Newark City Subway

by Jack Pignatello

I always thought that the Newark City Subway was one of life's great adventures. Although I was born in Newark, in Veteran's Housing, and then moving to 13th Ave, right behind the Essex County Courthouse (which was recently re-opened after years of cleanup), my family moved to Belleville when I was 5 years old. Seems the county had to build a new jail right behind that courthouse/Hall of Records complex, and they decided to level the entire block in order to do it.

Anyway, I can remember going downtown with my Mother on that subway. It ran from Franklin Street in Silver Lake (across from Steven Crane Village) to downtown, with the ending stop at Penn Station Newark. I think the fare was 8 cents. In those days, the track was one straight line, and when the train reached the end, the driver would take his entire 'office'; stool, change purse and the gizmo with the holes in the top that received all the coins, and carry it down the aisle and reinstall everything for the return trip. Then they put a loop at Franklin Street so the drivers didn't have to know whether they were coming or going.

The noise those things made was unbelievable, especially in the summer, with the windows open. (Remember those crank-up windows?) Of course, air conditioning was something for the Adams Theater (which I just saw, by the way, a few weeks ago. Completely deserted...gates across the lobby entrance. A real disgrace. I can remember going on class trips there...The Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia...all the biggies.) Anyway, the best seats on the subway were always in the back. The cars would whip back and forth, and it was great fun. Of course, my mother didn't want to sit back there, so as I got older (and the fare increased!), I was allowed to go downtown alone. My friend Bob and I would go on a moment's notice....we'd go to all the movie theaters, the Newark Museum, Christmas shopping...even just to hang out. Never a thought to personal security. And we could sit wherever we wanted.

I still take the subway once in a while, but it's all changed. For one thing, it's all enclosed and mechanized now. No charm. There's a computerized affair that spits out tickets on the platform, and then you have to stamp them in another machine to activate them. All very jangling coins. No conductor bells ringing. (What did all that secret code mean, anyhow?) Sure it's air conditioned, but it's like riding in a noise, no bumping, no fun. Just another way to get from one place to another. But I still like riding through those old tunnels festooned with WPA murals, and Branch Brook Park, especially from the track bed, still looks clean and glorious.


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