America's New York
( Originally Published 1913 )
BEFORE the dawn, metropolitan New York is astir. As a matter of far more accurate fact she never sleeps. You may call her the City of the Sleepless Eye and hit right upon the mark. For at any time of the lonely hours of the night she is still a busy place. Elevated and subway trains and surface cars, although shortened and reduced in number, are upon their ways and are remarkably well filled. Regiments of men are engaged in getting out the morning papers — in a dozen different languages of the sons of men — and another regiment is coming on duty to lay the foundations of the earliest editions of the evening papers. There are workers here and there and everywhere in the City of the Sleepless Eye.
But before the dawn, New York becomes actively astir. Lights flash into dull radiance in the rows of side-street tenement and apartment houses all the way from Brooklyn bridge to Bronx Park. New York is beginning to dress. Other lights flash into short brilliancy before the coming of the dawn. New York is beginning to eat its breakfast. And right afterwards the stations of the elevated and the subway, the corners where the speeding surface cars will sometimes hesitate, become the objects of attack of an army that is marching upon the town. Workaday New York is stretching its arms and settling down to business.
Nor is the awakening city to be confined to the narrow strip of island between the North and East rivers. Over on Long island are Brooklyn, Long Island City, Flushing, Jamaica and a score of other important places now within the limits of Greater New York. Some folk find it more economical to live in these places than in the cramped confines of Manhattan, and so it is hardly dawn before the great bridges and the tubes over and under the East river are doing the work for which they were built — and doing it masterfully.
The Brooklyn bridge is the oldest of these and yet it has been bending to its superhuman task for barely thirty years. In these thirty years it has been constantly reconstructed but the best devices of the engineers, doubling and tripling the facilities of the original structure, can hardly keep pace with the growth of the communities and the traffic it has to serve. So within these thirty years other bridges and two sets of tunnels have come to span the East river. But the work of the first of all man's highways to conquer the mighty water high-way has hardly lessened. The oldest of the bridges, and the most beautiful despite the ugliness of its approaches, still pours Brooklynites into Park Row, fifty, sixty, seventy thousand to the hour.
The overloading of the Brooklyn bridge is repeated in the subway — that hidden giant of New York, which is the real backbone of the island of Manhattan. Built to carry four hundred thousand humans a day, that busy railroad has begun to carry more than a million each working day. How it is done, no one, not even the engineers of the company that operates it, really knows. The riders in the great tube who have to use it during the busiest of the rush hours are willing to hazard a guess, however. It is probable that in no other railroad of the sort would jamming and crowding of this sort be tolerated for more than a week. Yet the patrons of the subway not only tolerate but, after a fashion, they like it. You can ask a New Yorker about it half an hour after his trip down town, sardine-fashion, and he will only say :
" The subway? It's the greatest ever. I can come down from Seventy-second street to Wall street in six-teen minutes, and in the old days it used to take me twenty-six or twenty-seven minutes by the elevated."
There is your real New Yorker. He would be perfectly willing to be bound and gagged and shot through a pneumatic tube like a packet of letters, if he thought that he could save twenty minutes between the Battery and the Harlem river. No wonder then that he scorns a relatively greater degree of comfort in elevated trains and surface cars and hurries to the overcrowded sub-way.
But New York astir in the morning is more even than Manhattan, the Bronx and the populous boroughs over on Long island. Upon its westerly edge runs the Hudson river — New Yorkers will always persist in calling it the North river one of the masterly water highways of the land. The busy East river had been spanned by man twice before any man was bold enough to suggest a continuous railroad across the Hudson. Now there are several — the wonderful double tubes of the Pennsylvania railroad leading from its new terminal in the uptown heart of Manhattan and two double sets of tunnels of a rapid transit railroad leading from New Jersey both uptown and downtown in Manhattan. This rapid transit railroad the Hudson & Manhattan, to use its legal name, although most New Yorkers speak of it as the McAdoo Tubes, because of the man who had the courage to build it — links workaday New York with a group of great railroad terminals that line the eastern rim of New jersey all the way from Communipaw through Jersey City to Hoboken. And the railroads reach with more than twenty busy arms off across the Jersey marshes to rolling hills and incipient mountains. Upon those hills and mountains live nearly a hundred thousand New Yorkers men whose business interests are closely bound up in the metropolis of the New World but whose social and home ties are laid in a neighboring state. These — together with their fellows from Westchester county, the southwestern corner of Connecticut and from the Long island suburban towns measure a railroad journey of from ten to thirty miles in the morning, the same journey home at night, as but an incident in their day's work. They form the great brigade of commuters, as a rule the last of the working army of New York to come to business.
The commuter has his own troubles — sometimes. By reason of his self-chosen isolation he may suffer certain deprivations. The servant question is not the least of these. And the extremes of a winter in New York come hard upon him. There are days when the Eight-twenty-two suddenly loses all that reputation for steadiness and sobriety that it has taken half a year to achieve, days when sleepy schooners laden with brick and claiming the holy right-of-way of the navigator get caught in the draw-bridges, days when the sharp unexpectedness of a miniature blizzard freezes terminal switches and signals and tangles traffic inexplicably — days, and nights as well, when the streets of his suburban village are well-nigh impassable. But these days are in a tremendous minority. And even upon the worst of them he can put the rush and turmoil of the city behind him — in the peace and silence of his country place he can forget the sorrows of Harlem yesteryear with the noisy twins on the floor below and the mechanical piano right overhead.
For nearly four hours the steady rush toward work continues. You can gauge it by a variety of conditions — even by the newspapers that are being spread wide open the length of the cars. In the early morning the popular penny papers — the American and the World predominating, with a sprinkling of the Press in between. Two hours later and while these popular penny papers are still being read — they seem to have a particular vogue with the little stenographers and the shop girls the more staid journals show themselves. Men who like the salid reading of the Times, with its law calendars and its market reports ; men of the town who frankly confess to an affection for the flippancy of the Sun, or who have not lost the small town spirit of their youth enough to carry them beyond the immensely personal tone of the Herald. And in between these, men who sniff at the mere mention of the name of Roosevelt, and who read the Tribune because their daddies and their grand-daddies in their turn read it before them, or frankly business souls who are opening the day with a conscientious study of the Journal of Commerce or the Wall street sheets.
New York goes to work reading its newspaper. And before you have finished a Day of Days in the biggest city of the land you might also see that it goes to lunch with a newspaper in its hand, returns home tired with the fearful thoughts of business to delve comfortably into the gossip of the day in the favorite evening paper.
Just as you stand at the portals of the business part of the town and measure the incoming throng by its favorite papers so can you sieve out the classes of the workers almost by the hours at which they report for duty. In the early morning, in the winter still by artificial light, come those patient souls who exist literally and almost bitterly by the labor of their hands and the sweat of their brows. With them are the cleaners and the elevator crews of the great office buildings those tremendous commercial towers that New York has been sending skyward for the past quarter of a century. On the heels of these the first of the workers in the office buildings, office boys, young clerks, girl stenographers whose wonderful attire is a reflection of the glories that we shall see upon Fifth avenue later in this day. It is pinching business, literally — the dressing of these young girls. But if their faces are suspiciously pinky or suspiciously chalky, if their pumps and thin silk stockings, their short skirts and their open-necked waists atrocious upon a chill and nasty morning, we shall know that they are but the reflection of their more comfortable sisters uptown. Not all of this rapidly increasing army of women workers in business New York is artificial. Not a bit of it. There are girls in downtown offices whose refinement of dress and deportment, whose exquisite poise, whose well-schooled voices might have come from the finest old New York houses. And these are the girls who revel in their Saturday afternoons uptown — all in the smartness of best bib and tucker — at the matinee or fussing with tea at Sherry's or the Plaza.
An army of office workers pours itself into the business buildings that line Broadway and its important parallel streets all the way from Forty second street to the Battery that cluster with increasing discomfort in the narrow tip of Manhattan south of the City Hall. Clerks, stenographers, more clerks, more stenographers, now department heads and junior partners finally the big fellows themselves, coming down democratically in the short-haul trains of the Sixth avenue elevated that start from Fifty-eighth street or even enduring the discomforts of the subway, for it takes a leisurely sort of a millionaire indeed who can afford to come in his motor car all the way downtown through the press and strain of Broadway traffic. After all these, the Wall street men. For the exchange opens at the stroke of ten of Trinity's clock and five brief and bitter hours of trading have begun.
For four hours this flood of humans pouring out of the ferry-house and the railroad terminals, up from the subway kiosks and out from the narrow stairways of the elevated railroads. The narrow downtown streets congest, again and again. The sidewalks overflow and traffic takes to the middle of the streets. But the great office buildings absorb the major portion of the crowds. Their vertical railroads eight or ten or twenty or thirty cars are working to capacity and workaday New York is sifting itself to its task. By ten o'clock the office buildings are aglow with industry — the great ma-chine of business starting below the level of the street and reaching high within the great commercial towers.
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