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  • Michael Krakovskiy 8:11 pm on November 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , New Jersey, , , Q, , , stainless steel worms, steel panels, subway systems, , , , Vintage Train New York Transit Museum   

    Catching the Vintage Train 

    New York Transit Museum operates a special subway train made out of a ragtag selection of vintage trains.  Normally these trains are used as a stationary exhibit, sometimes as a vehicle for special events (like the Old City Hall station tour), but sometimes all straphangers are in for a treat: the train operates on normal subway lines.

    Most people view subway trains as uniform utilitarian objects, stainless steel worms that swallow them in point A and if everything goes well spit them out in point B. But in reality the modern NYCTA system is made out of a hodgepodge of different train models, a legacy of three different subway systems. Many old train models have been retired, like the beloved “Redbird” trains. And by retired I mean dumped into the ocean to become artificial reefs in NJ. I remember riding redbirds, and sometimes used to encounter other old trains before they have been scrapped in favor of the more technologically advanced, but poorly designed R160-style trains. The museum train is a special case of this.

    The rivets and a mishmash of large windows and steel panels give the old R1 cars look of living prehistoric creatures. Graffiti writers of the 70s hated these cars because they did not have a lot of flat surface to cover in paint and called them “ridgys”. Modern train cars mostly do away with the front windows, cutting off the whole front for a spacious machinist’s cab.

    This unfortunate design decision leaves less space for passenger and does not allow kids of all ages to get “machinist’s view”.

     

    These trains don’t sound like the new ones: they don’t make the “ding-dong” sound when the doors are closing, but produce a pleasant “ksssht-pfft” noise of a pneumatic actuator. Instead of whining a few melodic notes like the R160s, R1s roar like propeller planes.


    One unique feature is the lack of large plastic American flag stickers that were added to all trains after 9-11.

    Helvetica was not dominating the typography of the subways yet. In fact, it was not yet created.

    The alternate reality feeling permeates the cars. Dangerous looking ceiling fans, exposed incandescent lightbulbs and vinyl seats were from an era less concerned with vandalism.

    State of the art pre-war climate control: rider-accessible vents

    and futuristic fans

     

    The tiny little rattan seat behind the machinist’s cab and the completely different design of the hand strap.

    One of the biggest difference with the modern trains is how the conductor works. He operates the train with the two hand grips while standing precariously between the cars.

     

    Here’s a video that shows this a little better

    One of the coolest parts is the fact that you can ride between the cars (something that is against the modern MTA rules. “<a href=”http://www.deadprogrammer.com/looking-at-the-things-flashing-by/”>Looking at the things flashing by</a>” normally gets you a ticket, even if it’s an amazing experience.

     

    Here’s a video:

    Gold and pinstripe “CITY OF NEW YORK” signs are gorgeous, but the ad reproductions are more entertaining than authentic.

    A friend of mine who remembered these trains from his youth told me that the part that he hated the most about them were the rattan seats: they tended to fray and fragment into pin-sharp pieces of fiber. Rattan seats look beautiful and are extremely comfortable when new, but I indeed sat down on one seat that had a broken section that was uncomfortably sharp. On the other hand all of these trains feature “conversation-style seats” turned 90 degrees to each other instead of the horisontal rows of benches that are the standard today.

    Some dubious advice, although I’ve seen this happen.

    I’m pretty sure this patent ran out by now.

    Currently this train operates every Saturday through January 19th. This page lists the schedule of departures. A round trip to Queens takes about an hour. The best way to catch the train is to arrive on 2nd Avenue stop of the F line in Manhattan. The train spends about 10-20 minutes standing in the station there, so it’s easier to catch. In Queens it does not stand on the platform, but the departure times are pretty accurate. If it’s more convenient, you can just spend a 15 mintues to half an hour waiting along the weekday M train stops, like 47-50th Street/Rockefeller Center.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:00 am on February 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , New Jersey, , , Waterfront hotel,   

    Mudsharked 

    When I worked at TV Guide I had a co-worker who frequently used a phrase “couldn’t we just” (pronounced with a whiney way with a New Jersey accent) to drive web developers to the outer reaches of annoyance. The thing is, in software development there are very few things that are “just” and a lot of resons why we couldn’t.

    One of the main reasons is that people tend to abuse just about any feature that you is created for them. This goes doubly for nice features.

    Let’s say you have an understanding boss who lets you have some flexibility in your workday hours. You can safely bet that without frequent admonitions to come in at a reasonable hour your fellow cowokers (and probably yourself) will probe the limits of when to begin a workday to a ridiculous degree.

    When I worked at a clam counter at Nathan’s at Coney Island we used to have a set of one pint containers with horseradish and cocktail sause. My supervisor told me to keep them under the counter and only furnish when requested. After a number of annoyed customers asked me why “couldn’t I just” leave them on the counter, I complied. What could go wrong?

    A day later two homeless gentlemen had an argument over something and used the containers as projectile weapons against each other. My supervisor sent me out to clean the mess with a dose of “I told you so” (apparently this same exact fight happened in the past).

    The thing is, your fantasy is usually not enough to envision the ridiculousnes to which features can be abused. For instance, as a fisherman I’ve always had a fantasy of fishing out of a building’s window. When I was taking a cruise around Seattles’s waterfront with my wife, the boat’s guide pointed out the Waterfront hotel, and mentioned that in the past hotel’s management provided fishing rods and tackle in the rooms.

    The problem turned out to be not that the clients did not catch fish. The problem was that instead, they caught too many, and left their catch to rot in sinks, toilets and bathtubs. Tired of antisanitary fish carcasses they nixed this feature.

    When I came home, I looked up the hotel, and found the bit that the guide left out. This hotel was the place where the infamous Led Zeppelin “mud shark incident” took place. The link is certainly not PG 13, because rockstars, hotel rooms, fish caught out of the window, and groupies is a dangerous mix.

    Has a feature that you created ever been mudsharked?

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 4:05 am on September 10, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 30 Rock, , , , , Die Hard, Jane Krakowski, John McClane, , Kenneth Cole Productions, Larry David, Louisiana, Massive Dynamic headquarters, New Jersey, , , , , , , , The Birth of a Shoe Company   

    Cinematic New York 

    When you live and work in New York, you spend a huge amount of time on tv and movie sets. Most of the time the sets are abandoned by the shooting crews, but very frequently tv or movie magic is happening as you are walking by.

    Why is New York so overrepresented on screen? Part of it is because it’s New York. But it’s also because the city government is also very friendly to the moving picture industry.

    When I worked on a website for Kenneth Cole, I learned an interesting factoid: the real name of this fashion powerhouse is Kenneth Cole Productions. It turns out that in the early days they abused a perk that the city gives to movie people: ability to park their huge trailers in places where normally only city services vehicles can linger. Cole applied for a permit to shoot a movie called “The Birth of a Shoe Company”, parked a huge truck in front of a hotel where a major shoe show was taking place, and proceeded to sell enough shoes while cameras were rolling (sometimes even with film) to start a company.

    While watching a movie or a show set in New York I get a lot of “oh, hey it’s” and a lot of “hmm, where’s that?” moments. Sometimes a movie or a show becomes more memorable just because its locations are so familiar to me.

    Let me give you some examples about how cinematically impregnated my environs are. Take, for instance 30 Rock. I spent 7 years working in two buildings that are behind 30 Rock, and every little thing in, under and over Rockefeller plaza is seared in my brain. Also, I have the same last name of one of the actors (is Jane Krakowski a relative? Probably not).

    The 47-50th Street/Rockefeller Center subway station that I got out at almost every day for those 7 years (unless I missed a few stops while reading or sleeping) is the one featured in a key scene in Darren Aranofsky’s “Pi”. The Brighton Beach bus stop in “Requiem for a Dream” – one of my first American jobs was right there, handing out fliers for a gypsy psychic. One of the buildings where I worked, 1211 Avenue of the Americas was very subtly featured as Sideshow Bob’s prisoner number in a Simpson’s episode.

    Sterling Cooper corporate headquarters are famously located at a non-existing 405 Madison Avenue. On the other hand 415 Madison Avenue is a very real building where my wife used to work.

    When I go to and from work now, I pass a grating which John McClane ripped off in one of the Die Hard movies to jump on the top of a moving train. The building where I work? Well, it doubles as the Massive Dynamic headquarters on “Fringe”. They do a lot of shooting at the floor where I work. You can see our big conference room called “Jail” in a number of commercials. You know, Doctor House, he’s supposed to stay in New Jersey, but one time he slept on “my” couch at the office after shooting a commercial there. The butterflies of doom from Fringe also live in “Jail”.

    Ironically, the only famous person who went to my hight school is Larry David, the co-creator of a certain show about nothing set in New York, but shot in LA.

     
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