Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturday Morning in Downtown Brooklyn: Scenic G Train Substitute Shuttle Bus Ride to Williamsburg

We came back from our month in Arizona's Valley of the Sun where it hit 70 degrees nearly every day to discover that not only was Brooklyn wintry-cold but the fabulous G train would not be running for three weekends. But the MTA provided a shuttle bus running from the A/F stop at Jay Street/Boro Hall - here a sign at MetroTech by the TKTS booth, tells G train riders where to go - if they're going toward Queens Plaza (or next weekend, the F stop at 21st Street/Queensbridge).

Some people were confused because the bus ride began on Jay Street in front of NYU/Polytechnic - back in the day we had friends going there when it was Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn when we went to Brooklyn College from 1969-73, just before it became Polytechnic Institute of New York when it bought the NYU School of Engineering and now it's been swallowed up by the university that devoured the East Village -

at the regular bus stop for the B57, the Flushing Avenue bus to Maspeth, and the B62, which. . . holy cow, it didn't exist when we left Brooklyn in December! They split the historic Red Hook-to-Long Island City B61 route in two! This is as bad as when they tore down the Myrtle Avenue El that ended right in this spot.

We're glad we spent a couple of hours at the MetroTech Starbucks nursing iced tea (Starbucks sent us a new gold card in Arizona that entitles us to endless refills) and the New York Times. Naturally, we got the G train shuttle bus from Williamsburg, from the corner of Metropolitan and Union, and took it downtown this morning - giving us better than normal service to this location - but we didn't think to take pics then and because of one-way streets, it often rode off the usual G train route, for example on both Lorimer Street and DeKalb Avenue.

Most of the seats were taken, although a few people got on, thinking it was one of the regular bus routes. On our early-morning ride here, the driver asked everyone who got on, "Where do you want to go?" and about one-third of the people who got on were on the wrong bus (or on the right bus but going the wrong way).

We started off up Jay Street, past City Tech (we had the exalted title of Substitute Adjunct Lecturer there exactly thirty years ago, in January 1980, when it was New York City Community College), up to Tillary Street.

The bus turned left on Tillary, passing Concord Village to the north. From September 1969 (just when they freakin' closed down the Myrtle Avenue El) until May 1972, we went to this co-op development to see our beloved psychologist, Dr. Bob Wolk, shown here in a pic we took in his office in 1970.

(After that we went to a rented office on Remsen and Clinton Streets in Brooklyn Heights - where Henry Miller once lived! - to see his psychologist wife Dr. Shelly Wolk, who was driving in from their home in the Catskills, near the hotel our parents owned in South Fallsburg.) Concord Village is currently home to our friend the wonderful writer Janice Eidus.

We turned south from Tillary onto Adams Street (only newbies and hipsters - same thing - call it Broooklyn Bridge Boulevard).

The humongous Brooklyn GPO is under construction. We hope they're renovating the inside too.

We flashed by the Supreme Court building to our east. On lazy summer weekdays forty or so years ago we used to go to watch some trials with the old kibitzing regulars. Our dad was on a jury here in the trial of a guy in Brownsville who killed a man over a TV set on the Bicentennial, July 4, 1976. Dad was the lone holdout for guilty but eventually he couldn't persuade anyone else so he went along with the "not guilty" verdict. In the elevator leaving the building, the ADA (assistant district attorney) told Dad, "I'm surprised you took so long; I had a very weak case."

Borough Hall. Why, we haven't been here since just before we left for Arizona, for our old Brooklyn College friend Marty Markowitz's Chanukah bash.

As Adams Street became Boerum Place, the bus passed Brooklyn Law School, a great school (61st nationally in the last U.S. News rankings). As a former director of a law school academic support program (at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale), we can attest that the Brooklyn Law's academic success program, directed by the great Linda Feldman, is one of the best. (Other terrific programs locally are run by Mark Padin at Pace Law School, David Nadvorney at CUNY Law School, and Kris Franklin at New York Law School.

We turned left (east) on Schermerhorn Street to make our first stop at the Hoyt/Schermerhorn A/G stop. We worked in this building back in 1975-1977, when we were an editorial assistant at the Fiction Collective, run by our Brooklyn College Creative Writing MFA professors Jonathan Baumbach and Peter Spielberg. This Schermerhorn Street building, once the Brooklyn campus of St. John's University until its law school left in 1972, was taken over - along with nearby 210 Livingston Street - as the Downtown Campus of Brooklyn College. We loved our work at the Fiction Collective and learned a lot from the executive director, the utterly wonderful Peggy Humphreys, and after she retired to New Mexico with her husband Dick (J.R. Humphreys), the equally wonderful novelist (Subway to Samarkand), and director of Columbia University School of General Studies creative writing program, from her successor, the funny and smart Gloria Rohmann, now at Bobst Library at NYU.

Down Schermerhorn Street, we got this view of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building, now One Hanson Place, a co-op or condo just like the Schermerhorn Street buidling. Back in September 1965, at 14, we had serious oral surgery here on the front teeth we had broken playing football without a helmet on East 55th Street, and in October 1984, while we were subletting for three months on President Street in Park Slope, we had a wisdowm tooth removed here in an operation that seemed so simple that we walked back home afterwards. We've never entered the building except for oral surgery, but now the dentists have all vamoosed from the tower with the clock that finally works again.

The bus turned down Flatbush for a couple of blocks and then onto Lafayette Avenue, passing the Mark Morris Dance Company on the left and the Brooklyn Academy of Music on the right. Our most vivid memory from back in the day at BAM is seeing a 1974 Royal Shakespeare production of Gorky's Summerfolk here, with Ian Richardson, David Suchet, Norman Rodway and our idol from such TV shows as The Forsyte Saga, The First Churchills, Cousin Bette and I, Claudius, Dame Margaret Tyzack.

We're now shadowing the G's progress east on Lafayatte Avenue, stopping near (but not always at) the stops on Fulton Street (where we get off frequently, to make the three-block walk to "transfer" to the IRT - the numbered lines for you young'uns - or the B/Q Brighton Beach lines (used to be, variously, the Q, QB, QJ, QT, D and M lines) or the trains at what used to be the Pacific Street stop: currently the N, D, R and M (the Sea Beach, West End and Fourth Avenue lines). At the Fulton Street G stop, lots of people think the train is coming when it's really a passing A train riding along Fulton Street going into or out of the Lafayette Avenue stop, which is really close by the G stop but without a connection. Here's a shot taken passing Queen of All Saints Roman Catholic Church:

This is, of course, Fort Greene. We have to admit that growing up in East Flatbush and Flatlands/Old Mill Basin in the 50s, 60s and 70s, we rarely came here or to the other neighborhoods on the rest of the bus trip: Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy, Williamsburg. Mostly we drove through, as a passenger, or later, as a driver, because these were considered "bad" neighborhoods - although we can recall at about age 14, in 1965, driving to work with our grandfather and being surprised at how beautiful the old houses and churches were. Passing these brownstones today on Lafayette, or amazing structures like the Masonic Temple or the Emmanuel Baptist Church, both on the National Register of Historic Places, make us realize how narrow-minded we in the "good" neighborhoods of southern Brooklyn were.

Clinton/Washington is always what we think of as the art student stop because it's near Pratt. This was the first G train stop we can remember noticing. One Wednesday evening rush hour in the fall of 1980, we'd finished teaching our last class at John Jay College and our fellow adjunct and friend from the Brooklyn College MFA program Denis Woychuk (the writer and attorney who owns KGB Bar) dropped us off near BAM to get the A train back to our studio apartment in Rockaway. Mistakenly, we got on the G at the Fulton Street stop on Lafayette instead of the A on the Lafayette Avenue stop on Fulton. We noticed something was wrong when the Clinton/Washington stop sign was green and not yellow, got off, and were told to go back to Hoyt/Schermerhorn for the A train. Like many New Yorkers, we'd never gotten on a G train in our lives before.

We're not sure where the dividing line between Fort Greene and Clinton Hill is. In recent years we've had students from this neighborhood who've written disdainfully of the newcomers (i.e., gentrifiers) who are ruining their neighborhood. There's a similar piece in the wonderful New York Writers Coalition book, From Kingsbridge to Canarsie: Reflections by 8 NYC Girls.

We've gotten off and on at Classon Avenue only a few times, like when we've gone to Danny Simmons' Corridor Gallery. Along the Lafayette Avenue stops, regular B38 bus riders weren't sure what the G train bus was and some tried to get on; the B38 goes down Lafayette and then DeKalb toward its destination just over the Queens border in Ridgewood, near where Metropolitan and Flushing Avenue meet (on weekday mornings you'll see kids on their way to Grover Cleveland High School).

Neighborhood borders in Brooklyn are fluid (as are, for us alter kockers, neighborhood names), so we're not sure where Fort Greene ends and Clinton Hill begins and where Clinton Hill ends and Bedford-Stuyvesant begins. But somehow the KFC on the corner of Bedford tells us we're in Do-Or-Die Land.

This amazing art is part of a mural project by the brilliant Chris Stain and Billy Mode titled "In the Dream."

We get off a lot at Bedford/Nostrand.

When we're trying to get down Nostrand Avenue by bus, we always wonder why there's no B44 Limited bus service stop at Lafayette, given that the subway stop is there. So we always end up taking the slow boat (bus) to Eastern Parkway, the Junction or Sheepshead Bay.

Along this stretch of Lafayette Avenue, there are only a few recently constructed buildings among the older ones.

We made our way down Lafayette Avenue through Bed-Stuy.

The bus started speeding up and making all the lights, so we didn't have much of a chance to take pics; one we took of the wonderful Hattie Carthan Garden came out really blurry, as did shots of Von King Park. In recent summers we've seen a lot of great things here: little league games and a gender equality festival, the Continuum Company's version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Jessica Care moore's God Is Not an American . . .

By Von King Park, the bus turned left (vaguely north, we'd say) at Marcy Avenue and we kept speeding along. Here's Kosciusko Street, separated from Pulaski Street by DeKalb Avenue. (Shouldn't these two streets be in Greenpoint? Well, they've got the bridges to Queens there, we guess.)

On Marcy Avenue, there's a nice playground

and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Community Pool - AKA the Kosciusko Pool.

This stretch of Marcy Avenue is also named the Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor Bouevard in honor of the dean of American preaching.

One of the typical and always interesting sights you see from Brooklyn buses are storefront churches. A really good photographer should do for storefront churches what James and Karla Murray have done for our local storefront, um, stores.

On the left (west) are the Marcy projects (formally the Marcy Houses),

which have won fame as the place where Jay-Z was raised:
I went from Marcy to Hollywood

& back again & back again

I went from Marcy to Hollywood

& back again & back again

All we've just gone is from Bed-Stuy to Williamsburg. At Flushing Avenue, here's the beloved Pfizer plant, which was home to many workers over 160 years of operation. It closed in October 2008, and we don't know what's going on here now. It's so upsetting we don't know whether to take Xanax, Zoloft or Benadryl, all of which were once manufactured here. We'll probably just take two aspirin and call Vito Lopez in the morning.

After Flushing Avenue, we don't continue on Marcy go to Union, which forks off on the right (east). As we ride through the Hasidic neighborhood in this part of Williamsburg (which we do a lot, on the B43 and B48 buses), we often wonder if the buildings all have the same architect. This is very typical of a Satmar construction. Nearly all the apartments seems to have terraces or balconies, none of which are directly on top of another, we think because sukkahs need to see the sky.

(It must be admitted that our only practical experience in this matter came in October 2005, when we were teaching at the Jess Schwartz Jewish Community High School in Phoenix/Scottsdale, where we helped the students build one of these structures under the strict supervision of the wonderful Rabbi Elana Kanter.) Some leaf-peepers may trek to Vermont in early fall, but we like to come here to watch the pimped-out sukkahs.

Here we're close to home as we get to Broadway as a J train passes overhead with the Lindsay Park co-op in the background.

We first came here around our 19th birthday, in June 1970, to canvass the apartments of Lindsay Park for peace candidate for Congress Peter Eikenberry, running against entrenched dinosaur Vietnam hawk, Rep. John Rooney, in the Democratic primary. Here's a pic we took of Pete Eikenberry at an antiwar rally in June 1970 at Hicks and Montague Streets in Brooklyn Heights:

The activists in charge of the campaign sent us to Lindsay Park with a young East Side matron from the Eikenberry HQ on Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights, but most people weren't home so we just left leaflets mostly. Peace lost in north Brooklyn in 1970.

It's Shabbos and if you're religious, since it's G-d's day, you must look your best (unlike us with our Levis and T-shirt under an old Nautica top under a sweater we inherited from our beloved Baptist landlord of blessed memory under a Lands' End parka), and this Satmar guy is on his way from shul, we suspect. You can tell he's married because of his shtreimel, the velvet hat with a wide sable trim. Probably a gift from his in-laws, the Satmar Hungarian shtreimel is wide-brimmed circular as opposed to the higher and more cylindrical Polish shtreimels, really known as spodiks, like those the Ger in Boro Park wear. (In Crown Heights, it seems to us that most Lubavitcher men follow the example of Rabbi Schneerson and opt for stylish fedoras.)

As we cross Broadway,

we get towards what we consider the heart of Williamsburg (because Dumbo Books HQ is there), we're getting ready to get off the G train shuttle bus. Union Avenue is filled with older

but especially lots of newer Fischer/Scarano-type multi-story buildings of co-ops or condos or rentals that they can't get C.O.'s for and thus are still vacant. Some are still being constructed despite the real estate collapse.

We don't eat meat, but if we did, we'd go to Dumont and have a burger. But instead, when we get off the bus, we'll go to Sunac and buy some takeout lunch fit for a vegetarian convert raised by parents who've been vegetarians longer than we've been.

And on the left as we exit, there's the inevitable (and, some say, inedible) landmark of Kellogg's Diner, which we have never entered since we first set eyes on the place back in.

Asked, "Just where do you get off?," we currently say across the street from what may or may not be the Gateway to Williamsburg.

Actually, the G stop (as opposed to the G spot) is across Metropolitan Avenue, at the stop of the Q59 bus heading from Rego Park to the Williamsburg Bridge. As we disembark, we notice a bunch of people are waiting to go to Greenpoint and Long Island City and whatever connections they can make at Queens Plaza.

The lack of weekend G train service won't be fun when the spring semester begins and we have to go to Brooklyn College to teach on Saturday mornings, but today taking the shuttle bus to and from downtown Brooklyn was a trip.


AO said...

I was wondering if you know of Hoyt Schmerhorn Family Services. There were on or near Lafayette in 1975, and processed an adoption that I'm trying to get more information on.

Richard said...

Sorry, no, I've never heard of it. Good luck in finding info.