Riding the Crosstown With Randy Kennedy

Randy Kennedy’s current projects include writing about Gotham’s various goings-on, as well as arts and cultural events for The New York Times.

 

Author Randy Kennedy has taken his finest, funniest, and oddest observations of the New York subway and compiled them into Subwayland, a warm and affectionate book. Kennedy, a transplanted Texan (whose wife hails from St. Louis), served as a transit reporter for The New York Times and was in St. Louis recently for a book signing at Left Bank Books. Playback St. Louis spoke to him about his life underground.

You spent a lot of time riding the subway. Did you have to pay your fare each time or was MTA [Manhattan Transit Authority] cool about it?
I did have to pay, but one of the perks of being the subway reporter was that I could expense my Metrocard every month. So I guess you could say I rode for free, but I paid for it by spending untold numbers of hours down there.

Did you ever clash with the MTA folks about content?
Not much on the column, because it was mostly about life in the subways and very little about policy, politics, etc. But on my news coverage, there were several times when they were less than happy with what I was writing—once during labor negotiations and another time during a corruption investigation.

How did the column that would later become Subwayland come about?
It was actually the idea of my boss, metro editor Jon Landman. He asked me to write a daily column about the subway during the Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets in 2000. He liked it a lot, and then the weekly column grew out of that.

What process did you use to select the columns that made it into the book?
I basically just picked the ones I liked the most and tried to steer away from ones that were so topical that they would not age well, and also from ones that were so New-York–centric that no one outside the city would really care about them or be able to understand them.

What are you working on now?
I’m now a general assignment reporter in the cultural news department, and I kind of focus on writing about movies, art, and music.

Did any of the subjects mentioned in Subwayland have an aversion to having their lives published?
So far, no. In fact several of the people I wrote about have been in touch and I’ve sent them signed books. I tend to stay in touch with a lot of people I’ve written about over the years.

How hard was it to juggle working on the book with your other New York Times duties?
It wasn't terribly hard, because most of the work [of writing the columns] had already been done. I sweated over the introduction and picking the columns. But I’ve had friends here who have written real books—books that were not collections of already-published work—and I know how hard they worked. It was not nearly so hard in my case.

What are your quotations or memorable moments from the book?
I guess one of the funniest is from Paul Kronenberg, a subway buff with a fake motorman’s cab that he built in his bedroom. He said something to the effect of, “When people see it, right away they know I’m not married.” Also a lot of the quotes in the pigeon story are very funny. I think my all-time favorite is the one in the column about the couple who met in the subway and then got married. They went back the station where they met to take some post-wedding pictures and a bum there saw them in all their wedding finery. He was drunk and could not quite figure out what kind of event he was witnessing. But finally his eyes lit up and he said: “Happy birthday!” and added: “I just love a good birthday.”

Has publishing a book changed how you write?
Not really. It might if I was writing a longer-form book, but because this was just a collection, I don’t think so.

What did you do to occupy your time while you waiting for and riding trains? While you observed people, did you listen to music or read or just watch?
I mostly read. But while I was writing the column, I did a lot of fake reading because I was mostly watching people and keeping an eye out for possible column material.

Randy Kennedy’s current projects include writing about Gotham’s various goings-on, as well as arts and cultural events for The New York Times.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Riding the Crosstown With Randy Kennedy

Author Randy Kennedy has taken his finest, funniest, and oddest observations of the New York subway and compiled them into Subwayland, a warm and affectionate book. Kennedy, a transplanted Texan (whose wife hails from St. Louis), served as a transit reporter for The New York Times and was in St. Louis recently for a book signing at Left Bank Books. Playback St. Louis spoke to him about his life underground.

You spent a lot of time riding the subway. Did you have to pay your fare each time or was MTA [Manhattan Transit Authority] cool about it?
I did have to pay, but one of the perks of being the subway reporter was that I could expense my Metrocard every month. So I guess you could say I rode for free, but I paid for it by spending untold numbers of hours down there.

Did you ever clash with the MTA folks about content?
Not much on the column, because it was mostly about life in the subways and very little about policy, politics, etc. But on my news coverage, there were several times when they were less than happy with what I was writing—once during labor negotiations and another time during a corruption investigation.

How did the column that would later become Subwayland come about?
It was actually the idea of my boss, metro editor Jon Landman. He asked me to write a daily column about the subway during the Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets in 2000. He liked it a lot, and then the weekly column grew out of that.

What process did you use to select the columns that made it into the book?
I basically just picked the ones I liked the most and tried to steer away from ones that were so topical that they would not age well, and also from ones that were so New-York–centric that no one outside the city would really care about them or be able to understand them.

What are you working on now?
I’m now a general assignment reporter in the cultural news department, and I kind of focus on writing about movies, art, and music.

Did any of the subjects mentioned in Subwayland have an aversion to having their lives published?
So far, no. In fact several of the people I wrote about have been in touch and I’ve sent them signed books. I tend to stay in touch with a lot of people I’ve written about over the years.

How hard was it to juggle working on the book with your other New York Times duties?
It wasn’t terribly hard, because most of the work [of writing the columns] had already been done. I sweated over the introduction and picking the columns. But I’ve had friends here who have written real books—books that were not collections of already-published work—and I know how hard they worked. It was not nearly so hard in my case.

What are your quotations or memorable moments from the book?
I guess one of the funniest is from Paul Kronenberg, a subway buff with a fake motorman’s cab that he built in his bedroom. He said something to the effect of, “When people see it, right away they know I’m not married.” Also a lot of the quotes in the pigeon story are very funny. I think my all-time favorite is the one in the column about the couple who met in the subway and then got married. They went back the station where they met to take some post-wedding pictures and a bum there saw them in all their wedding finery. He was drunk and could not quite figure out what kind of event he was witnessing. But finally his eyes lit up and he said: “Happy birthday!” and added: “I just love a good birthday.”

Has publishing a book changed how you write?
Not really. It might if I was writing a longer-form book, but because this was just a collection, I don’t think so.

What did you do to occupy your time while you waiting for and riding trains? While you observed people, did you listen to music or read or just watch?
I mostly read. But while I was writing the column, I did a lot of fake reading because I was mostly watching people and keeping an eye out for possible column material.

Randy Kennedy’s current projects include writing about Gotham’s various goings-on, as well as arts and cultural events for The New York Times.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Riding the Crosstown With Randy Kennedy

Author Randy Kennedy has taken his finest, funniest, and oddest observations of the New York subway and compiled them into Subwayland, a warm and affectionate book. Kennedy, a transplanted Texan (whose wife hails from St. Louis), served as a transit reporter for The New York Times and was in St. Louis recently for a book signing at Left Bank Books. Playback St. Louis spoke to him about his life underground.

You spent a lot of time riding the subway. Did you have to pay your fare each time or was MTA [Manhattan Transit Authority] cool about it?
I did have to pay, but one of the perks of being the subway reporter was that I could expense my Metrocard every month. So I guess you could say I rode for free, but I paid for it by spending untold numbers of hours down there.

Did you ever clash with the MTA folks about content?
Not much on the column, because it was mostly about life in the subways and very little about policy, politics, etc. But on my news coverage, there were several times when they were less than happy with what I was writing—once during labor negotiations and another time during a corruption investigation.

How did the column that would later become Subwayland come about?
It was actually the idea of my boss, metro editor Jon Landman. He asked me to write a daily column about the subway during the Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets in 2000. He liked it a lot, and then the weekly column grew out of that.

What process did you use to select the columns that made it into the book?
I basically just picked the ones I liked the most and tried to steer away from ones that were so topical that they would not age well, and also from ones that were so New-York–centric that no one outside the city would really care about them or be able to understand them.

What are you working on now?
I’m now a general assignment reporter in the cultural news department, and I kind of focus on writing about movies, art, and music.

Did any of the subjects mentioned in Subwayland have an aversion to having their lives published?
So far, no. In fact several of the people I wrote about have been in touch and I’ve sent them signed books. I tend to stay in touch with a lot of people I’ve written about over the years.

How hard was it to juggle working on the book with your other New York Times duties?
It wasn’t terribly hard, because most of the work [of writing the columns] had already been done. I sweated over the introduction and picking the columns. But I’ve had friends here who have written real books—books that were not collections of already-published work—and I know how hard they worked. It was not nearly so hard in my case.

What are your quotations or memorable moments from the book?
I guess one of the funniest is from Paul Kronenberg, a subway buff with a fake motorman’s cab that he built in his bedroom. He said something to the effect of, “When people see it, right away they know I’m not married.” Also a lot of the quotes in the pigeon story are very funny. I think my all-time favorite is the one in the column about the couple who met in the subway and then got married. They went back the station where they met to take some post-wedding pictures and a bum there saw them in all their wedding finery. He was drunk and could not quite figure out what kind of event he was witnessing. But finally his eyes lit up and he said: “Happy birthday!” and added: “I just love a good birthday.”

Has publishing a book changed how you write?
Not really. It might if I was writing a longer-form book, but because this was just a collection, I don’t think so.

What did you do to occupy your time while you waiting for and riding trains? While you observed people, did you listen to music or read or just watch?
I mostly read. But while I was writing the column, I did a lot of fake reading because I was mostly watching people and keeping an eye out for possible column material.

Randy Kennedy’s current projects include writing about Gotham’s various goings-on, as well as arts and cultural events for The New York Times.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply