I grew up on Long Island, but my heart has always been in the city. As a child, my grandmother Nancy and I made frequent trips into the city on the LIRR. I distinctly remember her disdainfully mocking the type of Long Islanders who were proud to never venture into the city. She was born and raised in New York and she always considered herself a true New Yorker. She had only moved to Long Island to be closer to my uncle and his brood.
I started coming into the city to hang out before I had even graduated from high school. I had a girlfriend who lived in Brooklyn and I always loved coming out to see her. The city seemed like a huge supermarket stocked with all of the best and worst things life had to offer. Most of all, I loved the diversity. On Long Island just being black made me a freak. Tattoos and Doc Martens were enough to draw stares in those days. Put the two together and you can imagine that I received lots of unwanted attention.
Worst of all, we didn’t have a car! My grandmother accomplished a lot of things in her life, but she never did learn to drive. She talked about it on occasion, but she never got around to it. Maybe that was for the best. We did our travelling on bikes and busses, which made us second class citizens in the suburban automobile based culture that surrounded us. Taking the bus was considered one step up from homeless. I’m not kidding.
Have I mentioned that the busses stopped running at 6:30 PM? Six thirty!
On the other hand, most people in the city didn’t drive. For the cost of a token, maybe $1.25 at that point, you could go anywhere you wanted at any time. It’s hard for someone who has never slept at an outdoor train station or walked home five miles from a mall to really understand how wonderfully liberating that felt. I moved to the city as soon as I graduated from HS and I wouldn’t dream of going back.
I’ve been here for about fourteen years now and I’ll admit that my love affair with the Subway has lost a lot of it’s gloss. In fact, I try to avoid the Subway whenever I can in favor of riding my bike or even walking. That said, the subway token will always be a powerful icon of liberation for me. And I would never consider living somewhere that didn’t have a great 24 hour public transportation system.
Observant New Yorkers may notice that I chose the original token design and not the modernized version that was in use when I actually moved to the city in 1995. It’s just a matter of taste, I preferred the design which included the “NYC”.
Non-New Yorkers may be interested to know that the Metrocard has completely replaced the use of tokens as of 2003. I can almost imagine some kid getting a nostalgic Metrocard tattoo once we start using chips embedded in our arms or some such thing in a few years.
p.s. I also got some nautical stars just for fun.