Most New Yorkers spend as little time in the subway as they can-even if they
have an unlimited monthly pass. But among the thousands of hurried,
uncomfortable, irritable, and exhausted riders in the next subway you ride,
there may be one who is actually enjoying the trip. Reporter Marianne McCune
rode the rails with a longtime devotee of New York City's rail system.
There are all sorts of names for people like Joe Korman-
fero-equinologists, trainspotters. Some people say they're off their trolley.
But Korman just calls himself a rail fan. He's been one since he was two.
JK: Somebody gave me a little wind up toy train ... the first thing
I said when I unpacked it and started to play with it, was, there's no caboose!
Like many rail-fans who grew up in New York, the subway was Korman's
JK: You see youngsters looking out the front door, watching the
trains run down the tracks ... ... difference is I haven't grown up yet
On a stuffy afternoon, Korman cruises backwards in time on the elevated
tracks of the Canarsie line. At 49, he's much bigger than he was, and he has a
moustache now. But that doesn't keep him from heading for the motorman's car so
he can see out the front window.
JK (on train): It's the only way to go. Look out, see what he's
seeing, learn the signals.
The motorman steps into the cab and puts on a zippered leather glove.
He's unaware that he will drive the next mile with a kindred spirit.
JK (on train): Now we can see the signals ahead, second one has a
yellow bottom so obviously we're going to cross over ... otherwise we'd be in
By the time Korman was 6 years old, he was well-versed in subway
technology. His Uncle Meish, who worked for the Transit Authority, took him on
regular joy rides-and taught him the glory of knowing the system. Train cars
and stations were his classroom, his uncle his first teacher.
JK: He was like a third parent to me. We used to call him the
talking encyclopedia ... if I get choked up, he passed away about a year ago.
The Myrtle Avenue line was their favorite. The old gate cars rattled
along the tracks, a conductor between each one. Before leaving the station,
every conductor had to ring a bell to signal to the motorman that all was
JK: You'd hear ding ding, ding ding, ding ding, and the train would
As Korman got older, he took subway detours just to see what was out
there-he went from Coney Island to Brownsville via Yankee Stadium and took the
A train to Rockaway Beach-not bothering to get out when he arrived.
JK: I really wasn't paying attention to things other than what was
on the tracks ... that's how crazy I was ...
In college, Korman watched from his classroom window as the Myrtle
Avenue tracks were demolished-taken apart piece by piece. But his heartbreak
didn't last long-his passion is for the whole, not its individual parts.
JK (on train): For some reason this train is going onto the unused
tracks, I don't know why. I guess we'll find out when we try to get to
One stop later-at Atlantic Avenue-all passengers are told to exit and
wait for the next train. Some look irritated, but Korman is forgiving --
Atlantic Avenue affords him a great view of one of the subway's many stub-ends:
old or unfinished tracks that end abruptly in mid-air.
JK: Pieces of history. Little bits and pieces.
This piece includes an iron stairway.
JK: I could never understand why anyone would want to walk up that
stairway. It doesn't go anywhere.
It's this attention to the why and how of the subway system that makes
Korman's eyes twinkle. He travels in his mind between what is and what might
have been. And though he doesn't joy-ride much anymore-he says he's too old-he
does visit the subway on his computer everyday. Korman hosts one of the
premiere websites about the New York City subway- visited by thousands of
rail-fans around the world.
JK: I defy anyone to really explain why any hobby is of interest to
any person, other than saying, well, look at that thing of beauty coming into
the station! ...
With nostalgia in his eyes, he finds a place on the train and rides
toward home-and his home page.
For WNYC News, I'm Marianne McCune.
You can visit Joe Korman's website at
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