Field Tested Books

The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Field-Tested on the F-Train in New York City, New York

I’ve never liked to repeat myself. I even get uncomfortable sometimes when other people repeat themselves. Backtracking, retracing, and recapping have always kind of rubbed me the wrong way.

But there I was, headed uptown in those regimented, molded-plastic seats of Pullman Standard’s F-Train-design circa 1975. I was 26, all independent-feeling, having just moved to New York City from my home state of Pennsylvania to fiercely be on my own.

Except there I was, taking the F-Train my parents took to their own offices in 1970. The same F Train my grandfather took to his workshop in 1957. As it happens, I come from F-Train-rider lineage going back generations. My move to be independent had all the trappings of a self-sufficient, adult life, but truth be told, it was pretty unromanced by the extended Italian-American family in Queens who shared my last name. I was 26 and supposed to be moving forward. Never repeating. Never copying. But still, my very own daily commute reminded me of just how derivative it was.

Like most good New Yorkers, mostly I passed time on the subway by reading. Researching my new city, I started on one of its biographies, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. Each morning and evening, as I read about the dissection and raping of a Brooklyn or Queens neighborhood to make way for a new highway, bridge, or park, I’d pass that same neighborhood underground on the subway. As I toured the city’s plumbing, only seeing the tiled walls of subway stations — Sunset Park, 4th Avenue, 2nd Avenue — I read about the deterioration of the social and economic systems that’d occurred above ground.

I was, at once, both appalled and vindicated. New York was bigger than my family and me. And I’d hazard to say its history is bigger than the generations and generations of F-train riders combined. I was passing through at that moment, but bigger things, more important things, had happened here. I couldn’t move to New York to be independent; I could only move to New York to be part of something. Robert Caro wrote one version of history, but there were many more to come. History keeps repeating itself. And that’s totally okay.

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About Liz

Danzico is part designer, part educator, and full-time dog owner. She traces the roots of her craft back to her parents. According to Liz, "Growing up at least a little information architect gave me an organizational advantage over my friends.” More