Tourists in N.Y.C. Marvel at a Cleaner, Less-Crowded Subway

The last time Richard McKee rode the New York City subway, John F. Kennedy was in the White House. Now retired and vaccinated, he flew here in June from Northern California and headed underground with a camera around his neck to photograph the murals and installations in the subway stations.

Things felt different than in 1962, when Mr. McKee was last here. “For one thing,” he said, “the subway is cleaner; it’s quieter.”

Mr. McKee is one of the many tourists I’ve met on the subway this year who is taking advantage of a newly reopened New York. For now, at least, travel and hotel costs are still relatively low, enticing young people, retirees and families to make the trip.

Though most of Broadway will remain dark until September, museums and restaurants have opened, and the summer weather allows visitors to traverse the new Little Island park, channel Allen Ginsberg in Washington Square and take down a late-night dollar-pizza slice on a sidewalk perch.

JD Batth, 21, traveled with 12 friends at the end of May from Leesburg, Va. The group, students from George Mason University, decided to take the trip once they were all vaccinated.

“One moment that stood out to me was finding the place to eat pizza,” Mr. Batth said, “because we walked for about 30 minutes. So once we found it and had a slice we all knew the walk was worth it because you can’t get pizza that good anywhere in Virginia.”

In April, Mishka Antonov, 24, and Madi Octavia, 23, took their first trip out of Seattle since the pandemic began. They are tattoo artists who decided to visit New York to get tattooed by “some of their heroes,” Ms. Octavia said. “We plan on coming back again soon to hopefully tattoo there!”

Others are coming to celebrate special occasions. Natasha Vertti and Khiari Bakar took the train from Philadelphia in early June to celebrate Ms. Vertti’s 24th birthday.

“She hadn’t experienced New York nightlife before,” Mr. Bakar, 26, said. “I’ve been in love with New York for years and I thought it’d be a great place to escape to for her birthday.”

Mr. Bakar noted that the sense of normalcy on the trains felt good, and that the “spirit of the city is back.”

Cori Crawford, who just turned 5, was also in town to celebrate her birthday. With her parents, Laura and Kyle, and her 7-year-old sister, Zoe, they zipped around on the subway, visiting some of New York’s most recognizable landmarks, including Ellis Island, One World Trade Center and the Museum of Natural History.

The Ortega family, traveling to New York from Bogotá, Colombia, in June, also hit some major landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. They had planned to make the trip since before the pandemic for Sara Sofía Ortega’s quinceañera.

Edgar Ortega, Sara Sofía’s father, who had been to New York before, said they enjoyed riding the subway, which was cleaner and less busy than on his previous visits.

Matthew Gerson made the trip in mid-June from Washington, D.C., to visit his girlfriend, who was on summer break from law school and was living in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.

“It’s been wonderful to ride the subway in New York,” Mr. Gerson, 25, said. “It’s been a powerful reassurance that life is gradually returning to normal. Like waking up from a long, bad dream.”

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