If you live in New York, there are, theoretically, an infinite number of reasons to vary your route home from work. Dozens of neighborhoods, hundreds of shops, thousands of bars can be explored with only the slightest detour from your particular beaten path. So why do I rarely, if ever, take the opportunity? Call it inertia, or lack of imagination, or, more realistically, the result of nine hours of staring at a computer and circling a mouse around. After that, whatever path gets me to my apartment and into a drink the fastest is the one I’m going to follow. More than once I’ve convinced myself to make a post-work side trip to, say, a book store in Union Square, only to emerge from a daydream and find myself walking up the steps at my normal stop in Brooklyn anyway. The best-laid plans are powerless in the face of the daily habits of the 9-to-5er. The upshot, sadly, is that the city where I work is seldom the city where I explore—it’s not the city where I see.
My office is in Murray Hill and I live in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, which makes my best commuting option the 6 train to 14th St., and then the 4 to Borough Hall, a wobblingly reliable 20-minute express shot down the east side. Late in the evening, though, the 4 can be exasperatingly slow, so slow that on some nights I’m compelled to throw routine to the wind and take the 6 two more stops, to the Bleecker St. station, where I can catch the F to Brooklyn.
Bleecker is less a proper station than a decaying, half-finished interstice that serves as a connector between the subway’s formerly competing systems, the IRT (i.e., the numbered trains) and the BMT (the lettered trains). It’s the only stop in the city where you can transfer between lines on one side—downtown—and not the other, a flaw that’s currently costing the MTA $134 million to rectify. The space’s most notable landmarks are two large, blue mosaics that date from the system’s proud opening in 1904. “Bleecker Street” is carved out at their centers with a beaming, capitalized pride that mocks the dilapidated state of the station today.
Jarring as they may be, those mosaics weren’t what caught my eye one recent evening after work.