My name is Carlton Walton. I am a 31-year-old artist, thinker, music lover, shutterbug, travel fanatic, transportation enthusiast, and long-time urbanite. I was born and bred in New York City, spending at least 20 of my years in The Boogie-Down Bronx, mainly in Morrisania, and the last 10 years in Harlem, particularly East Harlem. I originally lived on the Grand Concourse, not far from Yankee Stadium, and everywhere my family needed to go was along the #4 train for the East Side of Manhattan and the D train for the West Side of Manhattan. Some of my fondest childhood memories were along the Jerome Avenue elevated which carried the #4 train through the West Bronx and underground on the Concourse Line which carried the full-time D train and, at the time, the part-time CC train during peak hours. I remember every summer taking the D train all the way from the Bronx to Coney Island to visit Astroland and walk over to the New York Aquarium. Occasionally, I would take a F or N train to Herald Square to eventually end up back on the D train to the Bronx.
Since about 5 years of age, I have always had a fascination with the New York City subway from its vast network of track and tunnel to its variety of subway cars from different eras and of different sizes. Before I understood car types, I always referred to them by physical attributes or by what lines certain types were assigned to. On the #4 line, we had majority Kawasaki-built cars from the early 1980s, they were always the “Silver” trains, but we also had St. Louis Car-built cars from the early 1960s, the “Redbirds” as many have come to know them by, which I thought were burgundy-colored, hence why I called them the “Burgundy” trains. The New Technology Trains that came in 2000 for the #2, #5, and #6 lines (eventually for the #4 line too) were also silver, so I called them the “New” trains. Until I found David Pirmann’s NYCsubway.org website, that’s how I knew my trains. It was always the “Silver 4 trains or the Burgundy 2 trains,” before I knew them to be the R62/R62A and the Redbirds, respectively.
From my interest in trains came my interest in buses, and there were plenty of them on The Grand Concourse, most of them in blue and white. Before I really delved into the hobby, I knew every type of bus New York City Transit had based on the engine sounds, styling, and their overall fleet numbers. I always knew that the General Motors-built “RTS” series buses were all in the 1000 through 4000-series, and older buses from the 1970s were in the 5000 and 9000 series. If there were holes in the fleet, I was always curious about where those buses were, so using the subway with my family was my way to find the missing links while doing whatever it was my family was occupied with (shopping, sightseeing, visiting grandma, going to my cousin’s wedding, etc.). I didn’t wander off into the system until roughly around my high school years.
Seeing pictures and videos of transit in New York and then eventually seeing those of similar transit around the country started to fuel my interest in travel and seeing the country for what I’ve seen in pictures. I remember seeing commercials for New Jersey Transit and finally seeing their buses up close at the George Washington Bridge Bus Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and their trains at Penn Station while my mother tried to arrange a “tour” of the station with Amtrak police. I also recall seeing Boston’s “T” buses in a textbook once and likened it to one of our RTS buses here: same bus model, different livery.
I knew I was different then all the other kids…and so did the NYC public school system. I was placed in Special Education classes from kindergarten until the middle of 7th grade, when I was transferred to a regular class with regular kids (i.e. “Mainstream” classes). Prior to that shift, I was placed in regular classes for about three hours out of my six-hour day to transition me from special classes to regular classes. That often resulted in more homework, which meant a distraction from my trains and buses. Nevertheless, I wanted to be treated like everyone else and not have to deal with the feeling of being behind everyone else academically. The one good thing about Special Ed was that, to protect me from the wrath of the regular kids, I was on the school bus much earlier than everyone else (2:30 or 2:45 rather than 3:00), which also meant riding around to different houses to drop everyone else off and seeing different buses and bus routes all over the Bronx.
(It got to a point where I made a game with a few other school bus kids that every time we saw a non-NYC Transit bus, we would shout out the company’s name, which in the Bronx there was only New York Bus Service, Liberty Lines Express and Westchester County’s Bee-Line, and Queens Surface’s QBx1).
I attended four years (1996-2000) at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and the Performing Arts (LaGuardia High School, as familiar to everyone in the city) as an Art major, although my original auditions were for Art and Music. I went for Music because in the 8th grade I was part of the Band class, which was actually split into two classes, the good class with the talented kids, and the bad class with the ones that needed something to keep them out of trouble. Interestingly enough, though I was pretty talented, the school didn’t really care and put me in the bad class. Still, I played the clarinet regularly and was a drummer backup in case one of the regulars was absent. Needless to say, I didn’t think I was good enough for the LaGuardia Music auditions, being that nearly every one else in that room was practicing as if they were part of some sort of junior philharmonic. Thus, I went in for Art, even though there were many Picasso-esque artists in the room. Nevertheless, I still got accepted, but I believe only because of the live audition pieces I created, not so much my “portfolio.”
From my Art major days in high school to my Liberal Arts days at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) with an art class or two, to my Photography Major days at City College (CCNY), I haven’t strayed too far from the world of fine arts; the only thing that has changed for me is merely my medium of choice. I have gone from crayons to pencil to pen and ink to painting to photography in order to express myself. What hasn’t changed is the ideas that I want to express, mainly in the form of landscapes, reality, and transportation. My mind was always buzzing with ideas and recalling many things I have experienced. Travel was my way to experience the rest of the world; to see many of the concepts and theories I have read or seen on television and online up close and personal; a way to address cultural and transportation rumors that I may have head about; and to reform my own ideas as to what works (or could work) and what doesn’t. I like to think that being able to travel has made me more of a well-rounded person, especially since now (for about 3 years now) I have been pounding the rails, first as a light rail train operator at the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in Jersey City, NJ, and now as a train operator (motorman) at the MTA. I find that, altogether, working in an industry that I have closely researched for practically forever coupled with being able to visit at least 20 US states, 6 Canadian Provinces, and 6 countries are what makes me the person I am today, with endless possibilities of what’s next.
I have worked many jobs in the 15 short years that I have been eligible to work, including my first job cleaning Claremont Park in the Bronx with the NYC Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP); doing a little bit of call center tech support work at AT&T in Paramus, NJ; and fixing printers and computers at 4G Data Systems in Lower Manhattan. I have solicited myself to staffing firms, worked for and with private companies, and even went for a job at the NYPD, all while I was taking tests for the MTA and trying to get in anywhere I can, including New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, and Metro-North. I have met many friends and acquaintances that work in the industry as drivers, conductors, engineers, operations planners, dispatchers, and mechanics, many of whom I traveled with or went to outings with outside of transportation. All of these things have shaped who I am, and even with a few road blocks, I would not trade this for anything else. Having worked as an operator for the HBLR was a stepping stone in what could be my most rewarding life decision or the beginning of such. Now that I have made a transition to something bigger and better, there are no signs of slowing down or any time for regrets.
My name is Carlton Walton, transportation enthusiast, advocate, historian, employee, professional, insider, and now blogger.