I grew up in the public-transit wastelands of Staten Island, which even though it’s part of New York City is the only county in a 50-mile radius without a direct rail link to Manhattan. So, South Ferry was the closest thing I had to a subway stop; after a bus ride of anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, and a half-hour ferry ride, I could head down the stairs to the cramped, curved platform, only big enough to fit the front half of a subway train, and take the the Seventh Avenue Local (that’s what my dad and grandfather called it; when I first started riding the trains the standardized color scheme didn’t exist yet and the number/letter system was used inconsistently) to magical places worlds away from my semi-suburban neighborhood.
It took me to 14th Street, where Baird Searles’ Science Fiction Shop was located, and the main branch of Barnes and Noble (a bookstore heaven to a kid who only knew the Paperback Booksmith and Waldenbooks in the mall; this was several decades before the advent of the superstores) was just a short walk away. To 33rd Street, to go to the wargame/D&D heaven of the Compleat Strategist. To Christopher Street, for an afternoon rummaging through the bins at Second Coming and the Record Runner and other stores long gone and forgotten even by me. (And no, Bleecker Bob’s, while still open, was never on the list — it was an infamous clip joint where $3.99 albums sold for $25 and the staff was rude.)
The unusual aspects of the station — the moving grates that covered the gap between the curved platform and the car door, the horrendous screech of the wheels as the train came into the curve — were all things I associated firmly with The Subway. I learned to walk between cars very early so that I could walk up to the first five cars if I got on at the back of the train. None of this was strange to me, although most subway riders have probably never experienced them. The only other station with the moving grates and the curves is Union Square and I don’t think any other platform in the system is too short for a full train. And there’s really no reason to use the South Ferry station if you’re not going to take the ferry.
It will be gone soon, replaced with a new station that’s bigger and brighter and can fit a full train, and has a connection to the Whitehall Street BMT station. Anyone who uses the station regularly will be much happier with the new one, but I’ll always be nostalgic for the old one. And oh so very glad that I don’t have to use it anymore.