Newark, Hoboken, and Oculus

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Having taken the Adirondack from Montreal to New York yesterday, today was an exploration day.

A confession: when I went to New York City in 2010, back when Erin was premiering Plain Kate, I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed to the point where I didn’t enjoy it. New York remains one of the great cities of the world — possibly one of the greatest — but it is just so huge and expensive and unrelenting that I, a boy who grew up in the thick of downtown Toronto, found myself crushed by it. That and the $20 pastrami sandwich bought near Times Square kind of ticked me off.

This may be a bit of an exaggeration, or an overgeneralization, as I found much to like in New York when I went a bit off-centre. We ate some of the best pizza ever at Lombardis in Little Italy. I enjoyed the New York City Transit Museum in Brooklyn. And though I don’t think I could do the MTA justice in one day, there is one rail system I could explore thoroughly: New York City’s “other” subway, the Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH).

As a Canadian, I’m kind of used to my public transit coming in nice little compartments. Local transit agencies in Toronto and Montreal operate the streetcars and the subways. Vancouver’s Skytrain is a local interest. If there is another class of train, it’s usually suburban commuter rail. The idea of an entire agency running what is essentially a second subway in a city kind of blows my mind. But they exist. Twice, in fact. New Jersey’s Port Authority runs PATCO, Philadelphia’s second subway (after SEPTA’s two-line network) extending from the downtown across the Delaware into Camden, New Jersey and beyond. The Port Authority Trans Hudson crosses the Hudson River, serves Midtown New York with a branch near Penn Station, and has a terminal at the World Trade Centre.

There’s a tale about the PATH and the World Trade Centre terminal during the September 11 attacks. After the planes struck, and few people knew really the extent of what was happening, PATH decided not only to suspend service, but to not let anybody out of the World Trade Centre and put them on trains to New Jersey instead. This they did with commendable efficiency, emptying the station. One last train went through, evacuating all the remaining personnel, and by 9:30, there was nobody left in the World Trade Centre terminal. Only one empty train, left behind, was lost when the World Trade towers collapsed.

It strikes a chord to imagine those moments, being on the last train out of the station. Like being on the last plane out of Beirut Airport. The stranded train cars were damaged by the collapse, of course, but not destroyed. They were recovered and retired, and are now a part of the collection at the Shoreline Trolley Museum in East Haven, Connecticut.

So, today, I left my hotel at Newark Airport, took New Jersey Transit to Newark Penn Station, and boarded the PATH train for the World Trade Centre. I visited the new terminal, with its great hall called Oculus, that rose from the ashes of the World Trade Centre. Impressive is putting it mildly. I also visited the 9-11 memorial. Strange as it sounds, though you can still hear the city around it, that place feels quiet. I also toured the PATH terminal at Hoboken, and rode the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line. I ate lunch at a neighbourhood dinner in Bayonne, New Jersey. Though a little rough around the edges, they did not stint on their cheese or their bacon on their grilled cheese and bacon sandwich.

Sometimes, the best way to photograph the CN Tower is from a distance. Up close, you just strain your neck. Similarly, perhaps the best way to experience New York is across the river from it.

You can see my photos of the day here.

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