Tuesday 24 April 2012

Pin It

Get Gadget

Adventures in the New York Subway

Getting around New York is easy. It's a perfect city for walking, there's a taxi on every street corner, and the New York subway system runs anywhere you'd want to go. I personally prefer the subway, but for my kids it was a bit of an eye opener. There nothing like the New York subway in Kelowna. Heck, our idea of Light Transit here is when the reading light still works on the bus. It was a little nerve-wracking for my kids to descend into the crowded underground and catch a train into darkness for the first time (Of course it was only the first time since I screwed up the train from Washington), so we decided that we would stay close together and make sure everybody was accounted for.

It took us about five minutes to lose our first person. Actually, we didn't lose Lori, but we did manage to get separated from her. We figured that it would be easiest to just buy one big MTA card (the pre-paid card for the subway system) and pass it back as we went through the turnstiles. This worked fine for the first four of us, but apparently you can only use the MTA card four times at a single station within a certain time period. Lori got stuck out and had to go buy a separate card for herself. I'm really glad that we didn't let one of the kids go last, although they'd probably fit under the turnstiles better than Lori would.

Once you get through the gates and down to the platform, there's really not a whole lot to do but wait. In an effort to kill time, the boy and I started betting on a couple of the giant rats that were racing along the tracks. This was fine, until we managed to get a little too vocal with our cheering, and drew the attention of the girls. Now I've got one girl who wants to leave the subway and catch a cab, one who wants to get closer and figure out if it's a rat or a mouse, and one (who I'm married to) that insists on trying to get a picture of the rat, thus making us look like the biggest tourists to ever venture into the city. This is as close as she came.

Now before we arrived in New York, I loaded five separate apps on my iPhone, all of which had subway maps on them. Two of them were specifically designed to help you figure out which train you needed to be on to get from point A to point B. I also had a fold-out pocket map with me, and I had signed up for text alerts to my phone for service interruptions. All of this meant that I knew exactly what train we needed to catch. What all of this preparation doesn't allow for however, is my super-human ability to always be looking away when a train comes into the station. No matter how focused I am, I always miss the number on the front of the train, and have to ask Lori or the kids which train this was.
There's also the little issue of the trains running in both directions. For instance, an #6 train can get you all the way south to the Wall Street station, or it can take you north to Central Park. This is why I never tell my kids where we're going. If I happen to get on the wrong train, wherever we get off is where I meant to stop. Sure, sometimes the kids wonder why we took the subway across town to see the outside of the Museum of Tibetan Art, but they know better than to question Dad, especially if it's close to allowance time.

There was something we encountered this trip though that I wasn't prepared for, and that's crowded trains. In our past visits to New York, our subway rides had been reasonably empty (with the possible exception of the trip out to Yankee Stadium for a baseball game), and since we were in town on a weekend, I kind of anticipated the same. Not this weekend though. This was national "Pack the subway as tight as it can go" week, and it seemed that we were the guests of honor. The first time we went to get on a subway and it was full, we decided to just wait for the next one. When that one arrived full, we waited again. When the next one arrived filled to capacity, we decided that things weren't going to get any better and we shoved our way onto the train. Being jammed in a tight space with a few hundred other people isn't exactly my idea of a great vacation moment, but it does have a few advantages. For instance, you don't really need to hold on to anything because there's no way anybody is moving no matter how hard the train jerks pulling out of the station. There's also the fact that the "What's that smell" game is infinitely more challenging with a full subway car. Finally, everybody is stuck in whatever position they're in, so when crazy tourists pull out their cell phones to take pictures, nobody really notices.

All in all, the subway would still be my preferred method for getting around New York City, but if you're thinking of trying it with your kids for the first time, let me offer this advice to you:

  • Don't have three kids
  • Never bet on the bigger rat, they're slower
  • Don't trust your kid when he tells you that it was the 'W' train that just pulled in
  • When your kids ask where you're going, always say "It's a surprise!" (because it probably will be)
  • If you're guessing the smell is coming from the giant bodybuilding dude, keep your voice down and don't point.