Sunday, March 22, 2009

Transit Tales

As a kid growing up, my father never owned a car until I conned him into it in 1961. (See 11/18/08 post: "I'm Still Here Lord" View ). Consequently, I was very familiar with the public transportation system of subways, elevated trains, buses, and yes you youngsters, trolleys. We were near the Rockaway Avenue stop on the Independent A train that took us to downtown Brooklyn or to Manhattan. I can still remember the pre-token days when the fare was a nickel and you put your coin into the turnstile. Not many fare beaters back then...why risk a kick in the ass from the cop on the platform for a lousy five cents.

We also used the elevated "Broadway line" which had a manned entrance at one end where you could pay your fare, and an unmanned exit stairway at the other end which became our unofficial entrance. Some kindly soul had taken a crowbar to the iron bars that blocked access to the platform such that the bars were pried apart just enough for a skinny kid to fit a leg through first, followed by head, torso and finally, the other leg. It was risky to be sure, and didn't work when we got bigger, but for a few years anyway, we could save our nickels for those Three Musketeers Bars that were twice the size of today's.

Back in the fifties there were trolley cars still running along Rockaway Avenue. They were later replaced by buses. My friend Rich's father Jim was a trolley car driver until a horrible accident involving failed brakes on the Williamsburg Bridge hastened his entry into the garment cutting trade. The trolley ran on tracks to Pitkin Avenue, a long strip of retail stores, restaurants and movie houses that we flocked to in the days before malls. (See 10/20/08 post: "Who Needs Rodeo Drive" View). When I rode with my friends, we sometimes just jumped on the back of the trolley to save the fare. Pretty dangerous in streets crowded with traffic you say? My answer in two words: Musketeers Bars.

When I got older, I took the A train to the Lafayette Avenue stop where my high school, Brooklyn Tech was located. The school gave us transit passes that we were supposed to show to the agent on duty who would then let us on to the station platform for free instead of paying at the turnstile. One year I lost my transit pass, and not wanting to tell my parents, I put those mechanical drawing classes I was taking at Tech to good use by hand lettering a forged pass. I was so pleased with the results of my work when day after day the station agents just waved me through. I realize now that being New York City transit employees, they would have waved a freakin' elephant through as long as they didn't have to look up from their newspaper! By the way, I was able to make a little money forging passes for other kids who had lost theirs. Shameful, you say. I say: Musketeers Bars.

The last chapter in my "transit tales" was written in my last year in high school. At Tech we all took a common curriculum in our first two years, and then selected a specialized curriculum for the last two years depending on our interests. When my turn came to choose, I wanted Commercial Art since I thought that's where my talent lay. Unfortunately there were not enough kids choosing that specialty that year, so I wound up in the Aeronautical Engineering group. I hated it, and by my senior year I was cutting classes regularly. Not proud of this, but there it is.

One way to kill the time I was supposed to be in school was to take the bus from the Broadway Junction stop near Truxton Street all the way to 168th Street in Jamaica, Queens. The bus stopped every few blocks, so the ride took more than an hour. At the end of the line I would simply board the next bus out for the return trip. I got to know some of the drivers, who never bothered me, I guess because I looked older than I was. I was pretty confused at this point in my life, but luckily, after working a series of so-so-jobs after high school, I got a big push in the right direction.

My young wife Jasmine encouraged me to get my Bachelor's and Master's degrees at night, and took on the responsibility for raising our children since I would often not get home from classes until late in the evening. She never complained, never made me feel guilty, just gently nudged me along until it was done. The degrees opened up new opportunities for me, and whatever I accomplished in life would never have been possible without her support. After nearly 43 years of marriage, she is still my inspiration.

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3 comments:

The Whiner said...

Well well well...where do I start? Cutting class??? Sneaking into the subway for free? Hmmmph...had I known all of this, I would never have accepted any punishments from YOU. (Maybe that's why you kept it a secret.)

I may have inheried your gift for forgery...when NY still had paper licences with NO PHOTOS I could change a "1967" to a "1964" with a razor blade and pencil better than most. I had a following. We were under 21, but could get into a bar.

It's a blessing and a curse, as Monk would say.

At least I never cut a class..

Jim Pantaleno said...

That's why I kept all these dark secrets until you and your brothers were grown. I take a twisted pride in knowing you inherited some of my larcenous skills.

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

good old Brooklyn know-how!