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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

MULTISENSORY EXPERIENCE: The Franklin Avenue Shuttle

The Times Square–Grand Central Shuttle train may have two major New York City landmarks as its termini, but the lesser-known Franklin Avenue Shuttle, which cuts across Crown Heights from Franklin Avenue to the eastern edge of Prospect Park, carries local commuters and offers a brief but idyllic, train trip along its five-mile, mostly outdoor track.

I board the train on a drizzly Wednesday morning, just pass rush hour, at the Franklin Avenue station. In front of the turnstiles, a man plays slow jazz on an electric guitar. A breeze greets me at the top of the escalator, and I step off onto the outdoor platform. A wall of stained-glass windows leads from an elevator bank onto the platform and creates a dancing rainbow path as the tree branches filter light through the colored panes. Through an opening in the platform fence, I can see a row of townhouses whose rain-darkened brownstone sets their painted lintels into bright relief.

Soon I feel a quickening of the breeze and hear the hiss of wheels on wet tracks. I am pleased to see the shuttle has orange seats and a dark speckled floor, my favorite combination. As we wait, I watch through the open doors as a Verizon employee empties the quarters from a platform pay phone with a rich, heavy rattle.

The last passenger squeezes in and the train lurches into motion. Leaves of passing trees brush the windows, making wet streaks. We pass an industrial linen laundry, a girl in red on a bike moving down a rain-slicked street, a roof with a folding chair set on it, apartment buildings with windows propped open with bottles of shampoo, walls of graffiti. The wheels make the crun-a-crun sound that trains make only on outdoor tracks. We pass over one bridge and under others, through tunnels and around bends. At the final stop, Prospect Park, an MTA employee boards and mops the train, refreshing its antiseptic cinnamony smell. Every eight minutes, another ending and another beginning.

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