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Photo: Filip Noubel
Tiles representing Uzbekistan’s huge cotton industry at the Paxtakor metro station. The  ornamentation of various subway stops portrays the accepted history of the moment.

As we struggle today with our nation’s history and painful, long-suppressed facts come to the fore, let’s turn off the television and think about Uzbekistan.

Back in the day, the Uzbeks thought it would be a beautiful thing to build something Stalin really wanted. They eventually completed a mighty subway system full of the kind of history their now discredited leader would have liked.

Filip Noubel reports at Global Voices, “For many years, it was strictly prohibited to photograph the ornate stations of the Tashkent metro in the Uzbek capital. The Soviet-era system had also been constructed with nuclear attack in mind, and could serve as a fallout shelter in wartime. But ever since that ban was lifted in early 2018, visitors from abroad have started to show heightened interest in Central Asia’s oldest subway system. And with good reason.

“Tashkent’s metro system is so much more than just a means of transportation. Over the decades of its existence, the design and names of the metro’s 29 ornate stations have changed to reflect the turbulent trends of Uzbekistan’s history. …

“Back in November 1920, electricity was a taste of the bold promises of progress to come; it embodied the new innovations now made accessible to the masses. Just 12 years later, the Soviet leadership pronounced yet another strategic and futuristic priority: the construction of the metropolitan, as Europe’s subway systems had come to be known in the second half of the 19th century. On May 25, 1932, the Sovnarkom, the then executive body of the Soviet government issued a decree …

‘The construction of the metropolitan must be considered a project of the utmost importance to the state, with its provision of timber, metal, cement, transportation, etc, and as a key priority in matters of superproductivity at the national level.’ …

“The development of the metro also marked a key turning point in the development of the Soviet economy: while the first five-year plan (1928–1932) emphasised heavy industrialisation, the second five-year plan focused on urbanisation. As a result, the metro became a major cultural symbol, present in films, children’s books, poetry and songs. It was hailed as testament to the success of Stalinism in official songs, such as this one from 1936:

” ‘We believed, we knew, That by digging a pit,
” ‘We would, Comrade Stalin, Make your plan come true.

” ‘They will describe it for centuries on, And not with just one pen
” ‘And they will tell the children, How they fought for the metro!’ …

“The people of Tashkent had to wait several decades for their metro, which was the first in remote and comparatively underdeveloped Soviet Central Asia. Planners faced several challenges: the Uzbek capital had experienced a crushing earthquake in 1966, which destroyed half the city. The city lacked trained engineers and metro workers. Uzbekistan’s long and scorching summers posed problems for ventilation. Which was precisely why the Soviet authorities had to demonstrate that they were up to the task.

“Mobilising human resources and special construction material from all across the Soviet Union, the first metro pits in Tashkent were dug in 1973. Just four years later, in a Stakhanovite spirit which set a record, the metro’s first line was opened in November 1977. The date was chosen to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Russian revolution. Accordingly, as news footage from that day shows, all local politicians were present at the opening, where a message of congratulations from Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was read out before the crowd. …

“As in other Soviet metro systems, each station of the Tashkent metro was assigned a particular political and cultural message to illustrate key messages of Soviet ideology.  …

“Of the 29 stations operating today (a third line was opened in 2001), five metro stations are particularly revealing in what they tell us about Uzbekistan’s changing narratives around national identity.

“[One] station is an emblematic example. Known as Friendship of the Peoples during the Soviet period, its previous name reflected Soviet ideology’s extensive attempts to emphasise its supposedly peaceful international role during the Cold War, in opposition to western imperialism. …

“[The Cotton Grower] station’s name symbolises the Uzbek economy’s everlasting dependency on cotton production. During the Soviet period, Moscow assigned each of the 15 Soviet republics a particular crop to produce en masse. This focus on cotton monoculture has been continued by all subsequent Uzbek governments at a high price for the country’s population. The cotton sector has used forced labor, including that of children.”

Forced child labor, huh? Bet they’re not proud of that now. Read more about the stations and (how the accepted history keeps changing) here.

Hat tip: Arts Journal.

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shutterstock-567624058Photo: Shutterstock/Elizaveta Galitckaia

She looked me dead in the eye and said: ‘How do I know I’m real?’

It takes nerve to put yourself out there to answer people’s philosophical questions. After all, most potential questioners have only the fuzziest idea of what philosophy is or what questions would be relevant to a philospher’s expertise. Some people are bound to treat the philosopher as a Dear Abby advice columnist, a psychiatrist, or an astrologer.

Here is what Boston University philosopher Lee McIntyre experienced, according to his report at the Conversation.

“The life choices that had led me to be sitting in a booth underneath a banner that read ‘Ask a Philosopher’ – at the entrance to the New York City subway at 57th and 8th – were perhaps random but inevitable.

“I’d been a ‘public philosopher‘ for 15 years, so I readily agreed to join my colleague Ian Olasov when he asked for volunteers to join him at the ‘Ask a Philosopher’ booth. This was part of the latest public outreach effort by the American Philosophical Association, which was having its annual January meeting up the street. …

“I sat between Ian and a splendid woman who taught philosophy in the city, thinking that even if we spent the whole time talking to one another, it would be an hour well spent. Then someone stopped.

“At first glance, it was hard to tell if she was a penniless nomad or an emeritus professor, but then she took off her hat and psychedelic scarf and came over to the desk and announced, ‘I’ve got a question. I’m in my late 60s. I’ve just had life threatening surgery, but I got through it.’

“She showed us the jagged scar on her neck. ‘I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life,’ she said. ‘I’ve got a master’s degree. I’m happily retired and divorced. But I don’t want to waste any more time. Can you help?’

“Wow. One by one, we all asked her to elaborate on her situation and offered tidbits of advice, centering on the idea that only she could decide what gave her life meaning. I suggested that she might reach out to others who were also searching, then she settled in for a longer discussion with Ian.

“And then it happened: A crowd gathered. …

“One young woman, who turned out to be a sophomore in college, stepped away from the group with a serious concern. ‘Why can’t I be happier in my life? I’m only 20. I should be as happy as I’m ever going to be right now, but I’m not. Is this it?’

“It was my turn. ‘Research has shown that what makes us happy is achieving small goals one after the other,’ I said. … ‘You can’t just achieve happiness and stay there, you have to pursue it. … You’ve got to choose the things that make you happy one by one. That’s been shown from Aristotle all the way down to cutting-edge psychological research. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.’ …

“Again it was quiet. Some who passed by were pointing and smiling. A few took pictures. It must have looked odd to see three philosophers sitting in a row with ‘Ask a Philosopher’ over our heads, amidst the bagel carts and jewelry stalls. …

“And then I spotted her … an interlocutor who would be my toughest questioner of the day. She was about 6 years old and clutched her mother’s hand as she craned her neck to stare at us. Her mother stopped, but the girl hesitated.

” ‘It’s OK,’ I offered. ‘Do you have a philosophical question?’ The girl smiled at her mother, then let go of her hand to walk over to the booth. She looked me dead in the eye and said: ‘How do I know I’m real?’

“Suddenly I was back in graduate school. Should I talk about the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who famously used the assertion of skepticism itself as proof of our existence, with the phrase ‘I think, therefore I am’? …

“Then the answer came to me. I remembered that the most important part of philosophy was feeding our sense of wonder. ‘Close your eyes,’ I said. She did. ‘Well, did you disappear?’ She smiled and shook her head, then opened her eyes. ‘Congratulations, you’re real.’ ”

More here.

 

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Photo: Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality
The new Istanbul subway machines add credit to your subway cards while crushing, shredding, and sorting your recyclables.

Creating a more sustainable world doesn’t have to be painful for the individual or expensive for government. In Turkey, a city government wanted people to recycle more, and so it got the idea of rewarding subway riders who help out. Ceylan Yeginsu has the story at the New York Times.

“Istanbul [has] rolled out an alternative currency for commuters who need to top up their subway cards but are short of cash: recyclables.

“The city is installing ‘reverse vending machines’ at metro stations that allow passengers to add credit to their subway cards simply by inserting a plastic bottle or aluminum can into the machine. Once a value has been assigned to the recyclables, the machine will crush, shred and sort the material. …

“This is how the vending machines [work]: A 0.33-liter plastic bottle, for example, roughly equivalent to 11 ounces, would add 2 Turkish cents to a subway card, while a 0.5-liter bottle would add 3 cents and a 1.5-liter bottle would add 6 cents. (A subway journey costs 2.60 Turkish lira, about 40 United States cents; 100 Turkish cents, or kurus, make up 1 Turkish lira.) …

“Istanbul’s mayor, Mevlut Uysal, said the machines would track the number of bottles recycled by each passenger and reward those recycling the largest number of containers with free or discounted events such as theater tickets.

“Turkey is Europe’s third-largest producer of household and commercial waste, after Germany and France, and it is the worst in the region at recycling, according to a 2017 report by the consultancy group Expert Market, which is based in Britain. …

“Elif Cengiz, a manager for the waste management project, called Zero Waste, said … that the municipality had made waste management a priority in recent years because of rising concern over the damage that waste is causing to the environment.

“The country’s recycling drive has started to produce results, saving 30 million trees in 15 months since last June, Mustafa Ozturk, the under secretary for the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry, said, [adding] ‘The use of recycled material in production contributes to productivity and separate storage for paper waste also saves storage space and decreases waste collecting costs for local administrations.” More at the New York Times, here.

I’d love to see the perennially cash-strapped Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) try the reverse-vending idea instead of constantly raising fares.

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Yesterday was beautiful in New York, and my sister was feeling fine, having been off chemo and radiation a month. New treatments start today.

We took the subway from the Upper West Side down to Chelsea, which she says feels like a whole different city to her. We went to a very avant garde museum, walked around, met up with childhood friends, had tea at an indy bookstore, and admired several subway mosaics.

In the first photo below, a New York crowd is watching a cameraman who is making a movie of the woman in the second photo. Then there are several shots of a long city-life mural. I was especially struck by the man in the red tie, who seems to be riveted by a miracle that only he can see.

Next come New Year’s Eve revelers. The added sticker is a sign of how very eager New Yorkers are to vote right now, longing for a miracle.

Next come two unusual church signs. The first is in the graveyard of the Basilica of St. Patrick on Prince Street. I’m guessing they wanted the sheep for mowing the grass. The second is from a Greek Orthodox church on West End Avenue that has a service called the Falling Asleep of St. John the Theologian.

Finally, someone’s tortoise is running like a hare from paparazzi.

That’s New York for you.

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Photo: MTA Arts for Transit
Faith Ringgold’s mosaic “Flying Home: Harlem Heroes and Heroines (Downtown and Uptown),” 1996, is one of the pieces of subway art featured in a PBS documentary.

I’m always amazed by the beauty of the mosaics in the New York subway, even the ones that merely tell you what street you’re at. It makes me happy to see that the city values them, too, and periodically cleans up the oldest ones. They go back as early as 1901.

My sister alerted me to an excellent PBS documentary about recent additions to the art in the subway system. You can read about it at the website Mosaic Art Now.

“For a delightful immersion into the history and current activities of the enormous underground museum that is the New York subway system’s Arts For Transit program, treat yourself to WNET Channel Thirteen’s free one hour video called ‘Treasures of New York: Art Underground.’ …

“Mosaic artist Steven Miotto gets major face time. His decades-long collaboration with artists of all stripes is a fascinating story in itself. When selected by a commissioned artist as a collaborating partner, he gets into their minds and hearts, leading them through the complex process of translating their vision and their graphic designs into mosaic ‘paintings for eternity.’ …

Faith Ringgold, speaks eloquently and nostalgically about the series of paintings – now mosaics – that portray the heroes of her Harlem childhood. Writers and musicians fly across the cityscape in flattened but vivid characterizations. I had the opportunity to interview her when she was in Miami last year, and she spoke about the challenges of trying to ‘make it’ as an African-American artist dealing with political themes at a time when the galleries favored the abstract.  Click here (http://bitly.com/yxGJ3R) to listen to that interview with her.”

See some of the beautiful new mosaics and watch the video here.

If you are up for more on transit-system art, be sure to check out an excellent article by Sarah Hotchkiss at KQED about what’s going on with San Francisco’s Transbay system, here.

 

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The Sunnyside Social Club performs at the celebration for the completion of the Second Avenue Subway in Manhattan

Photo: Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters
The Sunnyside Social Club had to pass a rigorous audition process to get into the subway busker program in New York.

One of the few things I miss about commuting to a job is the daily possibility of great music in the subway. I would never know what I was going to get. Some performers were bad. Some were so fantastic I felt like letting a couple trains go by so I could listen.

The MBTA doesn’t require much more than signing up and paying a fee to be a busker, but in New York City, it’s a different story. You have to pass a tough audition.

Claire Bryan writes at CityLab, “Each year, hundreds of musicians vie to see their name not in lights, but in pink, on a banner indicating they’ve earned official status to perform in New York City’s subway stations. …

“By a March deadline this year, MTA MUSIC received 309 applications with audio samples and selected 82 finalists to audition. On May 15, the 31st annual auditions opened in Grand Central Station’s Vanderbilt Hall, a passageway from the station to 42nd Street. On that morning, the hall, with its 48-foot ceilings and five chandeliers, was filled with a myriad of musical scales: Behind a black felt curtain, cellos, French horns, a Kurdish hammered dulcimer guitar, and vocalists, were warming up. One of the finalists, the all-female a cappella group Mezzo, took to the stage.

“The women of Mezzo launched into ‘Dreams’ by The Cranberries. They had just five minutes to prove to the judges that they deserved the right to serenade people in the subways.

“Since 1985, the MTA Arts and Design program, of which MTA MUSIC is a part, vets musicians to find the best subway-appropriate performance groups to enhance New Yorkers’ commutes. MTA MUSIC Senior Manager Lydia Bradshaw says the judges look for quality, musical variety, cultural diversity, representation of the culture and people of New York, and appropriateness for the transit environment. …

” ‘The thing about it in the subway is you have no stage, you have no backline, you have no stagehands, you must just create the space right here,’ said Sean Grisson, a Cajun cellist who has been in the program since 1987 and a judge since 2013. For Grisson, whether or not performers are chosen comes down to if the performance is something that ‘you would want to pause and make you reflect as you go about your busy New York existence.’

“Once admitted to the program, musicians must call in and book slots. … Performers receive a personalized banner with their name and the MTA MUSIC bright magenta logo. Musician’s names and contact information also gets added to MTA MUSIC’s website — a feature that can help groups land events.

“But anyone can play in the subway as long as they follow MTA’s Transit Rules of Conduct. … MTA employees and music performance groups believe that registered groups deserve their spot. ‘One of the benefits of being in the program is sort of having that permission to book and be at more visible spots,’ Grisson said.

“Which doesn’t mean that non-sanctioned performers can’t play — they just aren’t afforded the security and institutional support MTA MUSIC performers receive. …

“MTA Press Officer Amanda Kwan said that if an MTA MUSIC group calls in, signs up, shows up, and there’s a non-MTA MUSIC group there, the issue is often resolved between the musicians. …

“Grissom, the judge who has also been performing in the subways since 1983, said the competition to enter the program is challenging and he has come to appreciate the MTA MUSIC program much more.

“But he adds: ‘I’ve never had issues [with the authorities] believe it or not. I always feel that street performing or subway performing is kind of Darwinism at its best.’ Grissom said.”

More.

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Photo: beniculturali.gov.it
The newly discovered “commander’s house” was found while digging Rome’s Metro C subway line. It dates back to the 2nd century.

Nowadays, archaeologists get involved at construction sites early, especially if there’s a suspicion of buried culture deep down. It must be frustrating for builders to delay a project when something of historical significance is unearthed, but I like to think that some builders (or perhaps some low-level workers) find it exciting to be part of history. I like to imagine that once in a while an inspired worker goes back to school and becomes an archaeologist.

In Rome, a subway project first revealed unexpected treasure in 2016. Elena Goukassian has a report at Hyperallergic.

“In the summer of 2016, while digging the new Metro C subway line in Rome, workers came across a rare archeological find, a 2nd-century CE Roman barracks. [More recently] archeologists uncovered the remains of a ‘commander’s house’ (domus) connected to the barracks, ‘the first discovery of its kind in the Italian capital,’ according to the Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA).

“Complete with marble floors, mosaics, and frescoes, the Hadrian-era house was found [roughly 39 feet] under the Amba Aradam station, close to the Basilica of San Giovanni Laterano. …

“Measuring 300 square meters (~3,200 square feet), the house contains 14 separate rooms, including a ‘bathhouse with underfloor heating.’

“The house will be dismantled piece by piece and temporarily moved, before returning to its original location and incorporated into the new metro station, which ‘will surely become the most beautiful metro station in the world,” [the head of Rome’s monuments authority, Francesco Prosperetti] told reporters.”

Great pictures at Hyperallergic, here.

Who wouldn’t love the mosaic owl discovered under a subway line in Italy?

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Laura Bliss at the Atlantic‘s City Lab has a story on young people you may have seen performing in a New York subway car. She reports that in the film We Live This, the teens’ hopes seem hemmed in by poverty.

“ ‘Showtime’ dancing is a hallmark of the New York City transit scene,” writes Bliss. “Hoping for donations, crews of young black and Latino men perform exuberant choreographies for subway passengers, twisting and leaping from pole to pole with artful ‘lite-feet‘ dancing in between—and never before shouting, ‘It’s showtime!’

“Who are these dancers scraping by on their earnings? A new, short cinéma vérité documentary, We Live This, shines a light on the world of one crew, whose four young members perform on the J train. They are talented, hardworking, committed, and full of dreams, the film shows. But for some, the obstacles are high, and the alternatives slim. …

“Forty, is homeless.

‘As I’m dancing on the train, I’m thinking about where am I sleeping at night,’ he says. ‘Who should I call? Who is going to pick up? What if they don’t answer?’

“Showtime is the best way he he knows to a better life, a way into a community, he says. …

“Of course, the subway is no simple launchpad to success. While some passengers love the dancing, many others avoid eye contact, and some even yell at crews to switch cars. …

“ ‘I hope people will watch this and look at these young men as human beings,’ the film’s director, James Burns, tells CityLab. ‘And see the last vestiges of a culture that may be dying out.’ ”

More.

WE LIVE THIS – OFFICIAL TRAILER from HAYDEN 5 on Vimeo.

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Nate Homan recently wrote a good human-interest story for the free subway newspaper, Metro. It’s about one of Boston’s subway musicians, a blind woman.

Michelle Abadia sits at Harvard Station early each morning that her T performer permit allows, strumming her guitar and singing to an audience she cannot see.

“ ‘Music was my passion from an early age. I don’t have a memory without it,’ Abadia said. ‘I am told that I was helping tune the piano when I was three.’ …

“She lost her sight to congenital cataracts at the age of 4 after six unsuccessful eye surgeries. She has started a GoFundMe page hoping to earn $20,000 to fund her musical career and to help pay for medical bills. …

“She earned a double degree in language studies and music in Boston College, and went on to earn a master’s in French literature and International Latin American Studies from Tufts. After that, she earned New England Conservatory master’s for vocal performances.

“Now she is trying to earn a living as a musician, after teaching Spanish at several colleges in the area and working as an interpreter in courtrooms.

“ ‘The commuters are half asleep, and I don’t know how effective I can be in brightening their days, but some people say the I do,’ Abadia said. …

“ ‘For anyone who is blind wants to be a musician, or anything, I would tell them to follow their dreams,’ Abadia said.”

More here.

Photo: Metro.us

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I’m leaving a job that has been a great fit for me and starting at another organization. Although I’m really looking forward to new experiences after 10 years, there are a few things I’m likely to miss …

an unusual number of really nice co-workers, the building’s art collection and landscaping, subway musicians, the weary dignity of homeward-bound commuters, sunrise over Boston Harbor, Styrofoam sheep floating in Fort Point Channel, a vast array of food trucks, the farmers market, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, conversations on the commuter rail, the conductor with the circus-announcer’s voice, a commute that allows me to read …

and this view.

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Let me tell you about these photos.

I first noticed the shoes of the gentleman riding the subway. Then the white suit, the pocket hankerchief, the bow tie, and the hat. I was concentrating so hard on taking a photo surreptitiously that it didn’t occur to me to check out what he was reading. Somerset Maugham? Proust? William Dean Howells?

You never know what photo ops you might see on the MBTA, and I hope to get adept at taking pictures unobtrusively.

Next we have a fanciful teapot in the window of the Lacoste Gallery.

Moving right along: dappled shade on Summer St., Boston, near South Station; and a row boat for rent in Fort Point Channel.

Today’s Dewey Square excitement was a labor rally for striking airport workers demanding a $15/hour minimum wage. Lots of speeches. I photographed a T-shirt and a Boston politician. The politician had such an energetic speaking style, the photo came out blurry, but I’ll add it if you want it.

The last three pictures are of a fake snake — perhaps intended to keep passersby from sitting on a resident’s stonewall — and grapes. The grapes were the most surprising thing that happened to me today. I must have walked past that fence twice a day for years and years, and I never noticed a grape vine growing there. Did someone drape it over the fence while I was at work?

Goes to show you don’t really have to go anywhere much to find surprises.

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When Suzanne was two, she and John used to watch a TV show with a theme song that went like this: “Stop the pigeon, stop the pigeon, stop the pigeon — now!”

One day we took the train to New York City, and in spite of the fact that Suzanne never saw pigeons where we lived, she took one look at the city’s official bird and started singing, “Stop the pigeon!”

So unlike many people, I have some good feelings associated with pigeons, and I am getting a big kick from the pigeons I photographed near city hall yesterday.

Someone with a sense of humor has decorated the barrier around the construction site for the  new Government Center T stop with pigeon portraiture.

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Photo: dornob.com
Train car converted to church. Lots more such churches at dornob.

The artist who tweets @FortPointer clued me in to this Boston Magazine today, which asks what should happen to the old Mass Bay subway cars that are being taken out of service.

Steve Annear reports, “The MBTA is gearing up to sign a contract with a Chinese manufacturing company to procure hundreds of Red and Orange Line train cars so they can replace the current fleet of vehicles that have been traveling down the tracks for decades. …

“According to the T, the train cars—they’re replacing 152 Orange Line vehicles and up to 138 Red Line vehicles—will go up for sale, and the highest bidder can do whatever they want with them.

“Like most transit systems, the MBTA typically sells old cars for scrap to the highest bidder. ‘But we also like to preserve a bit of MBTA history by donating a retired car or two to the Sea Shore Trolley Museum in Maine,’ said T spokesman Joe Pesaturo. …

“ ‘Someone buy four of them and open an Orange Line Deli,’ one person suggested on Facebook.

“Another tossed a different idea into the ring: ‘I’d like to put one in my back [yard] for the ultimate ‘man cave.’

“These ideas might sound far-fetched, but stranger things have happened to retired train cars.” Good examples in the photos and also here.

Photo: io9.com
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 Soo Line caboose, built in 1090, turned into a vacation home in 1976 in Pennsylvania.

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Here’s another story about an older worker from John. I think we’ll discover more of these, given that retirement today doesn’t have the same appeal for everyone.

“Frank Gurrera is old-school Brooklyn,” writes Pete Donohue at the NY Daily News.

“Gurrera, a World War II veteran, is nearly 90 years old. But he’s still working as a subway machinist at the MTA’s sprawling brick maintenance complex in Coney Island. Gurrera makes or modifies parts for workhorse trains that were built decades ago and need periodic roof-to-wheels overhauls in order to remain in service.

“ ‘I enjoy the work,’ he said. ‘It’s the satisfaction of making something from nothing, making something from just a piece of metal.’

“Gurrera is exactly the type of transit worker the Daily News celebrates with its annual Hometown Heroes in Transit awards, which honor bus and subway workers who demonstrate exceptional dedication, bravery, compassion, ingenuity and other admirable qualities.” More about the awards here.

Although this story is from New York, people like Gurrera are also valued in Greater Boston, which has the oldest subway system in the country. The Boston Globe has reported on local machinists who are needed to make train parts by hand.

Photo: Pearl Gabel/NY Daily News
Frank Gurrera, who turns 90 on Oct. 29, makes subway train parts that no longer are available from the original manufacturer. The parts are used for workhorse MTA trains that were built decades ago.

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When you drop your cellphone on the subway tracks, who ya gonna call?

In New York City, you call the pick-up crew.

According to Matt Flegenheimer in the NY Times, the need for these finders is increasing as travelers seem more distracted than ever.

“The requests trickle through the bowels of the New York City subway system, funneled to workers more accustomed to calls about tunnel fires or ceiling leaks. A problem is reported at Columbus Circle one recent afternoon. A passenger could be in great distress. Delays are minimal, but movement on the tracks has perhaps never been slower.

“So would a crew mind collecting its helmets and hauling its mechanical claw to rescue the turtle — fumbled by a rider — currently plotting its very methodical getaway from Midtown train traffic?

“ ‘It’s a big city,’ a transit worker, Vinny Mangia, had said a day earlier, reciting a mantra of his office. ‘Somebody’s going to drop something.’

“And somebody, if the item is sufficiently treasured, is going to try to pick it up. These are the fishermen of the subway system, cobbling together homemade instruments to pluck items from the tracks and release them to a grateful city.

“Workers have returned a bag of hospital-bound blood and corralled a collection of artificial body parts, scooped engagement rings from the rails and reunited children with stuffed animals. …

“There is the occasional aggrieved passenger, chafing at the response time if a crew is traveling from another call at a far-off station. But almost universally, riders are appreciative. A few have tried to tip the workers, though they say they have never accepted.

“ ‘A little hug, we take,’ Leonard Geraghty said. ‘I usually tell them, if it’s a man: “Take your wife out. Have a good time on us.” ‘ “

More here.

Photo: Sally Ryan, NY Times
Bob Devine uses a mechanical claw to grab a book lost at 34th Street.

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