Dan Turner (Brooklyn)
When I entered Stuyvesant (as a sophomore) I was only 13, thanks to the SP. Incidentally, talk about good ideas! The “educational establishment” of the Board of Education of the City of New York felt that the “smart kids” would be bored by the three year curriculum of junior high school so, instead of offering an enriched 3-year curriculum for those kids, they decided to just put them through in 2 years (I’m sure lots of you were in these “Special Progress” classes). I mean, what could go wrong with putting a lot of nerdy, socially maladroit kids (some of them small in stature – that’ll be important later in this story) a year ahead with bigger, older kids?
In September of 1959, I was about 5’0” tall. Mr.Raphael, my chemistry teacher – who must have been all of 5’2” – towered over me the first day of class. I lived in Boro Park in Brooklyn, and took the West End line in to Union Square about half the time. Marshall Levine, who lived 3 short blocks away from me would walk over to my corner half the time and the other half I would walk over to his house and we would take the Sea Beach line. Both were BMT lines and both took us to Union Square where we would go downstairs to the Canarsie line and take it “back” 2 stops to First Avenue. (In nice weather we would walk from Union Square (which was where Broadway crossed 4th Avenue to Stuyvesant). Took about 45 minutes to an hour. By the way, by June I had “exploded” to about 5’4” and towered over Mr. Raphael.
This was so exciting! My neighborhood friends were in the 9th grade in junior high and I was getting up and traveling into Manhattan (“New York”, “The City”) – in the rush hour!! However, most of the adults who rode the subway in the morning rush hour were between 5’6” and 6’0” feet tall – and it turned out there wasn’t much air (oxygen probably) down at 5’0” feet. So, I almost passed out a couple of times (got sort of green and started to collapse) the first week, or two. All the adult commuters were very solicitous and moved back to give me a little air. Although I wasn’t happy that this happened a couple of times, it didn’t really bother me, or make me think that maybe this wasn’t for me. I mean, everything else about it was so exciting. I’d been Bar Mitzvah’d about 6 months earlier and, although they say, “Now you are a man”, that was nothing like going into “The City” during the morning rush hour! Now THAT was being a man!!
In late January of 1961, I arose in the morning in Boro Park and went to school to take a final exam – but I went home to Canarsie. We moved that day. (I always appreciated that my parents told me about the move. Johnny Depp’s father didn’t tell him they were moving, in his remake of the Willie Wonka film, and he returned home to find that, not only had his family moved, but that the entire building was missing.) So, from then on, for my last year and a half at Stuyvesant, I got on the Canarsie line at the next-to-the-last stop in Brooklyn and took it in to First Avenue. Pete Rotolo got on there, also. I recognized him from Mr. Lederer’s French class and we became life-long friends. About half an hour. Easy squeezy!
Just one more thing. I’d known Marshall since we were 4 years old and we became even closer, after Stuyvesant, during college. We were like brothers. He was best man at my first wedding. Tragically, he was murdered by a crazy fellow in Phoenix who killed about six people over the Memorial Day weekend in 2018. The guy was trying to kill people involved in a divorce/custody case that had occurred about 10 years before. Marshall wasn’t involved in that but he turned out to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jay Zlotnick and I still can’t believe it.
Arty Aptowitz (Brooklyn)
I didn’t know that my mother’s early train training, which began on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn would pay off so quickly. At age 11, I began going to Ebbets Field, the UN and the Planetarium by myself. But that was just prep for the later, daily, Stuy commute.
We had moved to New Lots, Brooklyn, before I entered Stuy, and I intentionally took a longer route that allowed my to get a seat on the train most days so I could study. First, though, there was a 10-15 minute walk to the IRT New Lots line. In winter, the frigid wind swept in from Jamaica’s Bay but I trudged onward, caught the 7th Avenue IRT and at Utica Avenue changed to the empty Lexington Avenue Express for the long haul to Union Square.
The latter was an everyday adventure as I stood at the edge of the platform, where a train door was supposed to open, so that I could get a seat. Most times I succeeded but often the door stayed closed and there was no seat to be had after the crowd entered thru that car’s two other doors. In winter getting a seat often subjected me to the baking heat of the fake straw seats from the radiators located beneath them. Stand and freeze your feet while your head felt like it was in a sauna, or sit and bake, your choice. At Union Square it was either walk to Stuy or walk thru the underground tunnels to the BMT Canarsie local for the 2 stop ride to First Avenue. Neither was attractive but one had to be done daily.
As a Senior I swapped the arduous route for a quicker, more interesting ride. Walk to the IRT, take it 2 stops to Junius Street and switch to the BMT Canarsie line for the direct to Stuy route. No seat to be had but a plus was often meeting my friend Larry (Stuy classmate) and, even better, the Catholic High Schools girls he had met. I mention religion only because Larry was far more religious than I so it was 2 Jewish guys and 2 or 3 Catholic girls yucking it up on the train. Only in NYC!
And so this should be the end, but it wasn’t. All in life is prep for something else. Seven years after graduation, I could be found riding the D train from mid-Brooklyn to the CUNY Graduate Center, then on E. 42nd Street, for their PhD program. Three years after that I rode the D for an hour and a half, to a teaching job at Lehman College in the Bronx. For a few decades more I rode the train to work daily. Most of us would not have gone to Stuy or even met each other if not for the MTA.
Note to Dan Turner: Mr. Raphael, who was shorter than me, gave me a love of Chemistry which lasted till my run-in with Organic Chem in college. After dropping out, post JFK death, I returned years later and found History. I lived a good part of the Sixties (the Army, fol!k and rock music, mild drugs, and protests). While helping with an earlier reunion, I contacted a classmate, friend, who said the Sixties were a vague memory, in a haze. I guess I remember too much to have truly lived them!!
Wayne Block (Manhattann)
My commute wasn’t all that interesting, but I will tell the story anyway.
I lived on the upper west side, 106th St. to be exact, just off Riverside Dr. I took two, or three trains to get to Stuyvesant, depending on the weather. Started on the “1” line at 103rd St. to Times Square where I caught the BMT to Union Square. That is where the weather came into effect. If it was nice out I walked down 15th St. If not, I took L train to 1st Ave. I’m not sure it was called the “L” at that time.
As I said, that isn’t all that unusual, but as with the letter you shared from Dan Turner, I too, started at Stuy as a 13-year-old having done 2nd and 3rd grade in one year. I wonder how many parents allow 13-year-olds to ride the subways unaccompanied these days? This comment may date me as someone who hasn’t lived in NY since 1971. However, Stuyvesant, not exactly being a neighborhood school, would be pretty hard to get to for many. When I lived in the Newport News, Va., area I had an assistant who was afraid to allow his 13-year-old ride the school bus. I had to kind of chuckle at that.
On another topic, when did Stuyvesant begin to be referred to as Stuy? I don’t ever remember that in my days there. Thanks for putting this together. I will enjoy reading the stories.
Fred Eckhaus (Brooklyn)
I lived in East New York, under the IRT 7th Avenue line which I refused to take, opting for the Canarsie line which was a 7 (short) block walk along Livonia Ave. Became friends with Mr. Fortunoff who swept the sidewalk in front of his shade and blind store (first of many storefronts) along Livonia.
Another SP veteran who entered 10th grade at Stuy all of 12 years old. Had to explain to Mr. McGarry, my home room teacher, what a bar mitzvah was because I was taking Friday November 1st off for mine. Came back to teach at Stuy, serve as Murl Thrush’s assistant for two years, succeeding him for a year after which he came back from one of his several retirements.
Class of 1968 has made me an honorary member as that was the class I coached.
Peter Persoff (Queens)
I lived in Bell Park out near Springfield Blvd. and Hillside Ave. in Queens. I would take the Q1 or Q43 bus to 179th street, end of the line for the F train. F train to Queens Plaza. Change for the GG to Lorimer Street, transfer to the BMT Canarsie line two stops to first Ave.
But then I discovered I could take the Q27 to flushing and get on, what is now called the 7 train, to grand central station, change for the Lexington Avenue line to Union Square, and transfer again to the Canarsie line. Or I could take a bus that would take me to 168 st in Jamaica, and take the BMT to Eastern Junction, and change for the Canarsie line there. It took about 90 minutes no matter which way I went. Even more variations were possible, like F train to 34 th street. I really learned the subway system going to Stuy and then for another four years at Cooper.
I could have walked to my local school, Martin van Buren. Arriving home in the winter it would be getting dark.Still loved Stuy and the subways.
Rich Shepard (Manhattan)
I grew up on W 84th St between CPW and Columbus Ave. I would take the C local from either 86th or 81st streets and CPW down to 14th Street. Changed there to what the current subway map says is the L line east to 1st Ave. On dry autumn and spring days I’d walk the 5 miles home, sometimes stopping at the library on W. 51 St (I think that’s where it was.)
I’d get to the school early as I was on the electronics committee for the cyclotron construction and we all worked before (and sometimes after) classes. In nice weather there was a knish vendor with his pushcart on the corner of 1st Ave and 15th St; if I correctly recall the knish cost $0.25. Bought one every day.
I left NYC in the summer of 1965, returned sporadically to visit family, but haven’t been back since 2006. Since 1965 I’ve lived in eight other states and two other countries ([West] Germany and Israel) and now have lived in the upper left corner of the US for 29 years.
Hope everyone attending has a great reunion and stays healthy!
Larry Kronenberg (Brooklyn)
I lived in the Linden Boulevard Housing Project during my years at Stuyvesant HS. The trip consisted of 1/2 mile walk from Ashford Street and Wortman Avenue to the IRT stop at New Lots Avenue, the first stop on that line. Of course I always got a seat. I changed to the express train at Utica Avenue and disembarked at Union Square. In good weather I walked from Union Square through Kleins Department Store to Stuyvesant. In inclement weather I took the Canarsie Line to First Avenue.
During my Junior and Senior years I worked at the Grand Central Station Post Office from 7pm to 11pm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and made the commute home after work at 11pm. I can’t remember any concerns about safety on the subway even at that late hour. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I returned home directly after school. The trip to and from Stuyvesant on M, W, and F was approximately one hour and 15 minutes. Tuesday and Thursday one hour and 45 minutes. Working the late shift at Grand Central PO gave me the bonus of an overtime hourly rate of $2.37 per hour, $0.25 above the day rate.
I was a rich young man. I loved attending Stuyvesant HS. Home room teacher Shakey Jake Lieberman Chemistry Teacher Slogan LSMFT. Lieberman’s. Sheets Make Flunking Tough.
Joel Wittman (Manhattan)
My commute to Stuyvesant was simple and uneventful. I was living on the Lower East Side and took a bus that ran along Delancey Street, north on Avenue B, and west on 14th Street to the First Avenue stop from which there was a one block walk to the school (2 blocks if you used the 16th street entrance). Several classmates joined the ride along the route, and we would socialize and even discuss schoolwork.
The bus company was privately owned, not affiliated with the MTA, and issued its own bus passes which were valid only on their buses. They were not accepted for a subway ride except when the company experienced a labor strike; you could use the pass in the subway for the duration of the strike. So, in our upper senior year semester, there was a strike, and we used the subway to travel, although much less convenient.
The strike ended but Howie Miller (a classmate) and I decided to take the subway to our after-school jobs (we were very industrious). We never thought that the station agent would be able to look at the bus pass and catch us in the act of not paying the fare. Little did we know – one day a police officer was in the station and asked to see our passes. Bam – we’re busted; two sixteen-year-old Stuyvesant nerds caught by the cops. He was a nasty guy and issued us a ticket/summons to appear in court. Can you imagine what our mothers would say and do when we told them – ouch!! So, we appear before a judge who “sentences” us to several sessions with a court-appointed social worker in an effort to rehabilitate we two criminals. We dutifully attended the sessions, discussed our activities, tried to show that we were not criminally inclined, and were terrific prospects for complete rehabilitation.
Attending Stuyvesant and entering college in the fall of 1962 also supported our good upbringing. Interestingly, our mothers also had to meet with the social worker apart from us. Comes time for the court appearance after the sessions and Howie comes up to me and says that we’ll get off. When I asked why he told me that the case before us was dismissed and that was for attempted rape. Whew – what a relief. Don’t know if that had anything to do with the judge’s decision but he dismissed the case.The two nerds escaped without a “criminal” record and went onto successful and happy adult lives.
Moral of the tale: Don’t let saving 15 cents (the subway fare at the time) cloud your good judgment.
Matt Deming (Queens)
1958 -1960: Q2 bus from 205th St & Hollis Avenue in Queens to 179th street easternmost end of IND line. “E” train to 14th Street and 8th Avenue, then crosstown local to 1st Avenue, about a 90-minute commute. Always a seat and lot’s of time to do homework on the way in, since I got on at the beginning of the line. Since dad worked at Bell Labs facility on West Street, we shared part of the morning commute. Coming home, if I missed the westbound at 14th Street, I would run to the other platform and take the eastbound to the Eastern Parkway Junction and catch the Jamaica El and get the bus at 169th St which was only a couple of blocks over.
We moved in the summer of ’61 as far out as you could get and still be in the city for school, and the commute became almost 2 hours. 1961-1962: Q43 bus from 267th and Hillside Avenue, the beginning of the line, to the179th Street subway station, then as above. Occasionally, if the weather was good and dad was feeling flush, we would walk over and take the LIRR from Floral Park Station to Penn Station, then I would catch the “E” to 14th Street, etc.
There were actually 2 different Q43 eastbound busses; the one that went to 267th Street and one that terminated inside the main gate at Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital. One day in May of ’62, I got on the wrong one, dozed off on the way home, and awoke when the bus driver announced “end of the line”. This would not have been a problem, except that I was wearing my new senior hat, customized with motorized prop and blinking lights. The distance from the bus stop to that front gate was only a few hundred feet, but seemed like miles as I kept telling myself “Don’t run, try to act normal, don’t run..” (I did escape).
Steve Shestakofsky (Brooklyn)
When I enrolled at SHS I was living in the Ocean Hill section of Brooklyn located between Brownsville, Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights. I was in the SP at JHS 210 in Crown Heights since my local school didn’t have the SP track. Two of my JHS classmates enter SHS with me — Alvin Newman and Eldon McIntyre. Thus, we entered 10th grade in 1959. They didn’t live anywhere near me so I commuted alone.
My neighborhood was working class when I grew up but by the time I entered SHS it had deteriorated. The six block walk to the subway’s Rockaway Avenue station on the IND Fulton Street line could be a bit dicey. I had two routes to school which I varied. I would either take the “A” train to 14th Street and the BMT 14th Street-Canarsie line to 1st Avenue, or, I would head out in the opposite direction and travel east one stop to Broadway Junction and pick up the BMT there. I was always a subway buff so I would station myself in the first car and look out the front window whenever possible. I made a boring ride a little more interesting.
Midway through 11th grade we moved to Eastern Queens. It was a bit of a culture shock to me going from an old tenement walk-up to an unattached single-family home in a suburban neighborhood. My commute lengthened considerably and again I had no classmates nearby. I now had to take a bus (Q-44A) five miles down Union Turnpike to board the IND at Kew Gardens station. I would then take the “E” train to 14th Street and proceed as previously on the BMT to 1st Avenue.
Although I first reversed the trip for my homebound commute, I met a group of other classmates who lived in Queens and changed my route so that I could have some company. I wish I could remember their names. I believe we picked up the IRT Lexington Avenue line at Union Square, changed at Grand Central for the Flushing line and I would debark at Woodside to transfer to the IND and wend my way back to Kew Gardens and the bus. The long commute wasn’t fun and, given the homework load, was a factor in my non-participation in most extra-curricular activities. Nonetheless, I knew that I was getting a better education than the neighborhood kids and that gave me some satisfaction and made the schlep worthwhile. I attended Queens College and the two-bus trip to QC was a breeze in comparison.
Pete Rotolo (Brooklyn)
I used to commute using the LL train from the next to the last stop in Brooklyn to14th street in Manhattan. It was rush hour in the morning and if you gave your seat to a woman who was going to work, she would hold your books until her stop. It was a local so it made every stop to Manhattan. I do not remember how many stops but the ride seemed never ending.
The station in Brooklyn was 105 or 108 street. It was ground level and I believe the only subway station with a railroad crossing gate. You had to run under it if you were late for the train. Cars had to stop.
Rob Silver (Brooklyn)
I either walked a mile to the subway or took a bus to Utica Avenue. I took the 4 or 5 train to 14th Street and either walked or took the L train to 1st Avenue.
Mike Sokal (Brooklyn)
Like Dan, I too commuted by Subway from Brooklyn (specifically East New York), taking the IRT 7th Avenue Local (now the 1 train) from its first stop (New Lots Avenue) to Union Square. Every so often, I’d get a ride to the New Lots Avenue station on the Canarsie Line and have the direct ride to the First Avenue station, only a block from Stuyvesant.
After Stuyvesant, I attended Cooper Union (at 8th Street & 4th Avenue) and at the same time (coincidentally) moved to Gravesend in Brooklyn. There I’d board the West End BMT at its second station (Bay 50th Street) and (again like Dan) ride to Union Square.
I want to pick up, however, on Dan’s mention of the SP Program, largely because I attribute my academic career to my participation in the program. It enabled me to finish George Gershwin Junior High a year earlier (1959) than I otherwise would have, and I then graduated from Stuyvesant in 1962, and from Cooper Union in 1966, and I left graduate school in 1970, even before I finished my dissertation. And 1970 was the very last year that every person in my academic field (history of science & technology) who was looking for a job actually found one. (I taught at Worcester Polytechnic Institute from 1970 through 2005, with sabbatical years at the Smithsonian and as a Program Officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation.)
I’m not saying that I couldn’t’ve gotten an academic job had I gone into the job market a year or two later; I did have a competent career, and I was even elected President of the History of Science Society in the early 2000s, running against a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. I wonder, however, how many of our classmates could report an analogous impact of their participation in the SP Program.
Barry Freeman (Manhattan)
My commute to Stuy from 91st and Broadway was usually uneventful—2 trains and the shuttle across 42nd St. But not on one particular morning. I stood on the platform waiting to board the shuttle, the doors opened, and I began to walk through with dozens of other commuters. That’s when it happened—I must have tripped and my leg slipped down between the subway car and the platform, all the way to my thigh. I was frozen. Within seconds (that certainly seemed like hours), several pairs of strong arms reached down and pulled me up, freeing my leg and my brain.
I walked into school as if nothing had happened and never told anyone, certainly not my parents. All their fears about their only child traveling in NYC alone would have been realized. Just told my wife. You are the second to know. Almost gave “life and limb” to my school.
Jim Burger (Manhattan)
I would take the Lexington Avenue IRT express from 86th Street to Union Square and transfer to the BMT to First Avenue. If it was a nice day, and I had the time, I would walk from Union Square.
I have a few memories of my commute. I will never get out of my head the repeating announcement at Union Square station: “Please stand clear of the moving platform as trains enter and leave this station.” Also, I remember the morning commute crowds on the express trains. Once we were stalled just before entering Union Square station. It was winter and those old cars only had heat. In our winter coats, packed cheek to jowl, it was miserable. I was amazed no one passed out.
On the way home we often would ride between cars – probably not a good idea. A transit cop busted us. We probably would have just gotten a verbal warning. However, one of my friends was tossing pieces of bagel at people on the platform. So we each received a juvenile delinquency count. Three counts and you were considered a JD.
Speaking of Transit Police (most of you will remember it was a separate force back then), a uniformed transit cop entered my home room and talked to Pops Abramowitz, my homeroom and French teacher. Pops turned to me and said “they finally got you.” “Go with this officer to the principal’s office.”
I was baffled. I had no idea what they wanted with me. It turns out on the day before one of the students who commuted with me was sexually assaulted on the packed car. All I could contribute was that I felt someone push against me. I did my crowded-subway-car kick back. I heard an “ouff” and the pushing stopped. I thought nothing more about it.
Apparently, he did more to my friend, who didn’t tell me about the incident. A plainclothes transit detective was assigned to ride with us each morning for a month. The first thing he said was “let’s take the local, it’s not much slower and it’s much less crowed.” So much for looking for the perpetrator! I thought it great, we had our own armed bodyguard and we got to ride to school for free. In those days our transit card only worked from school-to-home. I thought it cool, walking through the exit gate into the station with “our” detective flashing his badge.
Shelly Sachs (Bronx)
As I read Marty Miller’s post on the News, Notes, & Musings page, it reminded me of the daily trek to Manhattan that Marty and I had along with our fellow classmates, Howie Medoff, Judah Ronch, Freddie Feingold, Phil Melnekoff, and Joel Krumerman. It was more of a social event than anything. The seven of us were all SP grad’s from JHS 135. Marty, Howie, Judah, and I would hop on the IRT at Allerton Avenue, and we’d meet up with Joel and Phil at the next stop, Pelham Parkway. Freddie, who lived in between the two stations would take his pick, but met us faithfully.
Sadly (and remarkably), three of us have died. First Freddie, then Joel, and, most recently, Howie. We spent a lot of time together and I’ll dearly miss those guys. Freddie had a twin brother, Jerry, whom I lost track of after Junior High (I wonder what ever happened to him?).
In any case, our journey took us next to the 179th Street station (West Farms Square) where we’d hop on the “Through Express” to 42nd Street (maybe there were a couple of interim stops, like 125th Street, I don’t recall), and then on to Union Square (14th Street on the IRT). On many mornings, we’d meet up at the West Farms Sq. station with Arnie Netka and Randy Zimmerman (and, occasionally, other guys) who came down on the Dyre Avenue branch. Like I said, a social event.
The real fun started when we arrived at 42nd Street. Every so often, but not too infrequently, someone would say, “I’m up for a movie. Who wants to join me?” And off some of us went, leaving the more studious among us to continue to journey southward. There were also occasional diversions to pool halls, notably the one on 14th Street.
Once we arrived at 14th Street, it always included at stop at the Horn & Hardart on Union Square for breakfast. I will never forget that Howie would often get macaroni & cheese and, every once in a while, he would have these nosebleeds into his food. We’d then always walk to school, regardless of the weather.
Dave Ross (Brooklyn)
I Subwayed on the D train from Boro Park in Brooklyn to 14th Street. Sometimes walked from there, sometimes took the Canarsie Line (?), especially on cold winter days, to get closer to Fliedner’s building. Nothing unusual there.
However, my first class was “Zero Period”, starting at 8 AM, so I could leave early in the afternoon for baseball practice. That meant I had to wake at 6:15a in order to get to Stuy by 8. Again, not that unusual—maybe a little more so.
The real killer was “Double Zero” period in the winter in order to have indoor baseball practice, starting at 7:15a (Do the math). I hated that half-mile walk to my first station at Ditmas Avenue, the cold wind hitting me in the face and getting down my neck. Was it worth it? Well, to quote Roy Hobbs, “God, I love baseball!”
Bob Bornfriend (Bronx)
My commute was 1 hr 15 mins by bus and 2 trains. I got on the bus in Riverdale at 256th St and rode it to the terminal of the A train at 207th St. Took the A train to 14th St where I changed to the Canarsie Line over to 1st Ave, then walked over to 2nd and 15th. I would do homework on the trip down and sleep on the trip back. I think a lot of the back problems I have now were due to the heavy bookbag I used to carry.
My first few trips were traumatic for an introverted boy who had previously walked to school. My Dad, who worked downtown, laboriously typed out step by step instructions for me to follow. Bless his heart, he took the time to trace the route in advance for me in great detail. But pretty soon I figured out the best place to stand for the car I wanted and became an old hand by the end of my freshman year.
After graduating I swore never to get into a position where I’d have to commute that long again. I succeeded, but there were a few years where I came close, at 60 minutes by car. A conversation I had today reminded me of one of the banes of my subway travel experience: musk perfumes were at their peak back then. I can almost smell those suffocating, overpowering fumes as I write this.
Tom Trevor (Manhattan)
My three-year commute to Stuyvesant High School from Washington Heights was so uneventful that I can remember only one trip in detail.
I lived two blocks from the 181st Street station of the IND A Train and never had an issue finding a seat in either direction. The subway all but functioned as a time travel machine. You entered in one universe and exited in another.
While I attended JHS 115, Humboldt Junior High School, my mother deemed it necessary for me to have braces to correct some anomaly with my teeth. On the last day of class in the 9th grade, I was running an errand that terminated with the speech therapy teacher.
She said, “You have a speech impediment, a whistling S.”
I was assigned to speech therapy sessions at Stuyvesant three times a week before regular classes began. For some odd reason, I enjoyed them, happily reciting “Around the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran” and “She sells seashells by the seashore,” ultimately ridding myself of regional accents in another life.
One winter evening there was news of an impending snowstorm for the next morning. In my zeal to get to speech therapy class, I donned my warm winter coat, hat, galoshes, and gloves and caught an earlier downtown A Train from the shelter of the deep underground cavern that houses the 181st Street Station. Forty minutes later, after changing for the Canarsie Line at 14thStreet, I emerged at 1st Avenue and walked the snow-covered deserted streets to the school building. Along with a fellow who turned out to be a teacher who lived in Stuyvesant Town, I read the notice, scribbled on a sheet of loose-leaf paper, taped to the main entrance: “School Closed Today Because of Snow.” I’m not sure if that’s what the note actually said after all these years, but the message was clear: “Go home!”
Upon my return to the Canarsie Line Station, I learned that the intense and intensifying snow had shut down that subway line. And … the A Line as well. What! I knew that subways never shut down!
I walked home in that blizzard, comfortably clothed, on my wide-eyed trek up Broadway, watching the landscape morph through decades of development. A morning which began with my quirky zeal to ride the A Train to attend a class most would deem burdensome turned into an unlikely urban adventure in line with a lifetime of walking Manhattan’s streets, allowing its buildings to speak to me, reading history in their facades … faded and crumbling … restored and repurposed.
Stan Mandell (Staten Island)
“Are there Indians there?” asked Mr Harris, our music teacher during our freshman year, fall of 1958. That was in the days before more appropriate terminology became de rigeur. Behind the kidding (“Do you get to school by canoe?” “Is there running water?”) was the plain fact that few of my classmates OR teachers knew anyone from Staten Island (Borough of Richmond). If they had heard anything at all about my “home town”, they told me, it was either boy scout camp or a cemetery where a relative was buried.
Yes, it is a curious fact of history that this large island, connected by three bridges from New Jersey over very narrow channels named Kill van Kull and Arthur Kill along its long western coastline, wound up a part of New York City. New Jersey was much closer than 25-minutes on a ferry, in those days touted as “the longest ride in the world for a nickel”, to get from SI to Manhattan.
Our group of 6 ferried freshmen, Bob Bourne, Kenny Ligot, Johnny Gray, Randy McKee, Peter Shkymba and myself were a rare breed: the pioneers, probably to some extent a byproduct of the national panic caused by Sputnik. There was a long-standing and larger contingent of SI students attending Brooklyn Tech. On the SI Ferry, we also met students from Music & Art and a few ultra-stylish gals attending Fashion Design (out of my league, I thought.) But to our knowledge we were the first and only Stuyvesantians that year.
Morning on the 7:30 ferry was all business. Although I would easily get a seat on an older, two-level boat, it was packed, mostly from adult rush-hour commuters going to work at office jobs on Wall Street and lower Manhattan. Serious-faced, newspaper-reading, coffee-drinking adults with their daily grind. And it was rare to bump into a fellow Pegleg in this mass of humanity.
But the 3:15 ferry in the afternoon was a totally different story. Usually we had a 3-decker newer ship, outdoors with the sea breeze in warmer weather, with whole rows to oneself to do homework or play in a hot pinochle game with Brooklyn Tech students. I always enjoyed that New York Harbor voyage, indoors or outdoors. And sometimes with a large doughy pretzel.
And what sounds and smells and sights! Seagulls and wake leading back to the Manhattan skyline and three Brooklyn bridges. To the left, Governor’s Island and the fortress. Ahead, slow construction progress on the massive new Verrazano Bridge. To the right, my heritage, Ellis Island. And the Statue in all of her glory: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Alan Schulman (Brooklyn)
A Cow Grows in Brooklyn: Commuting from what Wikipedia calls “Bay View Houses” (houses? 8 story buildings!) wasn’t awful. I liked living in the land of the Canarsee people (phrase borrowed from the NY Times).
From the bus stop to the Canarsie station was just over 1 mile and the bus’s pace was 3 MPH. I can’t remember why I didn’t walk, but perhaps I just liked to complain. The Canarsie station and rail-yard didn’t interest me much except for two things. In serious snow and cold they used kerosene heaters that looked like cartoon spherical bombs to heat the track switches so that they wouldn’t freeze. Putting Descartes before the cow (more soon) they emitted violent vapors of black bile. The second was a sign for cars dropping people off that said “alternate merge”. Too bad we can’t understand that today.
The only other station I’d like to bring up was 105th St. It had two wonders. The first was a grade crossing and the second was what I thought of as an old sad cow. The last cow in Brooklyn? Who knew that I’d marry the daughter of a county agent who raised some polled herefords for his sanity and taught us (minimally) to care for them.
When the gradient in the tunnel under the river went positive I would awake and force my way out of the car at 1st Avenue. Sometimes that was difficult.
Stuy’ had a rifle club. I’d never have known except that a kid a year or two behind us rode the same train and once a week carried his rifle on the train. Imagine that today.
Returning home was different. After the 8th period Barry Dorf, Harvey Rock, and I would often futz around in the ham radio shack and ~5:00 we’d walk to the Nedick’s at Union Square for a rolled (gag) frankfurter. Then we’d wind our ways home.
Mike Kwatinetz (Brooklyn)
I, like many of us at Stuyvesant commuted to school using the subway. Given the number of characters in NYC this proved to be constantly interesting. Since my ride was about 40 minutes on the BMT I often did homework or read a book during the ride. However, one of my unique experiences was playing music on the train. Well, sort of. Let me explain.
In my junior year I decided I wanted to learn to play the piano. My parents decided that before paying for lessons they needed to see if I would be willing to practice regularly. The problem was, we didn’t own a piano. My parents had a solution that was quite elegant (at least to them). They bought me a foldable cardboard replica of the keyboard for me to practice on! Since they trusted me, I was on the honor system for tracking how much I practiced. I decided the best time to do it was during my subway ride home from school.
Needless to say, I then became one of the subway characters as I studiously played the cardboard replica. Of course, no sound emanated from it so I was not disturbing fellow riders. However, I did find that playing a cardboard piano was not for me and gave up the thought of taking lessons on a real piano. To this day I blame being tone deaf on the fact that all notes sound the same on a cardboard replica of a keyboard!
Bob Bourne (Staten Island)
My odyssey to 15th Street began with a very simple question by my mother to the principal of PS8 in Great Kills. Given that my choice for high school (yes, I had a choice) was New Dorp, then on triple session because of overcrowding or Tottenville with a poor academic reputation, the question was posed, “Are there any other choices for my son?”. The principal responded that Stuyvesant had just been reopened to freshmen and that I should take the test. My life changed forever!
So at thirteen and a half years old I became a full fledged commuter along with all the adults. A ten minute walk to the Great Kills SIRT (Staten Island Rapid Transit train station), a 25 minute ride to St. George, 30 minutes or so on the ferry, and then the First Avenue bus to 14th Street. Money was tight with us as with most of my classmates so I quickly learned to get a combo pass that allowed me to ride the First Avenue bus to school in the morning for a dime and take the subway home for free. This saved a nickel per day since riding the subway north to 14th street would cost fifteen cents. The last third of each semester the subway was free both ways so during that period it was subway in both directions.
As Stan Mandell has written, there were only 6 of us. Two of them, Randy and Peter, have passed and nothing is known about John Gray. Travel on the SI Ferry was always interesting. As a freshman it was initially to avoid the hazing by the Brooklyn Tech students. After that it was always interesting. Often during the winter we would be riding one of the older two deck boats and the challenge was to see how long you could tolerate the wind and the cold sitting outside on the top deck. While I loved my Stuyvesant jacket it was not made for that environment. We also discovered that the seating in the rear was tolerable because the shape of the boat created an air pocket that kept us out of the cold wind.
The SIRT ride was generally boring, but it did make me feel a part of the grownup world. The ferry ride was always enjoyable except when I was bullied by one student. But, and it is a big but, once I started riding the NYC busses and subways did my life education begin in earnest. I grew up in a sheltered environment in Great Kills and all of a sudden there were all these people with different backgrounds. It has always been interesting when I consider how my innate sense of safety developed. I never had a problem in NYC because I instinctively knew where not to go. The subways were crowded, hot and miserable in the summer, but I became one of the masses and just pushed my way in.