It was near midnight, the ornate kiosk at the Manhattan approach to the Queensboro Bridge beckoned. I descended cracked cement steps which led to the dimly lit trolley terminal. Inscribed in chalk on a dirty gray wall of the terminal was a tiny bird with the caption “BIRD LIVES,” an homage to the late jazz great, Charlie Parker.
Shortly before, I had placed some sketches of the Woodside shopping mall renovation on my drafting table, said good night to George Seabury, and left the reputable old architecture firm, Seabury & Peabody. I had hoped that Seabury, who was old money and better at selling architecture, would approve of my out-of-the-box ideas. I left the office feeling anxious. Instead of taking my usual Q60 Queens Boulevard bus home to my wife Janet and our cozy Rego Park apartment, I opted for the unusual tiny bridge railway, which I had never boarded before, thinking it would take my mind off work. At Queens Plaza I’d grab the bus (a few minutes more wouldn’t matter as Janet was likely asleep).
I board the Queensboro Bridge Railways #602, an orange and cream trolley, stained and dented from 25 years of service. I paid my fare to a motorman dressed in a navy-blue uniform, with a peaked cap, who resembled Peter Lorre, then took a window seat. As it turned out, I was the only passenger.
After departing the shadowy trolley terminal, the trolley found itself on a shelf outside of the bridge girders, high above the East River. Through crisp, clear November air, I enjoyed an unobstructed view of the Manhattan skyline at night, looking like a lady in a black satin gown, sprinkled with diamonds.
A stop was made midway across the East River, above a long sliver of land known as Welfare Island. Two middle-aged, overweight men (probably hospital workers) who were loud and foul-mouthed boarded the trolley. A second stop was made at the tiny bridge station above Vernon Boulevard, where a lone, shimmering ghostlike figure framed in pitch darkness waited. The figure – a frail, elderly woman in a white flannel nightgown, probably suffering from dementia, boarded the trolley. The trolley then proceeded into Queens Plaza. The passengers appeared to be asleep as the trolley crawled slowly, as if ensnared by the spiderweb maze of ‘el’ girders, to Queens Plaza North, its final destination. I was about to exit the trolley when suddenly it picked up speed. “Stop!” I shouted, “I’m getting off!”
The motorman gave me a malevolent Peter Lorre smile. I looked out the window, we were high above Northern Boulevard. I looked at the passengers. They were not asleep, they were dead! I was aboard the ghost ship, “The Flying Dutchman.” I was about to die. “AAAAH!”
“Jim, wake up,” Janet said, shaking my shoulder. “I meant to tell you something, but you dozed off on the couch as soon as you entered the apartment.”
“Yeah, honey, I had an anxiety dream. What was it?”
“Seabury called shortly after you left the office and said that he looked at the sketches on your drafting table of the Woodside shopping mall renovation and approved. Imagine, using a replica of a Queens trolley that hasn’t run in over 60 years as the entranceway to a shopping mall that was once a carbarn. Seabury also said that you can come in a little late tomorrow.”
In memory of John Kane