I made a decision. “I will try,” I said to myself. “I will take the train to Manhattan instead of the car. Let me see what it’s like.”
This way I will find out if my friend is right in what he says: that the subway is returning to its previous state.
The train for me was the only means of transportation in Manhattan. We are fortunate that the newspaper’s offices are one-and-a-half blocks from two train stations – 36th and 39th Avenue. It does not take more than 10 minutes to get from there to Manhattan.
This is a great convenience. After all, this is the comparative advantage of Long Island City and Astoria. That one is so close to Manhattan that it is almost like living there.
Before the coronavirus crisis, trains ran very often. Every three to five minutes – as I observed – a train was passing. And they were always full – or suffocatingly full at rush hour. They were filled with a lot more people than just a few years before.
The population of Long Island City and Astoria has grown significantly. Buildings shoot up like mushrooms. Wherever you look, they are building. And of course, the area around Queens Plaza, near the newspaper's old offices, has become unrecognizable. It is filled with skyscrapers – you think you are in Manhattan.
So how is it possible for the number of passengers on trains not to increase significantly?
I hesitantly climbed the stairs of the station. I was alone. I tried using my MetroCard that is used to gain entrance. It would not allow me to enter the platform. I tried again. And again. Nothing.
I approached the clerk at the information booth. He checked the card on his computer. “The expiration date has passed,” he told me with a smile.
It makes sense after so many months since I have taken the train.
“Maybe you can make an exception due to the pandemic when we could not use the subway?” I asked him.
“No,” he answered me. “But you do not need to buy another card,” he said. “Just place your debit card over the device at the turnstile. It's very easy.” And indeed it was. I passed.
I climbed the stairs to the platform. There was no train coming. From up there I could see what was happening around the area. New buildings everywhere. Buildings that did not exist a year ago.
The platform was spotless, with stickers on the ground that read "keep a social distance.”
Soon the train appeared. I immediately noticed that it had no graffiti – no ‘works of art’ that budding ‘artists’ paint on trains, on walls, etc. It was full – it was late in the afternoon, rush hour – with mostly young people. They all wore a mask as is required. They were sitting next to each other, reading something on their cell phones. Almost as if nothing was happening.
I wanted to find a place that would allow me to be some distance from the others. It did not exist.
Passing by Queensboro Plaza station, I gazed at the new tall buildings, side by side, like trees in a forest.
I know the neighborhood well. I remember how it was. It was not a good area. It was nothing like the way it is now. And I suspect that in a few years it will be even more different.
We entered the tunnel that runs under the East River. I looked more carefully: the seats, the windows, the whole car. It was spotless. There was silence, as if out of respect and appreciation for the trains. When they ‘went away’ almost a year-and-a-half ago, that signaled the cessation of the normality of life.
And now that they are ‘back’ they are a strong element of the return to normalcy.
The trains are running. Clean, on time – and proud. And as long as they run, New York has nothing to fear. Nothing.