My sister’s apartment in Astoria occupies the fourth floor of a pale-brick walk-up, almost exactly parallel to the 30th Avenue elevated subway stop. Even into the night, the N and the Q trains roar by every 6 minutes, sounding very much like a furious storm descending on the neighborhood.
It’s not the kind of thing you can get used to in just a couple days — the length of my family’s stay in this part of New York City — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a couple of teenagers from North Carolina and their homesick dad.
I grew up just a few miles from here, I reminded my kids as we waited for an inbound N on the elevated platform. By the time I was their age I was riding these things around like a carny, I told them.
Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate the cities of the Triad, small as they are, for their accessibility, the low cost of living, the lack of real traffic. But there’s nothing like New York to put it all in perspective.
Almost 80,000 people live in Astoria, a single neighborhood in Queens, which itself is home to 2.2 million souls. And, of course, Queens is but one of five boroughs in a city that has 8.4 million residents, which is just 1.5 million shy of the entire state of North Carolina.
We took the N, an express, all the way into Union Square in Manhattan — had I been on my game a little better, we would have picked up the 6 at Lexington Avenue and shaved 10 minutes from the trip — and walked south to Washington Square Park, which apparently is no longer an open-air drug market, and the kosher, vegetarian Indian restaurant in Greenwich Village where we ate dinner.
We picked up the subway again at the World Trade Center, the new Ground Zero station that looks like a whale’s tail surfacing from the concrete ocean. A long time ago I used to catch the train here on my way to work in Jersey City, back when the tower still stood and the subway stations smelled like urine and garbage, which they no longer do.
But you can still see rats running along the tracks while you’re waiting on a train, if you look close enough. Things haven’t changed that much.