SUBWAYLAND by Randy Kennedy


Adventures in the World Beneath New York
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New York Times reporter Kennedy collects his “Tunnel Vision” columns to reveal the city’s subway system as “a society unto itself, with its own citizenry, government, flora and fauna, customs, myths, taboos.”

Intrepidly exploring underground NYC, the author writes with both openness—a relief in a book on subways—and compression, which keeps things moving even when the trains aren’t. Kennedy knows how to keep himself out of the picture and let his subjects take the limelight. Unlike some columnists, he’s not here to pontificate; he’s here to report on the people's limousine. Kennedy doesn’t pretend that the subways are heaven, but he does show them providing a “kinship of the slightly oppressed,” a bit of glue in the urban matrix that creates a live-and-let-live attitude few other cities can boast. The entertainment, he suggests, can be found in the sideshows: the performers, the bluesmen, and the magicians, certainly, but also the woman who sells her short stories for $2 a pop, or the pigeons that grab a train at Far Rockaway and ride a few stops to feast on available tidbits. To Kennedy’s credit, he never gets cute. Watch the sheriff of Grand Central keep order: “Get your arm outta that door!” says the cop. “That wasn't that man's train. He's got reservations on the next one.” Token-sucking, once “considered the single most disgusting nonviolent crime ever to visit the subway,” is history, bur fear not: you can still catch the fragrance at Union Square, where “the door of the women's room was wide open, allowing a fermented aroma to roll out like harbor fog.”

Engaging and nattily written. (7 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-312-32434-0
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2003