Riding the International Express


Leaving Grand Central and heading east, the No. 7 “International Express” train races through the Steinway Tunnel and arrives at Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City.When the working day is done and tens of thousands of people escape from Manhattan under the East River.

The No. 7 running along IRT Flushing Line lives up to its nickname. A microcosm of the borough itself, the train car is packed with people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Those who can’t afford to embark on a transcontinental odyssey can enjoy an around-the-world cultural tour in less than an hour for the price of a MetroCard. In between Queensboro Plaza and Flushing you’ll pass through Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, India, Thailand and China. And there are those people who undertake the journey twice a day just to get to work.

“It can be a stressful way to start your day sometimes, but I wake up and make it happen like everyone else,” said Jerome Strother, 37, from Woodside. Like a lot of people who work in Manhattan, Strother commutes everyday to his construction job in order to avoid the high cost of living. “The people who build the city could never afford to live there,” he says with a grin. Then the doors open at 61st street and Strother steps off onto the platform, his weathered hard hat swinging from a strap connecting to his backpack.

The people sitting next to each other look different in almost everyway. At first glance the only thing they have in common is they share the same 67-by-10 foot metal can, but it’s more than that. On this particular Wednesday evening, most of them are headed home.

“You read about everything going on in the world and people killing each other for belonging to a different sect of the same religion” said Kyra Garewal, 27, from Jackson Heights. “But throw a bunch of fundamentally different people together here and they’re more or less able to live together peacefully.”

The No. 7 on through East Elmhurst and Junction Boulevard, roaring above streets on a century-old elevated track. Looking out across the rooftops you see the lengths graffiti artists have gone in search of their canvas. Their work attracts as many pairs of eyes than if it was framed in a gallery.

The train pulls into Corona Plaza near 103rd street where the people depart and walk down onto Roosevelt Avenue. Once an Italian neighborhood but now overwhelmingly Hispanic, it’s still the place where immigrant families risk it all to start something new.

A ride on the International Express reminds one of New York’s long history with immigration, as well as offer a glimpse of its future.