Monday, May 31, 2010

A Token Memory

The token booth was old and black and it was not very big at all. It's hard to say what it was made of; it may have even been wood. The booth stood in the middle of the station, quite far from Church Avenue and an equal distance to Albemarle Road. The North/South corridor is now closed for construction, but if it ever opens again you could still see the bolt threads that were cut flush to the concrete. I know because I saw them just a few years ago. I remember that my head barely reached the old wooden coin exchange when I would hand the clerk fifteen cents. And of course my Mom was standing right behind me when he gave me the token, which was about the size of a dime at the time. I just handed it to my Mom and then ducked under the large wooden turnstile, making sure not to hit my head. Forget the beeps, lights, and stainless steel that you passed through this morning on the way to work. It was old painted metal and worn out wood. And you had to be sure not to touch the turnstile; you may even get a splinter. Because the token booth was right in the middle of the station the distance to the nearest staircase was not that close either. So if you ever saw the lights of the F up at Ditmas Avenue from the corner of Church and McDonald chances are you would NEVER make that train. So the Church Avenue commuters of yesteryear certainly got a workout each and every day trying to catch the train. The Manhattan bound platform was never really pretty either; even as a five year old back in 63, it smelled like things I just didn't understand yet. "The lights, the lights", I would yell to my Mom, pointing up the black tunnel towards Avenue C. And that’s when it happened every time; she would take her very strong Polish arm and just lock it around my chest from behind. Giving me a close look at the gold and diamond ring she wore. I just said nothing as the very dark and dirty train roared into the station. With yellow lights shining from the inside it almost looked like a hotel rather than a train. My Mom would always grab my hand real tight too when walked inside the car. The seats were bamboo, the walls were a ugly green and there were gigantic oscillating fans spinning on the ceiling. So maybe on second thought it looked more like a bar on Miami Beach rather than a hotel. There was no constant hum of an air condioning system, LCD lights or whatever electronics that make today’s subway cars sound like your computer's hard drive. No, it was this low pitched chugging of compressor motors building up brake pressure, babies crying, people talking, laughing or coughing. And of course the squeaky sounds of the fans turning overhead. The doors just closed too, no bongs or PA system either to tell you to "watch out". There was also the odor of burning electric, grease and oil. I could only compare it to the "Eldorado" at Coney Island, an electric bumper car ride. We would usually find a seat and I'd watch the dark green doors slowly close. The train would slowly lurch forward, and we'd be on our way. With a low pitched "groan" that slowly built into a higher pitched "whine" you heard every single sound that the electric motors below your feet made. With the yellow tunnel lights passing the outside of each window like a stream of stars, the old train would creak and rattle and dance away on the rails below. The sweet sounds of the subway was all you heard, leaning against my Mom I would close my eyes and fall asleep.

I sometimes take my son to the Pavilion up by 15th Street; instead of driving we just take the train. “Hey Dad, why do you put your arm around my chest when the train comes?” "Oh, did I do that?". “I don’t know Son, I guess it’s just a habit”.

Ron Lopez

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