Life on Second Avenue

Life has changed slowly on Second Avenue north of 86th Street over the past ten years. That has all been altered as of late. Over the last decade a few very tall buildings have gone up on or just off of the avenue, new businesses have come and gone, old ones have been forced out and the streets have gotten a bit more crowded with people who have discovered that upstate does not begin at 87th Street. The biggest change, one that affects anyone who lives between 90th and 97th Streets, has been the start of the Second Avenue subway line. Rather, I should say, the continuation.

If you are from New York City there is no doubt you know all about the Second Avenue subway line that got restarted a few months back. For those of you who are unaware, for decades there has been rumor of a tunnel that was partially constructed fifty years ago or more under Second Avenue on the east side of Manhattan. Tracks were never laid, subways never ran, the tunnel was abandoned. All of us who live, or have lived on the east side of Central Park, rely on one subway line to get us to and fro, unlike the west side which has three. Anyone who has founded a home on the upper east side has longed for another subway to take them downtown. I have to wonder if they are still longing for it.

Outside my window everyday (and evening and into the night), I hear and watch the construction that started this past spring. I had watched over the years as boring machines drilled to check soil and I heard the rumors that the work was going to get started, but I never thought it was going to happen. I figured it was just part of the myth. But sure enough—as the papers reported, as Mayor Bloomberg announced and as the trucks started appearing—the construction is under way.

Now, you can ask ten people and you will get ten stories, but the only thing I can confirm is that they are doing work daily and it does go late into the night. I guess you have to be New York City to get the permits from New York City to work past 6PM. We will all take our turn being completely harassed by the construction at night, but the truth is, as annoying as it may be, I enjoy it and enjoy the fact that work is going on. I like progress and I like change. Unfortunately I hate the smell of diesel fumes and the sound of very large metal things falling abruptly, two things that seem to come with progress and change on this project.

I’ll get into the goings on more in the days to come, but for the past few weeks work seems to be concentrated between 93rd and 95th streets. I feel bad for the businesses on the stretches that get the brunt of the disruption. As residents we may be annoyed, but we are not losing potential revenue from sidewalk closures and rerouted walkways. I am a regular patron of two establishments on this stretch, Laundry Boy and M&N Superette. Sitting outside Landry Boy one evening I watched as work went on. I sat there talking about the construction with the one of the locals. He said it cost the city a half million dollars a year to maintain the tunnel that was abandoned. I always think that it is sad when New Yorkers are awoken to what it takes to keep up the infrastructure of this great city. Unfortunately steam pipe explosions and freak flash floods make us aware that more goes on underground then most think about on a daily basis. There is a ton of work to be done to keep us going. Each one of those manholes goes down into some cavern that someone has to help maintain for the sake of the rest of us. That said, even I never thought about the humidity and water that could cause trouble in an abandoned tunnel.

So a week later I returned to Laundry Boy, and was sitting outside when I got the idea for this posting. Since I have to sit through this, pass it, live with it, smell it and hear it, why not share it. I wish this thought occurred to me six months ago, but I can’t change that, so much went on over that time that I couldn’t add another thing to the plate. But as the summer ends and things calm down I start with a drawing or two. From my little area of the world I give you what is happening on Second Avenue between 90th and 97th Streets and will keep you posted on what is doing from day to day.


Comments (2)

  1. Veronica

    Love it, Dom! Tell me more….

  2. reportage illustrators dot com » Blog Archive » There Is Life On Second

    […] the first of a reportage series on the Second Avenue subway construction in New York City, Studio 1482 member Dominick Santise […]

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