The New York City subways aren’t what they used to be. The subway cars are not ominous vessels with layers of graffiti covering every inch of both the interior and exterior. And you probably will not get mugged or stabbed. The new subways are bright and shiny, except for the occasional homeless person who has staked out a whole row of seats upon which to rest his or her weary and/or drunken head.
But what’s cool about the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority is how many layers there are beneath the multitude of tracks and what interesting unexpected stories they offer. It’s a whole world unto itself. Remember Lex Luther and Miss Teschmacher’s secret palatial lair, accessible by a stealth entrance along the train tracks in the original Superman? I would like to think that something like that really does exist. But here’s what I know is real:
1. If you’re heading over The Manhattan Bridge on the B or D line, you’ll find 228 hand-painted panels. It’s a zoetrope, meaning that the panels were installed between vertical slats alongside the tracks so that they appear as an animated motion picture. The artist is Bill Brand and the work, first installed in 1980, is called Masstransiscope. Set your camera on video and instagram it.
2. When you’re standing on a subway platform waiting for your train, there are several people living beneath you on different levels far, far, far down underneath the bustling transportation system. Sometimes they’re referred to as the Mole People. There is a book of the same name. They were also documented in a film called Dark Days, that’s definitely worth your time. It’s too bad they can’t have a Lex Luther style home down there. Things would be very different for them.
3. Finally, some of my favorite secrets of the MTA can be found at Grand Central Station. One of which is the legend of Track 61. Track 61 was thought by most not to exist. It is missing from the track gates on the Main Concourse of the grand terminal. Actually, Track 61 is a real thing, but it is so far hidden in the station sub-basement that it is considered a Holy Grail for urban spelunkers. Oddly enough, in 1965, Andy Warhol convinced the powers that be to let him have a party on Track 61. It was called The Underground Party and guests arrived through a secret entrance from an elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria. No photos from that star-studded clandestine party exist, not because it was pre-Instagram, but because the party was strictly cloak and dagger. I guess if anyone could have had a party down there, it would have been Warhol.