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Subwayland: Adventures in the World Beneath New York Paperback – 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Love it, loathe it or simply view it as the most efficient way to get from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side, the New York City subway system is an urban wonder: running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Kennedy says it boasts 468 stations, 656 miles of passenger tracks and 6,400 cars, which might carry up to 200 passengers each. It also offers New Yorkers and visitors alike "the gift of proximity"=an "enforced neighborhood" that makes New York "more... cohesive than a city its size ever had a right to be." So argues Kennedy, author of the New York Times column "Tunnel Vision," in the introduction to this collection of three years of his musings on train buffs, poetically inspired token booth operators, singles cars, token suckers, subway performers, track workers and underground fauna. Thematically organized into sections like "Underground Government" and "Wildlife," the travelogue of the world beneath the city offers a wealth of fascinating sketches, such as the A line's pigeon stowaways in Far Rockaway, the misanthropic comic at 53rd and Fifth and the man who built a replica of a motorman's cab in his bedroom ("When I show it to people, right away they know I'm not married," he says ruefully). Trivia abounds: the E train is the best train to sleep on; some of the subway's early construction was thanks to blind mules; 27 of the retired Redbird cars form an artificial reef off Delaware; and a recent Lost Property Unit auction offered 285 beepers, five violins and a box of tambourines. 7 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“On every page of this handsomely-written collection, Randy Kennedy has taught me something new. Everything I cherish about the subways is here: the underground community of solitude, the performers, the lunatics, the sinister desperadoes, the professionals who move us through those tunnels in speed and safety, along with the abiding mysteries. If these pieces don't get the remaining subwayphobes out of their stalled autos and into the city's greatest daily marvel, nothing will."
- Pete Hamill

"...to read his notes from the underground (and the elevated) is to know that Kennedy crafts city stories on a par with the marvelous Joseph Mitchell's....he discovers Gotham at its scrappiest--the most American place in America.. A"
- Entertainment Weekly
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; New title edition (2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312324340
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312324346
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,211,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Randy Kennedy's "Tunnel Vision" column was the highlight of my New York Times subscription for nearly three years. It would be hokey to say that I learned more from the Times in Tuesday's Metro section than I did from every other article, op-ed and feature throughout the rest of the week. But it's also true.
I love New York City, and I love the subway. It wasn't always that way -- I voluntarily fled the tri-state area at age 17 to go to college in points south, and later in points midwest. I came running back to the city eight years later, a victim of the fact that Toledo's bus system stops running at 5 PM and on Sundays, and am never leaving again. The subway is now the backbone of my NYC experience. For $70 a month I can take unlimited rides from the southernmost corners of Brooklyn, all the way to Union Square or the Upper East Side. Without having to save 15% or more on car insurance from GEICO.
Every weekly "Tunnel Vision" column, several of which are reprinted for this book (sadly without the original photography) is either educational or, more importantly, hilarious. The most memorable columns discuss those who opt to spend their lives in the subway: as employees, performers, or, sometimes, residents. Several columns are also devoted to the rats and pigeons (if there is a difference between the two) who are an integral part of the city's 468 stations -- even more so than the vanishing token booth clerk.
No contemporary book about the city would be complete without a collection of columns about 9/11. Kennedy interview the motorman who drove under the towers as the first plane struck. He inspects the damage done to the tunnels after the buildings fell.
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Format: Paperback
Randy Kennedy's book is a wonderful compilation of the weekly articles he wrote in his "Tunnel Vision" column, which appeared in the New York Times. Randy's perception of the people of New York does not suffer from a narrow "tunnel vision". He comes from a farm town in Texas, population 1400, and yearned to see people he didn't know. Well he got his wish and has carefully observed the strangers who bring life to the New York City subway. I must admit to a bias, as I am one of the characters that he wrote about, but the book is really about New York City and the way in which the subway has been the daily crucible which has formed the New York persona. In the columns, some of the people Randy sought out and spoke with usually go unseen and unnoticed by the general public. He spoke with and observed subway track workers, motorman, subway musicians, transit police, emergency medical workers, conductors, passengers who lean on poles or block doorways, people who fell in love on a subway platform, subway evangelists and so many more people who press against you every day.2004 is the 100th anniversary of the opening of the New York subway. There will opportunities to appreciate the beauty of the stations and to ride some old subway cars. But Randy's book is not really about the hardware of the subways. It's a celebration of the software, the people who ride it, work in it, entertain us in it, live in it and are fascinated by it. I highly recommend it to any New Yorker who rides the subway and has lost the wonder of it all.
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Format: Paperback
Too many books about the New York City subway system are content to impress the reader with their data gathering and mounds of trivia. Others focus on its history and/or social and economic impact on the city. Many of them are quite good, most are not. However, Randy Kennedy's "Subwayland: Adventures in the World Beneath New York" is a welcome break from all that. Part anecdotal, part instructional, part historic, and part sheer joy, "Subwayland" offers a great deal more than statistics. What Kennedy has proven, in a way, is that the subway system isn't just a transportation option. The subway is a city under the city. Let me take it a step further, the subway is another New York City underneath New York City, complete with its own eccentrics, complexities, codes and rituals, dangers, and attractions.
I ride the subways at least 10 times a week, and have done so since I was a kid growing up in the 1960s. There are plenty of others like me in this regard. But "Subwayland: Adventures in the World Beneath New York" will surprise even the most ardent and experienced subway rider. Many times I found myself smiling in acknowledgement, and muttering, "That's right! I never really noticed that before!" There are many great moments like that in this book. I recommend it highly and it makes a great companion to Brian Cudahy's "A Century of Subways".
Rocco Dormarunno, author of "The Five Points"
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Format: Paperback
Kennedy's book, a collection of his NY Times columns was a fascinating read (although if you look closely on the cover, there are two discarded NY Times papers on the sidewalk--kudos to the Times for it's oh so subtle product placement). I do not get to read Mr. Kennedy's columns as I don't subscribe to the Times or read it online enough. However, I might well check out his column weekly from now on. The book is a delight. It is fascinating account of the hidden history of a city. I think New Yorkers or ex-New Yorkers will love this book the most, but even as someone who ridden the subways as tourist, I can revel in his prose and tales. It reminds a bit of Joe Gould. Fine writing and his love the people shines through.
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