Blue Notes, December 2019
Updated: Mar 2, 2021
The New York Water Taxi offers daily ferry rides from Pier 11, at Wall Street, to the IKEA in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The fare, a mere $5, is even waived if you spend at least $10 at the famed furniture store. And the trip across the East River is picturesque. Freed from weekday obligations for Fall Break, it felt practically obligatory to board the ship and float, without a care in the world, to that promised land of northern European descent.
Upon exiting the South Ferry station, a trio of ticket-peddlers bombarded my friends and me with questions about where we were headed and where we came from. As long-time Manhattanites— we had lived in this town for two and a half months!—we were undeterred, and continued apace.
Our confidence waned, however, upon reaching Pier 11, where we found that the boat had already departed for Brooklyn. Rather than wait an hour and a half for the next ride, we elected to take a Via, and we took comfort in the knowledge that our return trip on the ferry could and would provide an equally stimulating experience.
Walking into IKEA felt like entering Jurassic Park, except instead of dinosaurs, we found cheap furniture and funky lampshades. We stocked up on chocolate and Christmas decorations, and we shared Swedish meatballs and pear cider. We then had no choice but to take another Via to L Train Vintage, where we purchased some fine winter sweaters to don on the chilly ride home.
When the R train pulled into Times Square, we realized we had completely forgotten about the ferry. We shrugged.
Illustration by Sahra Denner
The Roosevelt Island Tramway was built in 1976 as the first commuter aerial tramway in North America. Today, it is one of only two in the United States. Despite these facts (and its brief cameo in the 2002 movie Spiderman), the tramway remains largely unknown even to long-time residents of New York City. Once the only mode of transportation from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island, the tramway now seems to serve as more of a tourist attraction for adventurous New York City visitors.
It costs a $2.75 MetroCard swipe one way, making it much more affordable than most excursions in the city. Most riders left the tram at Roosevelt Island only to swipe right back in for the ride back. Of course, the tramway isn’t exclusive to tourists. One man, wearing the hoodie and weathered backpack of a comfortable New York native, laughed at the excited groups by the windows. “Look how amazed they are,” he said amusedly to a nearby passenger. And he was right. There was not a person in sight without a cell phone or camera in hand to capture the view. But it’s not hard to see why.
The tramway escorts riders over the East River, where they come face-to-face with the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. Stepping onto the tramway at 4:40 pm ensures sunset views on the way to Roosevelt Island and the lighting-up of Manhattan on the way back. The tracks go just near enough to buildings to offer a peek into a few luxury apartments. If you look toward downtown, you can even spot the top of the Empire State Building. Two swipes of a MetroCard and about ten minutes round trip makes for a quick, cheap detour from the flashiness of Columbus Circle. The station at 59th Street and 2nd Avenue is hard to miss. And as if the view isn’t incentive enough, how many people can say they’ve stood in the same tram as Tobey Maguire?
On a cold, sunny November morning, I journeyed from Van Cortlandt Park-242nd in the Bronx to South Ferry in Lower Manhattan—the entirety of the 1 line. While I expected to find myself impressed with the breadth of the New York City subway system, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this trek constructs a timeline for the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) fascinating history.
The station at Van Cortlandt Park-242nd, designed by the architectural firm responsible for St. John the Divine, is the only Victorian Gothic elevated station left in the city. Little of its appearance has changed since it opened in 1908 during a city beautification movement. I particularly appreciated the ornate scrolled station sign—the only one that remains in the city.
From there, it’s only a short walk to the park itself, which truly feels like the woods compared to the bustle of the city. After fighting my way past a large high school cross-country meet, I found myself in the colorful depths of a surprisingly dense deciduous forest. Only after climbing to the top of a large rock could I glimpse the skyscrapers of Midtown.
There are several landmarks tucked away in these 1146 acres, but the most notable was the Van Cortlandt House Museum, the oldest building in the Bronx. Built in 1748, you can see the bedrooms and sitting rooms of this famed revolutionary war family elegantly restored to their colonial roots.“The floors are entirely original!” declared the museum attendant enthusiastically. However, the house museum also invokes darker side of this history, as it was built by enslaved Africans who worked on the family’s surrounding plantation. This is acknowledged briefly on the tour only in an unheated attic room described as a “possible sleeping chamber for enslaved servants who worked in the house.” It seems that these details were glossed over in favor of a legendary depiction of the man who remains the namesake of the house—and the park—to this day.
I hopped back on the train to South Ferry, traversing part of the Bronx and the entirety of Manhattan in just under an hour. Though there have been various stations in this location since the early 20th century, the present-day iteration opened in 2009—just over a century after the one I had just visited up north. After its post-Hurricane Sandy 2016 renovation, it’s obviously not one of the MTA’s many neglected stations, but its metallic sheen doesn’t boast quite the same charm as 242nd street.
Though I ride the 1 several times a week, there’s something oddly satisfying about traversing the entire length of a line, like reading a book from beginning to end in one sitting—just one story line in the impossibly large library of New York’s history.