The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

poor substitute

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

December 6th, a date which will live in infamy, as it is the anniversary of the birth of British Occultist Dion Fortune as well as the day that a man modernity knows as Santa Claus died.

The Mayan Apocalypse is only 15 days away now, so it might be a good idea to focus in on something a bit less weighty than the end of the universe. Accordingly, on a day that reminded one of nothing more than the Stephen King short story called “The Mist”, your humble narrator headed down to Queens Plaza to check out and ride the MTA Holiday Nostalgia Trains.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These holiday nostalgia trains are a yearly event offered by the MTA, and run on the M line between Queens Plaza and the 2nd avenue stop in Manhattan. Legacy equipment, the trains are a hodge lodge of different eras in subway history, and are maintained with the historical advertising one would have observed “back in the day”. The trains are running on Sundays, with the first train leaving the city at ten and arriving in Queens Plaza for the return trip at 10:44 am. Check out this page at the MTA website for more info on train models and schedule.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Train people, rail fans as they would call themselves, are a breed apart. It is extremely easy to mock their enthusiasm and detailed knowledge of the industrial ephemera which surrounds rolling stock, and there are several nicknames for them. These denigrating nomens infuriate their insular community, in the same way that Star Trek or Comic Book people detest outsiders labeling them as nerds or geeks. This is their hobby, and its actually a fairly wholesome one at that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s funny, how little attention or notice the actual hardware of the subways receives. Personally, the only time I truly pay attention to the cars themselves is when I find myself on a line which is using a completely different model than one of the trains which I normally travel on. The R versus the 1 for instance, use entirely different models, although I couldn’t tell you much more than surface differences, nor why the choice was made to use one of the other. The rail fan will be able to point to the exposed screw in a random light fixture and tell you an involved tale about it, usually involving long dead commissioners and obscure MTA operatives you’ve never heard of before.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You’ve still got two more Sundays to get out and experience these vintage cars, lined with goofy advertising from the past- admonishments to “hire a veteran”, “Smoke Viceroy”, and reminders that “real men wear a hat”. Be prepared though, for camera flash and dozens of photographers roaming the trains as they hurtle along. One interesting existential observation is how “bouncy” these trains are in comparison to the modern units, they are also quite a bit louder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, the holiday trains are moving along the M tracks, and performing regular duty for the day. An enjoyable activity is to watch the City people blindly get on board, texting and futzing about with their phones, and then suddenly cast their gaze around, noticing their surroundings and the hordes of photographers and rail fans around them. There are some photographers and “creepy camera club guys” who hire models to dress in period garb for the day, and pretty ladies and gentlemen can be observed wearing the fashions of earlier times.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One finds that you have to hold on to something when these trains are moving, lest you be tossed about. One of my many annoying habits, this one exhibited while riding the subway, is to stand on the balls of my feet with my arms at my side and “surf” as the subway moves between stations. I enjoy this, and it would be suicide to try it on the vintage trains, which demand two on the floor and one on the pole or hanging strap. The MTA, you’ve come a long way, baby.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The general protocol which your humble narrator follows for this event is to ride the train in a full circuit, from Queens Plaza to second and back to QP where I leave the train, satisfied with the experience. My rail fan friends engage in a Bataan death march of a day, riding back and forth in some kafkaesque loop, and will pack a lunch. Such devotion is remarkable, and beyond my attention span.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My personal predilection, after entering the subway system, is usually to get out of it as quickly as possible. I don’t like it down there, in that dripping stygia of rat infested tunnels. I don’t like knowing that the trains form pneumatic dams within the tunnels which push a swirling cloud of rodent droppings and desiccated decay before them and into the station. Mephitic, these dust blasts paint every surface- including me- with fecund horrors whose byzantine complexity is beyond the capacity of even a madman to conceive.

Accordingly, me and the Forgotten-NY guy went out for coffee in LIC after getting off the train at the 23 Ely stop.


Written by Mitch Waxman

December 6, 2012 at 12:15 am

5 Responses

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  1. Mitch, I just l-u-u-v the warming scent of the subway when walking over it on a sidewalk grating, topside. Donchu? How shall I describe it? A bit metallic perhaps? Je ne sais quoi. This olfactory pleasure I have never found anywhere else on the Globus. Someone ought to market it.

    BTW the Honeymooners Marathon just 26 days away. Can you feel the tingle yet? (“You’re not losing a daughter. You’re gaining a ton!”)


    December 6, 2012 at 10:10 am

  2. Hi Mitch,

    I ran this question by Kevin Walsh once or twice, but I don’t know if he knows as he did not comment. I’m trying my luck with you. In the above photo of his (far left), there is a water pump-like thingee (a la Petticoat Junction) which has fascinated me since I was a little kid. Is it a handbrake? A car separator? Or just something to entertain kids of that height, LOL? Hoping to hear.


    August 31, 2013 at 4:15 am

  3. Hi Mitch,
    Hoping you can answer this lifelong question of mine which, thanks to Kevin Walsh, is displayed perfectly at the left side of the above photo. I’m referring to the water pump-like contraption (a la Petticoat Junction) at the far left of the subway car. Is it a hand brake? An uncoupler? A device to torture strap hangers reading The Wall Street Journal with its incessant clanging, or something to wondrously conk overly curious kids in the head with, LOL? Seriously, I would like to put this ‘mystery to me’ (great name for a Fleetwood Mac LP) to bed once and for all.
    Hoping to hear (either way),


    August 31, 2013 at 4:24 am

    • According to one of my rail experts, David Silver- That’s the parking brake for the car. The handle gets ratcheted left to right, which in turn tightens up a chain, which pulls up on the parking brake. To release it, you swing it in the other direction once, which then drops the chain, thus releasing the brake.

      Mitch Waxman

      August 31, 2013 at 11:41 am

      • Thank you and David Silver immensely. Perhaps one day I’ll ride the holiday train before I sink into the big sleep (yeah, The Doors vs. MTA’s). At least now I can 🙂


        September 1, 2013 at 7:26 am

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