Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Morning in Downtown Brooklyn: Free Shuttle Bus MTA Sightseeing Tour for F/G Train Riders from MetroTech to Kensington

Every winter, the MTA offers G train riders free sightseeing tours of Brooklyn and sometimes Queens on weekends. Last year we greatly enjoyed trips from downtown Brooklyn through Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg, and on another day, a trip from Williamsburg through Greenpoint to Long Island City and the Queensboro (Ed Koch) Bridge. This morning we again went on one of these shuttle bus tours that start outside the Jay Street-MetroTech subway station in downtown Brooklyn.

These G train shuttle bus tours have become so popular that they were expanded this weekend to include riders of the F and R trains, which also were not running normally. With a panoply of various tours offered outside, and with limited time, we opted for the nonstop trip to Kensington's Church Avenue subway station with great views of New York Harbor and the skyline.

The R train shuttle buses were elsewhere (only a month ago did the Lawrence Street R stop join the A/C/F Jay Street-Boro Hall stop to become the Jay Street-MetroTech stop with free transfers), and presumably the F/G shuttle buses making all the stops at subway stations were going down Smith Street, across 9th Street, by Prospect Park Southwest, Fort Hamilton Parkway and McDonald Avenue or something.

We went down Jay Street and turned right on Livingston Street, passing one of the old Board of Ed buildings and other stores

and onto Boerum Place, passing the New York Transit Museum

and then we quickly went across Atlantic Avenue to its end (we get carsick if we try to take pics while moving, at least if we're looking at the phone) by the piers.

The bus wasn't very crowded, and everyone seemed in a good mood despite what must have been an inconvenience for some. We were going to ride on the highway!

Except when we're in Arizona where our 2000 Chevy Cavalier is, we don't get to ride on highways much, so we were glad for the chance to get on Sufjan Stevens' favorite expressway, the BQE.

Lately we've only seen the road from Brooklyn Bridge Park or the Promenade, but we drove this stretch regularly in the 1970s in our '69 Pontiac Custom S and '73 Mercury Comet.

There were no traffic delays at all, so we whizzed by

and before we knew it we were high up on the elevated Gowanus roadway where you have to get over to the left to take the Prospect Expressway or the right to stay on I-278 and go to Staten Island or on the Belt. In the fall of 1979, when we had only about an hour to go from teaching at the fabulous School of Visual Arts (where we have been teaching again since 2006) to a class at the wonderful Kingsborough Community College, we used to hesitate here. Go with the Prospect and Ocean Parkway down to Brighton Beach or take the Belt? The next year, in his Kissinger-hating novel Good as Gold, Joseph Heller examined the same dilemma.

Of course today the bus was taking the Prospect Expressway and turning right on Church Avenue before the road turned into Ocean Parkway proper. But before we did, the tall overpass provided a nice view of the harbor, the Bayonne and Verrazzano Bridges, and the Statue of Liberty. On the other side, was the F/G track over the Gowanus Canal and the poor, high Smith-9th Street station, which won't be fit for humans for a while.

We also sped like wildfire on the short Prospect Expressway, which to us as a kid never seemed to get any respect (faring worse, in our adolescent imagination was only the Interboro -- now the Jackie Robinson -- which was reviled for its twists and turns and blinding spots of sun glare). We were stuck here on this highway in the summer of '77 ("summer of Sam" and the blackout) when the asphalt buckled in 100-degree heat. Today was a lot cooler.

We liked looking out from our dirty right-side window at Bishop Ford H.S. and the houses and stuff.

The bus was making incredible time, but we got slightly backed up at the first light at the end of the highway, at Church Avenue where Ocean Parkway begins. In the fall of '79, we looked at renting an apartment on this street, but eventually we took one in Rockaway.

We made the right turn onto Church Avenue by the landmark giant yeshiva or whatever it is. We were almost at our destination. Ocean Parkway is where East 6th Street should go

and McDonald Avenue is really East 1st Street and here, the end of the East nth Street grid and the start of the grid with numbered streets and avenues in western Brooklyn.

When we rode the B35 bus on Church Avenue three years ago from Brownsville to Sunset Park, we traveled this route in Kensington, and we've done it since. We like it around here.

We stopped just across McDonald, at Kabir's Bakery. It's one of three in Brooklyn, and the veggie samosas are to die for, and the little Bangla pastries are sweet sweet sweet.

Well, we had no business in Kensington, so we crossed Church when the light on McDonald turned red

and got on the express shuttle bus back downtown. We figure the ride here was maybe 17 minutes, not bad in comparison with the subway that would make eight stops.

We again got a seat on the right by the window. It's funny, but we lived in and drove around Brooklyn for years, but only in 2007 did we realize that Church Avenue breaks the grid and starts going diagonally southwest/northeast west of Flatbush Avenue and especially after Ocean Avenue. Here Church Avenue intersects the start of Beverly (or Beverley, take your pick) Road, which runs parallel to Church for several miles in Flatbush and East Flatbush.

We left McDonald and the subway station just at 9 a.m. There was more traffic going east on Church Avenue this time, but not much,

and we made the light for a left at Ocean Parkway to get on the Prospect Expressway again.

The bus driver seemed like he was trying to break his own record, because we just whizzed along until we were again on the high overpass. We exit the Prospect on the right, so it's easy to turn back onto the BQE.

We took some photos without looking at the phone to avoid carsickness on the BQE. We don't know why we have this problem; we are among the few that cannot read on the subway, either, without immediately getting queasy.

It's only one exit to Atlantic Avenue and with no traffic, we were at Long Island College Hospital before we knew it. Sometime in the late 1980s our grandmother spent a week or so in the psych unit here, where they got her started on the Prozac that quelled her depression for the rest of her life.

This time we were able to snap some pics on Atlantic Avenue. We spent tons of time in this neighborhood in the 1970s and in summers for much of the 1980s. Several of our friends lived here, as did one of our shrinks, a social worker we call Mrs. Ehrlich in our diary books, and we had lots of stores that we went to.

This is Hicks Street. Boerum Hill is to the south of Atlantic, Brooklyn Heights to the north. One store remember for some reason now is The Warlock Shop, run by Wiccans, we guess, between Hicks and Henry in the early 70s. We bought sandalwood here once from the warlocks, and when we left the store, our girlfriend said, "They were looking at your crotch the whole time." We guess we would have been flattered had we hadn't assumed she was mistaken or kidding.

We passed the new Barney's Co-op and the bank Trader Joe's and turned left on Boerum Place.

It was a straight ride up to Morton's, where everyone on the sightseeing bus got a free steak lunch, courtesy of the Transit Authority.

No, actually, we all walked in that little alley between Morton's and its building and the Brooklyn Marriott back to Jay Street.

Most people got on the subway to Manhattan or Queens, but we headed for some oatmeal and iced tea at the NYU/Poly Starbucks. The sections of the Sunday Times that came early this morning were with us, still in their blue plastic wrapper. There was plenty of time to waste. In two weeks, when we start teaching on Sunday afternoons and evenings, it won't be like that.

But we're grateful to the MTA and the work on the tracks and stations for our little excursion this morning.

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