Monday, December 29, 2014

The Inaccurately Named 'Nostalgia Train'

Yesterday was the last chance this season to ride the MTA's Nostalgia Train — the time-traveling subway cars that traverse the M line every Christmas.


The trains consist of cars that operated between the 1930s and 1970s, and they attract reenactors from that more genteel era of public transit (actually, I'm not sure it could have been that genteel without air conditioning).


The vintage advertising is always a highlight of the experience. There was this ad promoting the use of "ZIP code"...


And this one for hats (did you know that 84 out of 100 women prefer men who wear hats? That's a better percentage than the portion of dentists choosing Trident)...


Fortunately, I wore my replica 1941 New York Giants cap. Historically accurate!


There also was one for Burma Shave — the king of nostalgia advertising.


Back then, the fare was a dime, compared with $2.50 today.


But you still weren't allowed to smoke.


The vintage map dates from an era before the MTA was created in the 1960s (the BMT, IRT and IND used to be separate subway systems).


There's no stop on Roosevelt Island, of course. That didn't come until 1989. And in fact, it's not even called Roosevelt Island on this map. (It was Welfare Island until 1971.)


The train's wicker seats, dangling light bulbs, submarine-style rivets and ceiling fans are all marvels to modern transit riders.


But I do wonder if the term "Nostalgia Train" is no longer accurate. There are vanishingly few New Yorkers who experienced any of this in real life.

Wouldn't it be better to add a few 1980s cars that are strewn with graffiti? There have to still be some sitting in MTA rail yards. They would inspire genuine nostalgia for people under the age of 60, as well as being a fascinating sight for New York kids. Elliot once saw a picture of a graffiti-covered subway and was mesmerized. It was hard for him to fathom that a train could look like that.

Photo courtesy of the Subway Art Blog.

Anyway, I created a short video of the Nostalgia Train to give you a sense of what it feels like. Alice claimed the train went faster than a normal subway, but I wonder if that's just because the ride was a little more rough.



I've previously compared the Nostalgia Train to San Francisco's F streetcar line. But New York has an edge in helping you go back in time: The Big Apple's subway stations are ancient and grimy enough that you can imagine you're back in the soot-ravaged 1930s.


The one thing that spoiled the mood was the giant touch screen at the West 4 stop. The MTA has set up the screens at a number of stations to help people find local attractions. (The kids find them hard to resist — who wouldn't want to touch a giant iPad?)


It's hard to suspend disbelief with these things around.