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A Flâneur in New York (and a bit of New Jersey) via Amtrak in COVID mode

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MARC Rider

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Baltimore. MD
With my belly now full to bursting, it was time to continue my jaunt through the streets of New York.

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Down Ludlow St. from Katz's to the subway, here's the Lower East Side in it's classic glory. Except that 120 years after its heyday, it's a lot cleaner and quieter, especially with Covid keeping a lot of people off the streets. Imagine it full of people, pushcarts, large families crammed into the small tenements, the noise, the smell.... A way of life that's gone forever, and I suspect my grandparents, who lived a little of it (though in Baltimore) would say "good riddance!"
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Delancey Street, looking towards the Williamsburg Bridge that connects Manhattan with Brooklyn. Several subway lines cross the river using the bridge. I was heading for Essex St. to take the J train to Lower Manhattan.

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It appeared that all trains were running on roughly 15 minute headways. This is definitely not typical for New York on a weekday. The crowds were very sparse, and it was easy on both my subway rides to get a socially distance seat.

I took the J train to Fulton St. From there a couple of blocks walk took me to the "Occulus," the beating heart of the new rebuilt World Trade Center.
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Whoever designed this underground very upscale shopping mall must have been channeling Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel and description of the planet Trantor in his Foundation series.

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At one end of the Lower level, the PATH trains to New Jersey can be found. I paid my fare and descended to the platform.

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The interior of a PATH car. No problem with social distancing today!

I got off at Exchange Place, and the only way out was via an elevator that I had to share with four other people. But we were all wearing masks, and the 4 people squeezed into the 4 corners of the elevator car, and I stood in the middle.

I went out on the street and quickly found what I was looking for, the station for the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line. Despite the name, the line does not (yet) serve Bergen County, though one branch does serve a part of Jersey City called "West Bergen." Building the line has resulted in a major development of the Hudson River shoreline between Bayonne and Hoboken. My first wife was from this area, but as soon as her father made some money, he moved the family north into the nicer suburbs. Jersey City was considered a pretty beat up washed-out place back then, though in the late 1970s I remember watching something in the very late 1970s on either the CBS Evening News or 60 Minutes about how Hoboken was starting to get revitalized, and for a lot less money than a place in Manhattan you could get an apartment with a nice view of the Manhattan skyline, whereas for much more money, you could get an apartment in Manhattan with a view of . . . Hoboken!

The light rail platforms are a bit elevated above the tracks in the manner of the DART trains in Dallas. However, the cars themselves are only on one level, so one has totally ADA-compliant level boarding for every seat on the train. The senior fare was $1.10, a great bargain. One thing about this service, you can't call it a "high speed line." The tracks snaked in and around buildings, and the trains had to go pretty slowly, though most (but not all) of the route was grade-separated. Lots of highrises right along the river, new shopping districts. I consider this to be one of the largest transit-oriented developments I've seen, though some of the urban design was still a bit large in scale and maybe a bit too dominated by cars. I'm not sure what flânerie would be like in this area.

After a while the train crossed over the approaches to the Holland Tunnel (definitely not transit oriented development!), around a corner and a view of one of the largest passenger rail yards I've ever seen, full of every kind of New Jersey Transit railcar and EMU that I could recognize. This of course, was the New Jersey Transit (nee: Erie-Lackawanna) Hoboken Terminal, the only New York area commuter rail terminal I've never visited. (Well, I guess I have now.)

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Here's the light rail at Hoboken Terminal.

more to come
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
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Apr 5, 2011
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Baltimore. MD
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Approaching the old Lackawanna Terminal.

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Here's a view of lower Manhattan from the Lackawanna Terminal. Note the air shaft for the Holland Tunnel off to the right.

This is one of those great classic railroad stations that you never hear about. It's definitely worth a trip to see. The best think I liked about it was the nice restroom. (The fact that the restroom was open at all was, of course, the nicest thing about it. :) )

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Metro-North equipment, ready for the run to Port Jervis.
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Waiting room seating is closed off, due to Covid. I think that most passengers don't wait around here, the just get off the ferries or PATH trains and right on to their commuter train. In its heyday, it must have been nice to wait here for the Phoebe Snow to take you to Buffalo or Chicago.

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This place got hammered during Sandy. That floodmark is at about my eye level.

I took the ferry to go back to New York, which was the traditional way it was done before the Holland Tunnel and PATH trains were built. NY Waterways runs the service, which is a lot more expensive than the NYC Ferry that connects to Brooklyn and Far Rockaway. $7.00 for the ride to Brookfield Place/Battery Park City ($6.50 for seniors) vs. $2.75 for the NYC ferry (or a ride on the PATH train.) I'm not sure why commuters would use this, though perhaps they sell monthly passes at a discount.

The ferry docks are right outside one of the doors from the waiting room. It's all covered over and wout of the weather.

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The ferry slips from the water side.

And now, over the river and back into New York. Farewell, New Jersey!
 

PVD

Conductor
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Jul 8, 2015
Messages
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NYC/Queens
Beautiful day for this, cool and clear.....Whenever I think of Baltimore and the immigrant experience, I think of Barry Levinson's "Avalon"
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
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Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,235
Location
Baltimore. MD
A nice little Hudson River cruise:

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After landing on the Manhattan side, a walk along the North Cove yacht harbor to see how the other half lives:

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Brookfield Place, another glitzy shopping mall, though of a more conventional design than the Occulus in the World Trade Center. I was getting a bit dehydrated at this point and wandered around looking for a place to buy something to drink. A marketplace-type food court in Brookfield place was closed, then I thought I'd try the Amazon Go concept that Google maps located for me in Brookfield Place, but that was closed. Finally, after wandering a couple of blocks the other way, I found a Gristede's (a local grocery chain) and found some nice cold water and coconut water. After stoppoing in a shady spot to rehydrate myself, I headed back to the World Trade Center, walking around the perimeter of the 9/11 Memorial, which appeared to be closed off by (hopefully) temporary barricades. It appeared that people could enter, but only through a few checkpoints. I don't know whether this was due to Covid or because this was Sept. 8, and I suppose they were getting ready for some kind of commemorative event on Sept. 11. I didn't inquire, as I have seen the memorial before, and it was getting late, and I wanted to have time for dinner before my train departed.

Upon entering the Occulus, I realized that I needed to use the restroom again. Aha! I say direction signs for such, but as I approached them, I saw a maintenance worker put up a "Closed" sign at the door. Apparently some sort of major plumbing disaster, might be a few days before they get it fixed. And as far as this person knew, that was the only restroom in the whole humongous fancy shopping center! Well, there was nothing to do, but soldier on and find a subway train to Midtown.

I decided to take the R train up Broadway to Greeley Square. (33rd st.)

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At some point, we seemed to be stuck behind another train, and were barely moving. So I got off a stop earlier, at 28th St., and walked the 4 blocks up to 32nd st. It was about 5 or 10 minutes after 5 PM. When I got to Greeley Square, I spied a public restroom. Halleluyah! No quite. As I approached, I saw a park worker locking the place up. Apparently, the restrooms close at 5 PM. Oh well, nothing else to do but look for a place to eat. Maybe they have restrooms.

After a short cruise down the outdoor dining establishments on 32nd St., I decided on the Five Senses Korean Restaurant. I had a very nice socially distanced table to myself on the street, and, thank goodness! they had a restroom. The outdoor menu was a little stripped down, as they all are, these days. The BBQ meat entrees (bulgogi, galbi, etc.) were a bit expensive at arounf $35-$40, but a nice seafood bibbim-bap, including a bunch of Korean Side dishes was available for $18.

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Thus sated, I was ready to return to Penn Station and my train home.

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Yes, these are views of 7th Avenue at 32nd. Street on a weekday evening at about 10 after 6 or so. In other words, the New York rush hour in the age of Covid.

Now, the epic conclusion as Amtrak does it again.
 

PVD

Conductor
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Jul 8, 2015
Messages
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NYC/Queens
The Museum associated with the memorial re-opened on 9-12 with appropriate precautions. The exhibit had reopened with controlled access.
 

Bob Dylan

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Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
20,477
Location
Austin Texas
Boy, even for NYC, the food prices seem High! I've not had any Korean BBQ that was worth $40, nor any $23 Sandwiches anywhere except in San Francisco,Vegas and Tokyo!! 😵

And the $7.50 Ferry rides are only found in the Bay Area far as I know.( the Staten Island Ferry is still the Best Transportation deal in the World!)
 

MARC Rider

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Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,235
Location
Baltimore. MD
Hello Penn Station!

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The famous New York rush hour in America's busiest passenger train station. (about 6:10 PM)

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OK, there were a few more people down at the LIRR level, but still, for 6:10 PM.....

After my quick tour of the station, I found the Club Acela, and settled in. A quick glance at the departure board showed that train 55, the Vermonter was "on time." Oh, how they like to tease us....

I called home and let my wife know I was at the station and ready to come home. Then I did a wiki-walk on my phone looking up something or other to kill time and distract myself from the CNN political blather emanating from the TV in the lounge. When I glanced up at the departure board (maybe it was 6:30 or so by then), my heart sunk, as I saw what every Amtrak traveler fears, yet expects -- the word "delayed."

A quick check on the Amtrak train tracker showed that Northeast Regional 137, which should have left quite a while earlier was stuck somewhere in the Bronx. Train 55, the Vermonter was stuck around Stamford. Both were recording speeds of 0 mph, not very good showing for America's "higher speed" rail service. An inquiry to the lounge attendant revealed that the reason for the delay was the actions of a major class 1 railroad that shall remain nameless, but is sometimes colloquially referred on Amtrak Unlimited to as Crash, Smash, and eXplode." Apparently there was a derailment of a freight train in the Bronx, and the Northeast corridor was completely shut down.

My mind went back to a train ride in North Carolina the previous year, when a delayed Carolinian was once again, somewhere between Cary and Greensboro, held for a passing freight. "Next time I'm taking the freight train," one of my fellow passengers had said. Apparently, that wouldn't have worked in this case.

Curse these Class 1 railroads! Not only do they mess up Amtrak trains running on their tracks, they mess up the Amtrak trains running on Amtrak's tracks.

Time passed. There was no word at how long this delay would be. I was starting to think about whether I should compare the prices of New York hotel rooms with those of a one-way car rental to Baltimore. Then I overheard a guy sitting in the lounge talking to the attendant about how Governor Cuomo put Maryland back on the "list of shame," and that would have to cancel his next business trip. By rights, I should thus be quarantined! (Not that anybody cared when we passed through New York in July, and even spent a night in a motel in Albany.)

Finally, the word came out that they were going to combine 137 and 55. I'm not sure which train set was used, though I suspect that 137 had finally managed to make it around the derailment and creep into Penn Station.

Finally, they announced the track, and out we went into the concourse.

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After a little bit of confusion, which included an Amtrak PD officer serving as a gate dragon (and not knowing anything about what track the train was on), They finally let us down to the platform and on the train we boarded.

As I mentioned earlier, I had purchased a business class ticket for the trip home. Now business class seats are assigned on Northeast Regional 137, but for my train, 55, it's open seating. so I wondered how they would handle that. As it turned out, there were so few people in the business class car, it didn't really matter. We settled ourselves in, and the train pulled out at 8:50 PM instead of the original 6:45.

As soon as we got out of the tunnel and were in New Jersey, I called home with an estimated ETA. Then I went forward to the cafe car for a stiff drink.

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Well, sort of stiff drink. The cafe attendant offered me two of the little bottles (though I'd have to pay separately for each), but I did realize that I was going to have to drive home from the station, so only one would have to do.

The southbound train also made more stops than usual, but at least we skipped New Brunswick and Princeton Junction.

Once I left New York and I was no longer in danger of being dragged into quarantine, I was also able to swap masks and show my Maryland pride.

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We had no further delays, and the train arrived in Baltimore at 11:25 PM for a travel time of 2:35.
It was late, but usually, even that late, there are more trains on the departure board than what was showing there. I'm not sure if it was because trains were cancelled due to the derailment or that the Covid cutbacks have eliminated all the later departures out of Boston.

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A quick walk out to door, over to the garage paystation to pay for parking, down the stairs, into my car, out the garage, and a rather fast ride home in almost no traffic, and that was my day of flânerie in New York. I'm glad I did it when I did. Our case counts per 100,000 are bouncing around 10, and while that doesn't make us a Covid hot-spot, I guess we're still on the New York State "list of shame," so it might be a while before I can return to New York without a guilty conscience. But there's no reason I can't zip up to Philly and do some flânerie there as well as monitor the level of service Amtrak is providing on the NEC. I'm just worried, my last two NEC trips have involved big delays on the return, is this going to be a pattern?
 

MARC Rider

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Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,235
Location
Baltimore. MD
Boy, even for NYC, the food prices seem High! I've not had any Korean BBQ that was worth $40, nor any $23 Sandwiches anywhere except in San Francisco,Vegas and Tokyo!! 😵

And the $7.50 Ferry rides are only found in the Bay Area far as I know.( the Staten Island Ferry is still the Best Transportation deal in the World!)
2nd Av. Deli pastrami sandwich is about the same price; Liebman's Deli in the Bronx is $19.50. There's a place called Ben's Deli where the pastrami sandwich is $15 (in Manhattan) and $14 (in their other locations.) I may have to try them.

The most similar place in Baltimore, the Essen Room sells pastrami sandwiches for $18, but they also sell half sandwiches for $14. I guess deli food is now expensive. I certainly don't eat it every day.

As far as the Staten Island Ferry being a good deal, it sure is if you want to go between Staten Island and Lower Manhattan, but not such a good deal if you're anywhere else. The best ferry ride in New York, in my opinion, is the NYC ferry from Rockaway to Wall St. The cost is $2.75, the same as a subway ride, the ride is a little over an hour, and you get to see the Lower Bay, views of the ocean, Coney Island, the Verranzano Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
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Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,235
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Baltimore. MD
The Museum associated with the memorial re-opened on 9-12 with appropriate precautions. The exhibit had reopened with controlled access.
Do you have to pay or anything just to see the memorial? (not the museum, just the memorial.) When I was there 2 years ago, the memorial was just open with uncontrolled access.
 

mcropod

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 29, 2018
Messages
268
Location
Oz
Thanks for taking me along for the adventure! I like flannering when I'm in a new place and it's heaps of fun just following one's nose, so good on you!
 

hlcteacher

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Feb 17, 2020
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cleveland
and all the time i thought i was "touristing"! thank you for taking us with you, this is not an experience i would have as i (1) do not care for nyc-been there, did that and (2) my walking is limited now...so thank you!
 

Dakota 400

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Mar 5, 2014
Messages
2,174
I enjoyed reading your report and viewing your photos. Thanks for posting it!

Your links to the various restaurants were interesting to access. Really impressed with Katz's menu. Such a huge variety of items! I hope to patronize them when I am next in New York. I think it would be fun.
 

PVD

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NYC/Queens
Katz's is a classic.....what I love about NYC (or at least in better times) is that it's long history of settlement by groups from so many countries means that food of any culture is available.... from simple street food to the fanciest establishments. The earliest coal oven pizzerias in the US to the latest Asian Fusion cuisines....
 

trainman74

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Apr 7, 2011
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Sherman Oaks, CA
I used to have relatives along the Morris & Essex Lines, so I passed through Hoboken Terminal a number of times in my younger days (before the Kearny Connection was built).

It used to have a Solari board in the waiting room, as well as auxiliary arrival/departure displays located throughout the terminal -- those other displays were merely black-and-white TV monitors showing a feed from a camera permanently aimed at the Solari board. That was quite the Rube Goldberg-ian solution.
 

Michigan Mom

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Jan 28, 2012
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MI
Thank you for the travelogue, and the pictures of the city and station.... really enjoyed the eye candy!
 

MARC Rider

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Apr 5, 2011
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Location
Baltimore. MD
Boy, even for NYC, the food prices seem High! I've not had any Korean BBQ that was worth $40, nor any $23 Sandwiches anywhere except in San Francisco,Vegas and Tokyo!! 😵
So I posted my Katz' experience on a Deli group on Facebook, and someone commented something to the effect of, "don't think of it as a $23 sandwich, think of it as 2 $11.50 sandwiches." Someone else pointed out that the sandwich has 10 ounces of pastrami, which is a lot of meat in the first place, but it's also hand cured, hand smoked, and hand carved, so that might account for some of the expense. After all, it's pretty common for 10 ounce steaks to be on the menu for $25 - $30, so why not 10 ounces of pastrami?

That said, I wouldn't mind if they started selling a junior-sized sandwich at a reduced price, although the uneaten half sandwich kept pretty well wrapped up in my backpack all day and in the fridge when I got home. The bread wasn't quite as fresh the next day, but it was still good.
 

anumberone

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Aug 8, 2015
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Los Angeles
That $23.00 Sandwich may sound expensive. But it came with an opportunity for taking a whiz and that alone allowed for a much more comfortable journey.
Thank you, it was fun bumming around and enjoying the sights.
 
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NEPATrainTraveler

Train Attendant
Joined
Sep 12, 2018
Messages
74
Great trip report! Makes me nostalgic for the Amtrak trips I have taken. Also reminds me of the NYC trips I take by myself. Walking around the city, visiting a bookstore, railfanning and getting something to eat is what I do on my trips to NYC too and I love doing that. Interesting to see how the places I have visited look during COVID times. BAL looks so empty now. Sad to hear that the Dunkin' Donuts in BAL is closed due to COVID. I used to get my breakfast from there while waiting for my train. NYP still looks busy, but somewhat less so than normal.

I have visited the Strand bookstore before. It's a cool place.

I really like Hoboken terminal as well. I wish I still had passenger rail service where I live. Hoboken would have been my arrival station instead of Port Authority Bus Terminal. Then I could have taken PATH to Manhattan.
 
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