By MICHAEL GARETH JOHNSON
Photos by SASHA MASLOV
For many, one of the truly unique experiences of traveling to the U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is riding the 7 train through the majority of the borough. Often packed with commuters, the above ground rail allows a passenger to see many of Queens unique neighborhoods, as the train winds its way from Grand Central station in Manhattan, through Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights.
From the subway car, you can see the explosion of skyscrapers popping up in Western Queens, view ethnically diverse neighborhoods with pedestrians scurrying in and out of shops and restaurants, watch planes take-off and land from LaGuardia airport, and if you time it right, catch some spectacular sunsets over the Manhattan skyline.
Here’s a handy guide on how to get the best experience.
WHICH TRAIN TO TAKE:
From Grand Central, where many people pass through on their way to the U.S. Open, there will likely be two 7 train options. The Express, which will have a red diamond lit up on the cars, or the Local, which has the circle. While the Express is faster, it is usually more crowded as well, making it harder to find a seat or gaze out of the window and see the sites. If you have the time, you can take the Local and likely get a seat and some more space to yourself.
WHERE TO STAND:
The front and middle of the trains will always be packed with commuters. Experienced subway travellers often have mapped out the best car to get in so they can expedite their exits off the train at their final stop. So, the part of the train with the least people will always be the back of the train. Try and find a spot in one of the back two cars and you’ll likely have more personal space.
As you exit out of the tunnel under the East River, you will immediately see the bustling and booming Long Island City. The area has been dramatically transformed in the past decade, with more and more buildings popping up each day. It’s become a place for many people to live blocks away from their places of work, and increasingly has become a hotbed for trendy restaurants and bars. Gone is the famous 5 Pointz graffiti museum, where several abandoned buildings became a free place for talented artists to display their work for 7 train riders for nearly two decades. In its place is another luxury apartment. But, the area still has the iconic Silvercup sign to view as you coast into the borough.
Moving away from Long Island City, you quickly see the population density of the borough as you pass hundreds of five-story high apartment buildings and condos, filled with tenants. It’s easy to say that a trip on the 7 train takes you past the homes of nearly a million people, with flags displaying cultural pride hanging out windows of some of the buildings. The crowded mass of humanity is on display to all viewers as you roll by, seeing small peaks into people’s lives as they gather in small parks below, or go about their day walking along the sidewalk below you.
If you are on the Express train, the first major stop after leaving Long Island City is Woodside / 61st Street. If the weather patterns are a certain way, you will see a line of planes on approach to land at LaGuardia, flying directly overhead. Meanwhile, below, Long Island Railroad trains speed by heading off in a variety of directions. You may even see some fellow U.S. Open patrons waiting on the platform below for the Port Washington line LIRR, which also drops off passengers at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Leaving Woodside, the buildings start to get progressively smaller, and the views of the borough and beyond get better. This is where you can really see a dramatic sunset, view many of the city’s iconic bridges, and get a general feeling that you are on lookout — almost like a king admiring their kingdom from the top of a castle.
At Junction Boulevard, you may be tempted to jump off and go hit up one of the dozens of ethnic restaurants within walking distance of the station. On a good day, you will smell bread being baked, meats barbequed, and a general aroma of deliciousness that is a welcome change from the summer stink that often permeates in the city of millions.
The final few stops before you reach the U.S. Open allow you to see some of the other iconic landmarks that are at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, including space shuttles (details), the World’s Fair observation towers, and the fancy stadiums (both Arthur Ashe stadium at the National Tennis Center, and Citi Field, home of the Mets, on the other side of the train.)