Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sheets of black

I remember looking up at the train as it passed overhead.
Like the sound of thunder on a clear Kensington morning, the dirty black subway cars slowly rumbled by. And as always the large shadows of the train made their way though the playground.
Sheets of black silk gently moving over the swings, seesaws and then finally the small brick building where the bathrooms were.

I just stood there staring up at the train, it hissed, moaned and clattered until it was finally out of sight, just slithering away into the distance until there was silence.

I guess I was about four years old when my mom used to take me to that playground on Dahill and Cortelyou. At the time there was an elevated train that used to connect the Ditmas Avenue F station with the Ninth Avenue D train station by 39th street. I think it was called the “S” shuttle train. And although I never really traveled on it that much, I was certainly fascinated by it as a kid. That’s because the El that the train traveled on was almost directly above the playground my mom used to take me to all the time. And let me tell you, I was certainly one who loved anything that traveled on two rails.
So when it came to going to the playground, I probably spent more time waiting for the next train to come rather than climbing the monkey bars.

And my mom, well, she was never really the type to chase me around the playground or slide down the slide alongside side me. No, my mom would always sit there on the concrete and wood bench, and watch me play instead. And that was perfectly fine with me you see, because I really never saw any other parents sliding down those slides either. No, when it came to the playground, our parents knew where their place was, and that place was usually on a hard bench in the corner somewhere.

But that all changed the day my mom
decided to ride the seesaw with me.

Now I was always a skinny little kid, and my mom, well, let’s say she was always kind of “big” if you know what I mean. She was probably about five foot nine and well over 175 pounds at the time. While I was no more than 40 pounds or so, and skinny as the subway rails above the playground.

“Ok Ronnie, are you ready to try the see-saw with me?”

I remember sitting on the wooden plank of the seesaw and looking at my mom across from me. She was smiling at me and was telling me to “hold on to the handle”.

But just then another train started to rumble by overhead. I looked up at the subway cars as they thundered by and was fascinated once again by their wheels, windows, and noise.

And then without warning I remember feeling myself being thrown into the air. I was floating way above the seesaw and the playground. The train suddenly was not that “high” above me anymore.

“Wow, can this be heaven?”

And then I started falling towards earth.


I remember waking up and seeing my mom’s face above mine. There were other people too all staring at me. I guess I forgot to hold on to the handle along with my mom forgetting that she weighed almost four times as much as me. My mom told me that I hit the back of my head on the concrete so hard she thought she killed me.

But even though my head hurt real bad, at least I got a
real good look at that train that day. Because that El was
torn down some years later in the 1970's.
And the rumble of that train can be heard no more.

And as for riding on a seesaw?
Well, I've never been on one since,
and never plan to ride one ever again.

Ron Lopez
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Spinner said...

This explains a lot Lopez. That was the Culver Shuttle by the way.

Anonymous said...

I went to that park all the time and remember the shuttle very well and the playground and the monkey bars w/concrete below it. no foam pads for us. In the middle of the night you could hear the shuttle screech around the turn while all else was quiet if you had your windows open in the summer - again no a/c for us. In later years they put a pool in that park now its just grass and the handball courts.

Pete said...

Spinner is right - the Culver Line...and the picture was actually taken on 13th Avenue facing back toward Kensington...

Mark B. said...

The Culver Line it is...most of my fond memories of the neighborhood include watching the guys play bocce underneath the El at 13th Avenue and then, every fall, watching the freight line pull up a boxcar filled with cases of grapes that the neighborhood guys would buy and make into home-made wine. Fifty years ago we'd share a pie at Red's on 13th Ave.......

Anonymous said...

Yes the bocce courts how could we forget the old Italian men there every day for years. And Reds - what a nice neighborhood restaurant - thats gone too. As is Carini's pastry shop which was on the corner of 38 & 13 by Scottos. It's another bake shop now. And the chicken market - lets not talk about that - I'd never go in there. That was back when 13 ave was a 2-way street. AND the retail market. To my knowledge, the only city-run retail market still left is on Essex St. in Manhattan. Yes Kensington had many cool things.

Mark B. said...

Check out this link for photos of the Culver line under demolition:

The shuttle ran until May 11th, 1975 and was replaced with free transfers to the B-35 bus that ran along 39th Street. The structure between Ditmas Ave. and 9th Avenue was torn down in the late 1980's and the free transfer to the B-35 bus was eliminated in the early '90s. (However, the MetroCard fare collection system once again offers a free bus transfer.) The back of the southbound Ditmas Ave. canopy was "filled in" with the MTA-standard corrugated steel windscreen wall and only a glimpse of the fourth track structure is visible from the front, rear, or below the station remains.
(excerpted from