Friday, May 12, 2006

The Cross Town Trek

A couple weeks ago, a good friend threw a party on the east side. My initial reaction to the location of this party was, “Hmm, on the east side. I hate going to the east side.” That’s my usual reaction to anything on the east side. “Hey, there is this really great restaurant. You should check it out.” Oh, really. Where is it? “East 76 and second.” Yeah, I think someday I might make it over there. We make it sound like it’s 45 miles away, but really… it’s only 2… maybe. It’s not that I don’t like the east side. It’s just fine. In fact, it’s actually kind of nice, but what prevents me from spending time over there is the amount of time it takes me to get there and back to the west side. We are a city divided by an enormous park and the subway lines.

The west side traffic above and below ground seems to flow pretty well. We have several subway lines to keep us moving uptown to downtown and all over town. The east side has only one line. One. I have often pondered why this should be, and the only conclusion I have come to is that the east side sort of represents Old Money in the city and we associate it with people who probably make enough money to own cars, have drivers or take taxis everywhere they go. That would result in less demand for massive public transportation. The west side represents New Money, the artsy people. It’s more funky and fresh as opposed to sophisticated like the east side. People on the west side… we like our public transportation. Try getting on the 1/2/3 train during rush hour and your face will most likely be plastered against the shoulder of some enormous man while the lady behind you jabs her purse in your back because she just had to push herself onto the already overcrowded train. But at least the red line is consistent.

Finally, they (whoever they is) have gotten smart and decided to build a second line on the east side. Hallelujah! We all scream in excitement, except we suddenly realize that we will have to endure the irritations and inconveniences of construction for the next 7 years before we ever get to experience the joy of a second line. And honestly, with the constant transience of the city… most of the people who are suffering through the construction will never actually see the finished product. So we are suffering for the enjoyment and ease of future city dwellers. Well, at least the eastsiders are. But at least crowded subway cars and messed up train routes and schedules are not completely foreign to us. Every weekend, the subways are wacky. No express trains; trains skipping stations; trains starting out local and then going express; east side trains on the west side; west side trains on the east side; local trains running on the express track. It’s pure pandemonium. If you don’t read the little papers taped to the columns, you just might end up in Coney Island without knowing it.

But despite the crowded and sometimes frustrating subways, I would much rather deal with that than drive around the city. I pay less than $100 a month to get around here. Most people who are driving and have car payments are paying at least twice that. Throw in insurance and gas and now it’s probably four or five times that. Besides, there is little opportunity for me to get tickets riding on the subway. Sure, sometimes I miss being in cars, but then I just take a ride in a cab and feel better. I get to drive a couple times a year when I go home.

But this second line on the east side still doesn’t solve my problem of getting to the east side from my upper west side neighborhood. I could take a cross town bus, and I usually do, but it often takes a lot of time. I could walk across, but that would also take a considerable amount of time. It seems that they should have a line that runs in a circle around the perimeter of the park or a few shuttles going from 72nd and 96th streets over to Lexington. That would be faster than a cross town bus.

Perhaps this has already been discussed. And perhaps no one really cares. Maybe it’s better that we keep the east side and the west side at a distance… sort of like the Capulets and Montagues. We will all continue to gripe and complain about the time and inconvenience of traveling to the opposite side of the island, even though the distance is relatively short and inconvenience relatively small. And despite our complaining, we will still make a cross over every now and again just to change things up. And maybe someday we will learn to love it… but I doubt it.

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