A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 15, 2005
Express/Local Trains - what to do with minutes saved?
The "express" subway trains skip stops; the "local" trains usually make all stops. The difference is a few minutes.

But what to do with those minutes? That has long been the subject of folklore.

New York City Folklore
edited by B. A. Botkin
New York: Random House
1956

[From New York and the State It's In (1949) by Keith Jennison -- ed.]

Pg. 4:
"Here's where we change to the express; we save five minutes."

"What are you going to do with them?"

A Treasury of American Anecdotes
edited by B. A. Botkin
New York: Random House
1957

[From Greenwich Village, Today & Yesterday (1949), pp. 25-26. The following is probably an attempt to put the expression in a "Chinese philospher's" mouth. There was the "elevated" in 1896, but not the "subway." - ed.]

Pg. 186: _Chinese Philosopher in the Subway_
[Said] the Chinese diplomat and philosopher, Li Hung-chang, [on his visit to New York in 1896], when his official guide hurried him off one subway train into another a few feet away, "Why do we change?

"Oh, that train was a local."

"And what is this?"

"This is an express. It makes no stops till we reach Grand Central. We save six minutes."

A pause.

"And what," asked Ambassador Li, "are we going to do with that six minutes?

19 October 1913, Washington Post, pg. MS4:
_WHY SAVE SO MUCH TIME?_
[Harper's Magazine]

In no other metropolis of the world are similar expenditures contemplated for traffic purposes, and here one touches elemental reasons. Not only is the physical conformation of New York without a parallel, but nowehre else may be found a public so dominantly insistent, so temperamentally avaricious, on the subject of time. Moments spent in transit must be cut down to the irreducible minimum, no matter what prodigality of the same fleeting commodity may ensue. To illuminate this consider an actual occurrence. An Englishman who recently droped in at a friend's office on Twenty-seventh street was asked to dine. At the nearest subway station they took a local train to the Grand Central, there dived across the platform in an express, which disgorged them at Seventy-second street, where they entered another local that finally deposited them at the door of the Gothamite's apartment on Broadway and Seventy-ninth street. Followed then a smoke, a refreshing drink, and a most leisurely dinner. Halfway through his dessert, the Briton looked at his best.

"I've been wondering why we took three trains to get here?

Why? We saved four minutes!"

The Briton pondered. "I say," he questioned, thoughtfully, "what are you going to do with them?
Posted by Barry Popik
Transportation • (0) Comments • Tuesday, February 15, 2005 • Permalink