I was in Manhattan on Sunday. I would have otherwise been in front of my television set watching the Sunday morning news programs, which was something I desired avoiding at all costs. I just said no to the sights and sounds of alternative fact-spouting flacks and yes to the great outdoors.
Due to construction, the Number 1 train was running from W242nd Street in the Bronx to 14th Street, instead of South Ferry, in Manhattan. Since I typically exit on 14th Street on these spontaneous adventures of mine, all was well. The fact that the Number 1 was operating a shorter run than the norm, and bypassing several stops, made it “Special” apparently. Yes, that special word replaced “South Ferry” as the train’s last stop on the individual subway car signs. The best laid plans of mice and men: This special train trip didn’t quite make it to 14th Street. At 137th Street, we passengers were held in the station for a few minutes, awaiting clearance from a dispatcher that never came. The conductor at last broke the bad news. “This train is going out of service!” he announced. Translation: Everybody out!
I patiently waited with everyone else for the next Number 1 to come along but—despite it, too, being special—the train was not surprisingly overcrowded. As a C-Leg wearer, I abhor crowds. (I didn’t particularly like them pre-C-Leg.) But I wasn’t in a particular hurry, so I decided to wait the eight or so minutes for the next train. At the far end of an elongated underground subway station, I stood alone with the sole exception of an unhinged-looking fellow ambling my way. I took this reality snapshot as the latest sign that I should navigate my way onto street level and commence my Manhattan journey from there. (I employed a variation of my Charles Manson Rule for subway travel. And because of it, found myself at an unusual starting point—way, way up north and walking southbound, the direction the special Number 1 train was supposed to take me.)
So, on this sunny, benign winter’s morning, I strolled down Broadway in the environs of City College and then Columbia University. I hoped prayed that I wouldn’t be subject to any “Crazy Creamsicle” Trump chatter or protests, because I wanted a few hours free of presidential thoughts and, again, I don’t like crowds. Despite the bizarre antics of the aforementioned commander-in-chief in his first ten days in office, life in the big city went on without a hitch. I didn’t overhear or detect any political babble at all. I passed by Tom’s Restaurant of Seinfeld fame and felt compelled to take the obligatory picture. I should eat in there one of those days, I thought, before it, too, is claimed by New York City’s diner purge.
I had actually forgotten as I wandered through this area of Manhattan that it had a few hills to navigate, which like crowds, I’d prefer not tackling on a C-Leg. Fortunately, I passed through unharmed. At one point, I found myself at the intersection of hoity-toity West End Avenue and 100th Street, where I spied a telephone booth. Pay phones are getting increasingly hard to find nowadays, but I thought phone booths had gone the way of the Rolodex. Perhaps Clark Kent lives in the area.
I was back on Broadway at 96th Street, a slice of earth I hadn’t traversed above ground in fifteen years, I'd guess. There was a diner called Happy Burger in the vicinity, I recalled, which I patronized once upon a time. I wondered if it was still there, but suspected it was more than likely a casualty of gentrification. The surrounding area told me in no uncertain terms that Happy Burger’s ship had sailed. A CVS drug store covered a good portion of the block where Happy Burger once served coffee at a tiny fraction of the new king of the hill: Starbucks.
Upon my return home, a Google search filled me in on all I needed to know about the demise of Happy Burger. It had closed its doors in 2004, I learned. Its Greek immigrant owners had planned to keep the place open until their lease expired in 2008, but the landlord made them an offer they couldn’t refuse to close shop four years earlier. They shut Happy Burger down without giving their many loyal patrons a right and proper heads-up. Life...life. A unexpected special train going out of service and a deranged-looking man on a subway platform augured the unhappy discovery that Happy Burger—like so many happy things—is no more.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)