We Used to Bother Making Things Pretty

I went out to the Transit Museum with my friend Marisa to see a friend’s sister read from her book, Underground Woman: My Four Years As a New York City Subway Conductor. She, Marian Swerdlow, was an incredibly charming reader, and a great storyteller. She started in 1982 and was among the first women hired as a conductor by the MTA. Someone asked her how the men treated her and of course I expected her to launch into a horror story, but she said great! They were taken aback at first, but not in a negative way and very quickly they decided they loved having women around. “They could come for work and find a date.” But aside from that perk, they were very helpful and welcoming, she said. You always hear about how badly people behave and alright already. We suck, I get it. But she spoke of them fondly and it was nice to hear for a change.

I went downstairs to see the old subway cars and it was depressing, because they were once so beautiful. I should have taken a picture of the cars now so you could see the difference. I mean, look at these trains. Gorgeous. I forgot to write down the years, but I’m pretty sure the first is from the 30’s, the next is from the 40’s and the last one was the 50’s. SAD.

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Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

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3 thoughts on “We Used to Bother Making Things Pretty

  1. It is rather depressing (and soul-sucking) the way we move around our cities… and planet for that matter. I have a trip overseas coming up in a few months. As I was booking my flight I started to feel anxious about the whole “getting from here to there” issue. I’m not worried about terrorism. I’m simply dreading being treated like a head of cattle, poked and prodded into an airless airplane, squished into a seat made for a child and forbidden from getting up to move around for 10 hours. Ugh! I used to get so excited about flying. I even liked the food. The little trays and silverware…

  2. Oh what beautiful Deco and post-Deco subway cars! What a shame they can’t be like that now, or at least there should be a special once a year ‘Ride the Deco Car’ day, where they bring them out of storage. I wonder if in 50 or 60 years there will be grafitti subway cars in museums and people will say “oh what beautiful early 21st Century subway cars– look at that interesting symbolism!”

    Of course I live in a city with no subway, so I can only admire the photos.

  3. Nadine, I know exactly what you are talking. I remember thinking airplane food was also fun.

    And Lisa, I loved the grafitti. I miss the grafitti!

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