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Ear to the Ground

Amid the Storm, Bill McKibben Reflects on the City He Loves

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Posted on Oct 30, 2012
AP/Louls Lanzano

Sandbags litter the entrance to the closed South Ferry/Whitehall Street subway station in New York City’s Battery Park early Tuesday.

Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben fears for New York City because of the damage done by Hurricane Sandy to its subway system, which he describes as “the city’s very roots.”

Now miles away, McKibben fondly recalls cutting his teeth as a young metro reporter for The New Yorker—a job that took him almost everywhere the rails went in the city’s five boroughs.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Bill McKibben at The Guardian:

... It’s the subways I keep coming back to, trying to see in my mind’s eye what must be a dark, scary struggle to keep them from filling with water. The tide at the Battery has surged feet beyond the old record; water must be pouring into every entrance and vent – I hope some brave reporter is chronicling this fight, and will someday name its heroes.

For me, the subways are New York, or at least they’re the most crucial element of that magnificent ecosystem. When I was a young Talk of the Town reporter at the New Yorker, I spent five years exploring the city, always by subway. This was in the 1980s, at the city’s nadir – the graffiti-covered trains would pause for half an hour in mid-flight; the tinny speakers would reduce the explanation of the trouble to gibberish.

It was how I traveled, though – I didn’t even know how to hail a cab. For a dollar, you could go anywhere. And my boast was that I’d gotten out at every station in the system for some story or another. It may not have been quite true: the Bronx is a big and forgotten place, and Queens stretches out forever – but it was my aspiration.

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