AMC’s Mad Men is one of those distinctive New York City shows that’s captured the imagination of the nation. I haven’t been a regular viewer in a few seasons for a variety of reasons, but I’ll follow along now and then. During Sunday night’s episode, my Twitter mentions exploded during one season in particular as our favorite soon-to-be-existing subway line garnered a wink and a nod.
In the scene, which you can view here, Peggy Olson is checking out an apartment on York and 84th St., and she’s concerned that it’s too far away from the subway. Her broker tries to seal the hard sell: “Believe me, when they finish the Second Avenue subway, this apartment will quadruple in value.”
Get it? It’s 2013, and there’s still no Second Ave. Subway. Across the country, many viewers just moved on from the line, but New Yorkers nodding knowingly. Don’t get your hopes up, Peggy. You’ll be 77 before the Second Ave. Subway actually starts serving the Upper East Side.
To me, the scene struck a few chords. First, Peggy’s blight brings up a related issue I’ve touched upon in the past: When the Second Ave. Subway opens in approximately 43 months, it will bring up real estate prices from Second Ave. eastward. All of a sudden, York and East End Avenue residents will be a significantly shorter walk to the subway, and businesses will see increased pedestrian flow. Even those prickly residents at Yorkshire Towers might find the subway in their driveway to be a convenience, and the disruptions from construction will recede into the past.
Second, I wondered about its historical accuracies. Would people in April of 1968 been talking about the Second Ave. Subway and its construction? Already, the city had tried to build the subway and failed. It had been included in the 1930s-era Second System plans and an aborted construction effort in the 1950s left the city needing the line. In late 1967 and early 1968, political forces aligned behind an effort to kickstart construction, and a $2.9 billion transportation plan unveiled in February 1968 included the Second Ave. line. Funded hadn’t been identified, and work had yet to start. But a real estate agent could have used ongoing momentum to push the apartment.
Fast forward 45 years, and we’re still awaiting. That’s why the Mad Men joke worked. But what of the actual subway construction itself? Last week, the MTA announced that the giant muck houses at 72nd St. and 69th St. would be removed as blasting has been completed, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney celebrated the progress. “With the muck houses coming down and the final contract out for bid, the Second Avenue Subway is fast becoming a reality,” she said in a statement. “These milestones are major steps forward for a project that will bring relief to commuters who need a better way to reach their destinations.”
I’m sure Peggy, though, has long since given up that East Side apartment and hopes of a subway line coming to rescue her. As a long-time New Yorker, she’s probably adopted the attitude of many: They’ll believe in the Second Ave. Subway when it exists. The home stretch nears.