many loves flowered at first sight and many loves ended with the last sight.
It was a love at first sight at 9 PM on November 04, 2007 for a 21-year old man named Patrick Moberg, a Web designer from Brooklyn, when he spotted a woman named Camille Hayton from Melbourne, as they both took the Number 5 train from the Union Station. Patrick was drawn to her. Everything of Camille sparked an irrepressible emotion in Patrick: “Everything she was wearing. The way she looked, the way she acted, the way she carried herself.” It was just a fleeting moment and he lost her in the crowd as they both got off at Bowling Green Station.
Patrick didn’t have the gumption to speak to her. Instead, he went home and created a webpage called www.nygirlofmydreams.com with a cute illustration of himself, the girl, and where and when this all took place, so that perhaps he could meet her. One of Camille’s friends noticed the website and played matchmaker to put the pair in touch. Amazingly, Patrick was flooded with calls and emails and found her within 48 hours.
Patrick and Camille later have dated but nobody knows whether they would ever translate their tryst into a marriage. Patrick and Camille became instant celebrities in the international media. The story captured the hearts of New Yorkers and offered hope to romantics around the globe. The tale of romance on the New York subway could one day be bound for the big screen.
Standing on the platform of the Grand Central Station located in Midtown Manhattan at the intersection of Park Avenue and 42nd Street I was watching passengers hurrying in the evening rush hour. I was nervous and amazed hearing the queer whining sounds changing in a typical pitch as a train accelerates and in a different pitch as a train comes to a stop with a banshee sequel of brakes. A train stops. The doors open. People push in, push out, and get locked against each other while a train rests. The doors close and the train departs.
My destination was far away at Jamaica-179th Street. I boarded a train to Lexington where I switched to an F-Train. With some trepidation I took a seat by the window and spent a few tense minutes not fully knowing whether I took the right train. Assured by a passenger sitting next to me that I rightly had chosen the right train I felt greatly relieved.
I sat drowsily letting the soporific effect of the moving train to sleep intermittently throughout my subway journey for almost an hour.
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