NEW YORK -- It took me years to take on this city's subway system. Walking seemed easier than figuring out the N, R, Q, W, 4, 5 and 6 trains. So for a couple of decades, my Manhattan destinations predicated on being able to walk to wherever I was going.
This is an absurd approach to urban transportation (probably the same one that keeps me from trying Uber, and I gave up on cabs after getting distracted by a chatty driver and leaving a freshly purchased and much desired black-and-white cookie on the seat when I got out; haven't gotten over that yet). It's led to treks from West 78th Street to the east 30s in Kips Bay (three and a half miles) to see a press screening of Lord of the Rings in December 2001; I barely got there in time.
That was followed with an urban hike to Avenue B in Alphabet City (two more miles) for an indifferent dinner at an over-stuffed cash-only restaurant (without a sign) with a Little Rock ex-pat who had become a self-proclaimed hipster. I don't recall how we got back to the Upper West Side; we probably walked.
There's been little improvement in transportation habits; last year we walked from our hotel on Canal Street on the southern edge of Soho to the Beacon Theater on Broadway near West 75th Street on a Sunday evening (4.6 miles) to watch a documentary chronicling the 40th anniversary of Patti Smith's album Horses (not only did Patti Smith perform, but her pals Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe did too). Then we walked back.
Recently at Tribeca we left the press screening headquarters at Village East Theater on Second Avenue between 11th and 12th streets and walked to the School of Visual Arts Theatre on West 23rd Sreet (a mere 1.6 miles) to watch the world premiere of a fascinating documentary titled Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, followed by a Q & A with film sound-design superstars Walter Murch, Gary Rydstrom and Ben Burtt (winners of 13 Oscars among them).
Afterward, we walked for 40 minutes (two miles) to reach Tribeca Festival Hub at 50 Varick St., a block south of Canal. We like heading there after seeing all the films we can handle in a day because it has a sprawling sixth-floor lounge that provides companionship and libations to those with press and industry credentials bearing the letter A. (We have this lofty status because our newspaper offers readers substantial coverage of movies, and because we have faithfully attended Tribeca since its inception in 2002; there are benefits in being a pioneer).
Speaking of benefits: With all the walking, I'm familiar with the layouts of four very different Whole Foods groceries: Tribeca, East Houston Street, Union Square, and Chelsea. I know where Trader Joe's is too, but the monstrous checkout lines keep me from stopping in to buy a couple of bananas to fuel these walks.
Walking allows for exploration of all sorts of green spaces such as Tompkins Square Park, Cooper Square, City Hall Park, Stuyvesant Square, and the enchanting High Line. Dog-walkers wearing stern expressions break into smiles when told their canine is cute. It's fun to inspect the windows of clothing retailers such as gender-free Phluid Project on Broadway. And pleasant to observe the parade of characters in this city while striding along sidewalks rather than being forced to do so up close and personal in the crowded confines of a standing-room-only subway car.
The best aspect of New York's subways is once you're in, you're in. If you notice you're not heading in the right direction, you can get off and transfer to another train with no additional charge (this is not the case with many subway systems).
The worst aspect, on this trip, is that taking the subway from LaGuardia to our hotel on the edge of Soho--a multi-faceted one-hour process that involves a bus, a train, some walking, and payment of a $2.75 fare--turned out to be much more complicated. That's because the Astoria Boulevard Station, where we would normally catch a southbound train, is closed until December. Who knew?
An alternate route involved heading into Harlem on the M 60 bus (soooo slow), catching a 4 or 5 line to Union Station, then transferring to an N or Q train to Canal Street. It took practically forever and was incredibly crowded with hordes of zombie-like wayfarers shoehorned in, staring at their phones.
Too much togetherness, as my mother often said (she was speaking of the constant presence of my dad after he retired, but the idea is the same).
Walking to LaGuardia isn't an option. But surely I'll find another way to enjoy the journey.
Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.
Editorial on 06/02/2019
Print Headline: Taking the easy way out