Disaffected Prep

Thursday, December 25, 2014


My Amazing Commute I: Upon A Metrocard Swipe, Passing Through History

The entrance to the Chanin Building I normally take

Part of the resurrection of Disaffected Prep came from an idea I had: what if I could take the most mundane activity I find myself in everyday and instead, find and capture some semblance of beauty within it? Mind you, this isn’t some sort of post-modern American Beauty-esque ,“find the natural wonder of a floating plastic bag,” but rather, finding real aesthetic paydirt. This activity I’m talking about is one of the most dreadful human activities out there - commuting to and from work.

American Beauty

To spot and document these moments of joy would require a camera, but I find the iPhone’s capabilities lacking. I’m also not willing to carry a DSLR with me in midtown, given their bulk. So I purchased an impressive and very compact Sony RX-100 series for this exact mission, a swiss army knife of a camera that I can carry in my bag and snap a quick photo without feeling like a tourist.

The first installment of what I’m calling, “My Amazing Commute,” (said without irony or sarcasm), details the Chanin Building at on the corner of Lexington Avenue on 122 East 42nd Street. The building is a wonderful expression of the Art Deco style, and I think more New Yorkers would appreciate it if it weren’t totally overshadowed by the Chrysler Building, which is catty-corner to it on 42nd. The Chanin also serves as an access point 4/5/6/7 subways through its lobby.

Tried to do a "in the moment" photo through the doors but failed miserably

If you want to commute home via the 4/5/6/7 in the area, you’ve got plenty of options: there are a couple of pure-form structures of egress without style or personality, there’s a subway entrance near Cipriani, and of course there’s a path to the Lexington line in a little Beaux-Arts masterpiece called Grand Central Terminal.

Grand Central is easy on the the eyes, of course, but if you’re a frequent visitor of Disaffected Prep you know that I’m a champion of the underdog versus the overexposed, the indie over the commercial. So it should come as no surprise that I try to make my way through Chanin rather than Grand Central as much as possible during my commute, just so I can feel a part of its under-looked history and be surrounded by beautiful aesthetics, if only for a minute.

The lower bars, I'm guessing, are for kids, you know?

The Chanin Building was built in 1929, and is 56 stories tall. I don’t know much about the building itself, beyond what’s available on Wikipedia, but I pass through the lobby frequently and love it. Part of the appeal are the revolving doors - they’re heavy and sturdy - and cut at at these hospital-corner tight 90 degree angles in a handsome mixture of glass and bronze. They’re the kind of special and unique doors that you expect to be transformed into something beyond yourself just upon exiting them.

This picture speaks for itself

Through the revolving doors, you’re found in a vestibule that features four push/pull doors into the main lobby. But it would be a mistake to walk hurriedly through just to get to the next downtown train. There’s a mind-blowing amount of art-deco detail here, real genuine work you can press your nose one inch away from and just stare. There’s a radiator screen that features this amazing geometry of imbricated, undulating crescent waves, bronzed triangles and soaring beams bursting through the entire grillwork. All this for a radiator cover

Who is John Galt? Honestly, I don't care.

There’s also these figures that I’m totally not wild about because they unfortunately remind me of an Ayn Rand book (I’m not a fan of her turgid prose) but I’m including as a picture to give a completist view of the vestibule and hey - maybe it rings somebodies’ cherries out there, who knows?

The lobby filled with holiday cheer. The lobby guards, not so much.

I was also able to peel off one (not great) photo of part of the lobby before I was (not so) politely told by the lobby guards not to take pictures, who were (the guards), despite the accoutrements of holiday decorations all throughout the Chanin Building lobby, not quite filled with any jolly cheer, at all.

Each time I walk the Chanin Building I get the feeling of a long-past New York where men wore hats to work, Studebakers lined the streets and you could get a decent cherry rickey within a couple of blocks of wherever you were. I don’t long for that era, I’m perfectly content in this one, but it is still nice to be in touch with it, even if it’s just by passing through on the way home. 


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