monday musing: 7 train

It’s a rather long story as to why, but Stefany, my wife my love, and I have just spent roughly twelve hours riding back and forth on the 7 train in Queens, New York. For those who don’t know, the 7 train runs from Times Square in Manhattan out to Main Street in Flushing, Queens. It’s a trip from one world into another. No, it’s a trip through several worlds and a number of levels of experience on top of that.

A few years ago John Rocker, a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, hurled some attention the 7 train’s way with notable comments to Sports Illustrated. He said of New York, “It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.”


Of course, it’s easy to make fun of a silly hick like John Rocker. It’s rather more difficult to explain just how wonderful and sublime it is to meander across the Queens landscape on an early Fall afternoon dipping down into the street life of particular neighborhoods and then ascending again to the platforms of the friendly old train. It straddles whole blocks. It dominates an entire chunk of Queens Blvd., and then Jackson and before that it weaves through the massive warehouses of Long Island City like an ancient snake that has its own well-worn paths.

The 7 train is great in a million ways but it really shows off after Hunter’s Point when it gets to burst out of the tunnel and go above ground. It’s a cocky train. That probably comes from sitting around at Times Square and 5th Ave. and Grand Central. The 7 train knows the bright lights and the glamour. But that’s not where it stays or where it spends its time. The 7 train heads out to Queens and it has its heart there.

Not able to get its head straight after the blast across the East River the 7 train bounces around the lost blocks of LIC like its trying to find someone it knows or shake someone it doesn’t. The developers in LIC spent so long concentrating on the neighborhood as naught but a residential appendage of Manhattan that that is what it feels like. It’s a vampire living for someone else.

But the rest of Queens was made for people to live in and they do. When the 7 train settles down on Queens Blvd. and then works its way into Woodside and Jackson Heights you can feel its gentle chugging on the old wooden tracks and you can hear a kind of metallic, mechanical confidence. If you have an ear for such things.

The train is filled with everybody, by the way. There is no greater definition of everybody than the 7 train. There is no more powerful statement of ‘everybody’ than scanning your eye across a stretch of 7 train at anytime, any day, whenever you like it and some struggling fuck-up from Mexico or Bangladesh or Korea or Uzbekistan or Ecuador or Kenya or Romania has a kid on his lap and is stroking the kids hair and saying in whatever mumbly-talk incomprehensible language “go to sleep my sweet child go to sleep my lovely child I’m doing everything for us that I possibly can.”

If you ride the 7 train enough like I do you see that kind of shit all the time. You might think you get blasé about it but you don’t. It makes some part of your chest cavity swell up dumb and sputtering and overdrawn. That might be one response to John Rocker types if it could be expressed more clearly.

You’ve got tons of Indians and other flavors of South Asian around the 60’s and 70’s and then it’s dominated by Latinos in the blocks after that. It’s not the same New York as other places here and that doesn’t mean it’s either better or worse. What is remarkable is the sense of transference that occurs. Manhattan is an international place but it brings all the world into its orbit. Queens reverses that.

I’m sure that walking around certain blocks in Corona Park more closely approximates walking down a specific street in some little po-dunk town in the countryside of Columbia or Peru than anything else in the world. It’s like the fucking Incan empire had a second wind on a few of those streets.

And then boom, you’re in the frickin far East. Korea, China, Korea, China, a touch of the Philippines and throw in whatever else. Main Street is just simply Asia, which kind of delights the mind to consider for a moment.

Anyway, I hope this is how all things get. I hope all cities get smooshed up and tossed around like Queens did. I hope the 7 train isn’t something just accidental that happened and will go away, will get lost somehow or forgotten. When the sun is sliding away to the West and you’re standing on one of the sparse platforms of the 7 train you see Queens like a weird urban plain at the foot of the Manhattan skyline. It’s sweet and quiet but for the slow rumble of the subway cars doing their rounds day and night. This is a new kind of nature that I love and I’ll speak for as best I can. It’s as good as anything.