May 9, 2017

It looks like normal life to me.

"'Hell On Wheels' – Amazing Photographs Of The NYC Underground In The 80s."

I rode the NYC "underground" all the time in those days. In fact, I looked through the photographs hoping to find a picture of myself. That's almost me in the foreground of the last picture — in the billowing skirt and carrying the Village Voice.

These pictures don't seem amazing to me. If anything, I'm surprised that there isn't a lot more graffiti.

39 comments:

Bill R said...

I remember taking the train through the Bronx in those days. Rent control and spiraling crime and chaos had made it impossible to maintain rental housing and so one by one, the buildings burned. From the elevated train platform, the Bronx looked like Berlin after the war.

Giuliani brought the city back and not a minute too soon.

Owen said...

Why isn't Bernard Goetz in any of those pictures?

Robert Cook said...

Yep...looks just like the old days I remember. I was never fearful riding the subways and I was never a victim of subway crime.

EDH said...

Remember when everybody thought the Warriors shot Cyrus?

Sean Gleeson said...

Looked like normal life to me as well. I was riding the Chicago trains at that time, and they looked pretty much like that.

David said...

The subway was my main source of transportation when I lived in NY in the middle 1960's. It was cheap (for me not the society) and reasonably efficient. Sometimes it was unpleasant but not that often. I far preferred it to the busses and their endless stops. Not that I had much choice. I could not afford a car or a taxi.

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Luke Lea said...

I would have hoped that would have been you in the top photograph. Forget manspreading.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

What I notice about the graffiti isn't the quantity (Ann, I don't see how there could be more of it, though -- every blank surface is covered in it), but the stunning badness. Say what you like about present-day graffiti "artists" (I will confine myself to saying that I don't like them, and that every art museum sponsoring a graffiti exhibition ought to open up its own outer walls to be "decorated" on a permanent basis), but they have an awful lot more style than that. Most of it seems to be scribbles in black Magic Marker.

I did like the image of the two black guys in the walkway (?), though. The one nearer the pillar is wearing a coat whose buttons exactly mirror the bumps (rivets?) on the pillar itself. Same size, same spacing. I'm betting the photographer saw that and said to himself, "Bingo!"

Well, that and the two women heading up the stairs, one in flats, the other in stiletto-heeled boots ...

TestTube said...

"Amazing" is not a word I would use for the conditions shown in those pictures. Nor is "Normal"

exiledonmainstreet said...

"Amazing" is simply clickbait.

Bill R wrote:

"From the elevated train platform, the Bronx looked like Berlin after the war."

Or from a plane when you were landing at LaGuardia. I remember staring down at the blocks and blocks of decrepit buildings in awe - I had never seen urban blight on such a huge scale.

NYC, like Texas, does everything in a big way.

Fernandinande said...

Yuck. Perhaps even "Eee-yew!"

Fernandinande said...

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damikesc said...

Looks like a dump.

Original Mike said...

Yuc. Thank God I was pedaling my bike to school/work in Madison in the 80s.

Arthur James said...

Great photos reminded me of Spike Lee's 'Summer of Sam'. The first woman, amongst the beauties, looks like Dean Wareham's girlfriend Britta Phillips. Ann could I suggest you open you links to a new page. I always have to come back to your blog once linking.

tcrosse said...

Just as I remember it. A good thing we don't have Smell-o-vision.

Michael said...

I came from Minnesota, lived in Manhattan, and rode the subways all through the 1980's. It wasn't that bad (on average), although you did develop a certain situational awareness - again, not a bad thing.

rehajm said...

Fortunately the pictures don't capture the odor but if you were there they certainly help in the recollection.

William said...

It wasn't so dangerous if you travelled during rush hour. Unpleasant but not dangerous. One time the train I was on got taken out of service, and some of the passengers tried to kick out the windows. There were a lot of delays and failed trains back then....If you travelled off hours there was a palpable sense of menace. One time, late at night, the train stopped for ten minutes. Then a couple of cops with their guns drawn went running through the train. I didn't know what it was about, but it made you wonder what was gong on in some other car on the same train.. The subway was a cheap ride not worth taking to a job not worth having.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Who is holding the Village Voice in the last picture, the woman in the billowy dress, the woman who is dabbing her face or a third person who is obscured by the other two?

LordSomber said...

The women actually look like women.

Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Etienne said...

Left Bank of the Charles said......the woman in the billowy dress

We called them "Granny Dresses" in the 60's. Very hip. In a caucasian way...

TestTube said...

James Lileks, some time back, wrote about a planned Disney-themed community in Orlando.

He noted that the planned community received a fair amount of snark.

Then he posited a world where everyday experience was more like Disney, because most of us would prefer and then for the few who prefer gritty urban environments, well, we could have theme parks that reflected THAT.

He put it better, of course. I know he is an Althouse reader. James, if you see this, can you provide the relevant link?

I often think of James' article while I sit in my happy, tidy '50s ranch house with my nice neighbors and quiet neighborhood. 70's New York would be hell to me, but some people view it with fondness.



MrCharlie2 said...

I haven't been on the NY subway since the 70s. Are you saying it's not like that anymore?

readering said...

Misleading title. The photos start in 1977, the year I arrived in NYC. Takes me back. What I remember most vividly was the summer, when there would be maybe one car per train that was air-conditioned. It would be crammed full, while the other cars empty enough to get a seat. If you had a job with a suit it was a tough decision.

Bay Area Guy said...

Ahh, many fine memories of NYC in the late 60s as a kid, then as a teenager. My Grandpa Mike lived in The Bronx, would take me on the subway to the American Museum of Natural History. The old tokens back then.

By age 16, I would take the subway at Pelham Bay into Manhattan, alone, never had a problem, soaking up the city, the graffiti, the burned out buildings, the splendor of Manhattan, a lot of day-dreaming. Those pics capture those feelings pretty well.

Otto said...

The picture Ann referenced was the downtown platform of the 72nd street station of the 1,2 and 3 west side line. Those columns are a sign of the original stations built in 1904. This station has a unique head house, not the typical old kiosk design. A great website to know more about the NYC subway system is www.nycsubway.org.

sinz52 said...

In NYC, air conditioned cars were phased in only gradually from the late 1960s through the 1980s. As late as the early 1980s, only about half of the subway cars were air conditioned.

Furthermore, the B Division (the old IND and BMT lines combined) got air conditioning before the A Division (the old IRT). Even though some IRT lines were extremely crowded and the stations tended to be hotter. As late as 1980, the A Division had no air conditioned cars at all.

Otto said...

@ Bay Area Guy
That line is now called the #6 line. In my day (50s) it was know as the Pelham Bay line. Took that line from the 149th st station.
There are over 700 miles of track on the NYC subway system. One of the great engineering feats of the 20th century.

Jeff Gee said...

The 8th Street stop on the RR line had the best graffiti, in terms of quotable content anyhow, from about 1974 through 76. This was probably the work of NYU & Cooper Union students and not on the walls themselves but on the ads. For several weeks there was poster for a Burt Reynolds / Catherine Denueve movie called 'Hustle' down there. Someone drew word balloons for Burt & Catherine. The words were whited out and rewritten several times a week and their conversations never failed to brighten my day. By 1977 the Golden Age of the 8th Street Subway Stop was over, tho.

TestTube said...

Ah! Found it!

Here is the Lileks link:

http://www.lileks.com/disney/disney/disney07/index.html

"Again: why isn’t everything else so clean? Why can’t we have cities that look like this, and theme parks full of urban grot for the people who want that authentic experience that graffiti-slathered-metal-shutters represent?"

Robert Cook said...

"I haven't been on the NY subway since the 70s. Are you saying it's not like that anymore?"

Decidedly not.

Christopher said...

In the first photo, the only place without graffiti is on the passengers.

I was there during 1983-86, and this is how I remember it. Glad my Mom never saw these photos (though she did cry, God love her, when she first visited my apartment).

The Godfather said...

I was in NYC 1965-68 in law school. I took the subway everywhere, occasionally supplemented by busses (but I'd probably walk rather than take the bus). This was mostly pre-graffiti, mostly pre-turnstyle jumping. In fact, the subways were pretty safe. Being a student, I'd sometimes be traveling at 3 am, and I never had a crime problem.

What you see in these photos can fairly be blamed on John Lindsay, Mayor of NYC (1966-73). Lindsay, then a Republican, needed to save money on transit to preserve the low fare, so he reduced the size of the transit police (there may have been other issues, but this is what I remember). Graffiti and all sorts of minor crimes blossomed on the subways. In the '70's and '80's I was living in DC, but my wife and I travelled to NYC frequently for shopping (her) and the theater (us). When on my own, I wanted to take the subway, because if you're a real New Yorker that's what you do, but seeing every car covered with graffiti inside and out made me feel -- how shall I say this? -- uncomfortable.

Do you doubt the "broken window" theory? I don't. Wilson was right.

TWW said...

Fake news. These photographs were taken last week.

Ctmom4 said...

Wow! 250 serious crimes a week in 1979 and 6 murders in two months . I had forgotten how bad it was. I remember s rash of people being pushed in front of trains, usually by a psychotic homeless person. Probably not as many as in my memory, but they loomed large in my mind. I never stood too close to the edge of the platform. Chain snatching was a thing too, so if you wore a gold chain you would put it under your blouse or coat when you were out. I had my wallet picked on the subway once during rush hour because I forgot to keep my hand on my bag. Never made that mistake again.

Once, my sister and I took the subway into Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon to visit my Dad at St. Vincent's Hospital. A guy got on the train carrying a rooster, and sat across from us with the rooster on the floor beneath his legs. Whenever the train took a hard curve, the rooster would crow. No one even looked up.

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