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Psst: One train is running

Ellis Henican December 21, 2005

Strike? What strike?

There wasn't any strike yesterday on New York's Secret Subway. "Beats walking," Verizon troubleshooter Steve Solomon announced after he'd plopped himself into an empty seat - one of many - on this perfectly smooth ride from the World Trade Center to West 33rd Street.

The 21-minute trip left him a short walk from his office and still early for his official punch-in time. "Not bad for a-buck-and-a-half," Solomon shrugged. "You sure you want to tell people about this? You know it'll be jammed tomorrow."

Whatever! There can be no secrets at a time of such general social challenge! Anything I know everyone will know before long! And that includes the special strike-time PATH train between downtown and midtown Manhattan. It's in service 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every weekday until the strike is finished. It's one of the best and least-publicized ways of getting around New York right now.

True, PATH's Secret Subway isn't quite as quick as a normal 2 or 3 train, and the stitched-together route does cross the Hudson River twice. But no transferring is required. You can pay with a regular subway MetroCard. And the northern station is just a block from Penn Station, New Jersey Transit and the LIRR. Beat that this week!

It was that kind of day all over New York, as millions of de-routinized people came face to face with the thousands of inconveniences of a major transit strike. And yet, people still found reason to smile. We don't like to advertise this, but here's a fact that most out-of-towners would never understand: Many of us get a secret thrill out of days like these. The challenge of it all. (Tundra winds across East River bridges.) The craftiness required for successful navigation. (Riding in private cars with people you never met before.) The opportunity to display that justifiably famous don't-mess-with-us New York attitude. (Who you tellin' to stay home?) Not us!

On days like these, we have this ability to dive into the depths of our own metropolitan psyches - and come up for air feeling justifiably proud of ourselves. Trains were running in the city yesterday. You could find them, if you only looked hard enough. This could all wear off quickly. The painful HOV backups at the bridges and tunnels could drive people crazy by this afternoon. The LIRR bedlam at Penn and Jamaica could get uglier still. A day or two more without a real mass-transit system, and grumpy could return triumphantly as the Official New York Mood.

But for day one at least, Manhattan's Secret Subway and so many other little strike-time triumphs were a well-deserved source of New York delight. "It's like you're cheating, sort of," said Steve Gomez of Brooklyn Heights, who trudged over the Brooklyn Bridge, stopped in at Century 21 for a new wool stocking cap and made his own personal beeline for the Secret Subway. "Nobody knows about it yet," agreed Manhattan hedge funder Jacki Hamilton, happy to get most of the way to her office at 55th and Madison. "That'll probably change now."

Certainly Ron Banks wasn't keeping the Secret Subway to himself. Banks, who works at the Sprint store on West 34th Street, was so tickled at his discovery, he found himself aboard a northbound train and bustin' a special strike-morning, Secret Subway rhyme. "I'm taking the PATH train Like it was my Dad's train."

That was the only couplet I got down in my notebook. But the new Secret Subway rapper went on for a good, long while, as the strike-day PATH train rumbled west and then east below the Hudson River, up through Greenwich Village and on to the lower reaches of Herald Square. I can't say for certain. But I'm pretty sure he was making the best of the subway strike.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.


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