Thursday, February 17, 2011

Duke Riley Cracks Me Up.

image source:

This morning's subway ride to work was far more entertaining than usual.

I left around the normal time. The photo above does not depict the car I entered at Newkirk Plaza. No, it was full of people and there were no seats to be had. If there had been, it would have been just another absolutely normal subway ride.

But there weren't, so I got in & found a place to stand.

And now to type a phrase that I bet you have never seen in any other NYC-based blog ever:

There's this neat thing the MTA does.

It's not quite as neat as the neatest thing the MTA does, which is to make car ownership completely optional a whole lotta people like me (I've never owned one). And there are certainly some annoying things that the MTA does.

But this post is being written because of this sort of lower-key neat thing that the MTA does.

In the picture above, you can see that there is plenty of space for advertising posters - a few big square ones & then a lot of little rectangular ones.

On any given car, though, a couple of those spaces will be given over to the arts.
There've been 3 separate programs I've noticed & remembered over the years.

There was the longrunning Poetry in Motion, where short poems or selected verses of longer ones were offered up for you to muse upon as you rattled along underground. There are still a couple I remember, even though that series ended back in 2008.

The successor to that was the Train of Thought series (snippets from great authors), but the placard that I found so entertaining this morning was from a third series - images of subway trains, reimagined by various artists. They're quite a lot of fun, usually a bit surreal, but colorful and cheerful.

This morning, I found myself standing directly in front of one I hadn't seen before.

"in situ" photo from the Subway Art Blog -

better image from a friend (thanks Michael!):
Click and zoom for some detail; a larger, scrollable version can be found on the artist's site - link and directions towards the end of this post.

It's not as colorful as some - but it immediately caught my eye because it was a New York Harbor theme, done in a very intricate style. Steampunk meets scrimshander. Fun! The passengers were mermaids in 18th-century garb - their upper halves, at least. The "cars" were a pair of antique submarines, flanking...hey the Monitor! "Well, that's a nice New Yorky touch", I thought - the Monitor was built in Brooklyn. Kept looking. Coneys on Coney Island? Cute. Kept looking, and then...well, I'm not going to give away any more, but I just saw more and more funny little details that said that this artist had put in some serious time out and about in the "Sixth Borough" (the watery one that wraps around the other five).

I noted the guy's name & did a quick search as soon as I got in to work, just to see what the story was. I found his site right away,

On the splash page, there are 3 rotating images. The first two are fanciful, scrimshaw-like in appearance - the first shows a merman being tattooed by an octopus (while modern garbage drifts in the waves around them), the second shows the Monitor again, on laundry day this time. The third is a very traditional-looking engraving of the Turtle, the Revolutionary War era craft that was the first submarine ever to engage in a military action - another famous piece of New York nautical history.

As I continued to look through his site, I ran across more and more Turtles.

Then finally, it hit me...could this possibly be that guy who...??? Hmmm!

I went back to my Google search and added "Arrest". "Duke Riley Arrest". Find!.

Sure enough! Local boater friends, I think you'll all remember this guy.

He was the one who got arrested in New York Harbor just a couple of years ago.

He got arrested for trying to sneak up on the Queen Mary 2.

In a small boat named the Acorn, which was his own hand-made, full-sized, working replica of the Turtle!

Everybody remembers him, right?

And he was arrested with two other people - one of whom was a direct descendant of David Bushnell, the inventor of the original Turtle.

It was a crazy stunt. Maybe dangerous, even, even if the little boat functioned perfectly. The Coasties take their guard duty very seriously, and they have guns, and had these folks gotten much closer to the QM2 before they'd been spotted...well, things could've gone very very wrong on this artlark.

But, does this guy love his New York nautical history, or what?

You can read more about the voyage of the Acorn, and a few of Mr. Riley's other escapades (including an inter-museum naumachia in Queens that sounds absolutely hysterical) on his Wikipedia page.

Area boaters - if you find yourself on a subway car, and you see that poster, try to get a good look at it. I mean really look at it. I've ruined the surprise a bit, but I think you'll still enjoy the "in jokes" (and the fact that you are probably the only person in the car who gets ANY of them).

For the curious non-New Yorkers (or impatient New Yorkers), go here, find the MTA Arts for Transit Art Card poster thumbnail (2nd over, 5th row down), and click. That gives you a nice, big, scrollable view that lets you see the details you can't see on any other of the depictions I found on the internet.

You might not get the localisms (Ruffle Bar to Mill Rock, hee hee hee!) but there's a lot of fun stuff to look at.

And then there's the rest of the site to explore, too.

Have fun!

P.S. - special local-boater challenge - anybody remember another harbor shenanigan of Mr. Riley's that ended up being all the talk of the community (or at least NYCKayaker) there for a bit?

Bonus points if you can tell me what it was without spending too much time on his site. That was how I figured out that that was his, too.

Hint: It wasn't nearly as spectacular as building a working replica of a Revolutionary War era submarine & trying to use it sneak up to the QM2. However, I think there were few among us hadn't at one point or another secretly imagined doing exactly the same thing!


Friday afternoon addendum - O-Docker left a link to an excellent NY Times slideshow of the interrupted voyage of the Acorn. Worth a look, especially if you missed it the first time around!


O Docker said...

Maybe his power source for the trains will solve our energy woes.

Chris Partridge said...

The London tube has a similar 'Poems on the Underground' programme, which often brightens up my day. You can read the poems here:

will said...

oh i do do!! it was perceived as an insult to an oversized queen.

Walter said...

I'm glad we could bring a little joy to your morning.

bonnie said...


knew you'd like this post!

Pleuston said...

Ha, didn't he row out to the little island in the East River and claim it with a flag?

bonnie said...

Aaaah, that wasn't the specific shenanigan of which I was thinking, but yes, that was him too!

I was thinking, though, of a very similar stunt...only with a target that I had personally found tempting myself. Of course I would never have tried because I am a basically a law-abiding conformist (at least until somebody tries to take my kayak storage away). But I got kind of a vicarious thrill out of somebody else doing it!

Anybody know which one I'm talking about now? :D

I think that it was this discovery that this is somebody who has been entertaining me for years with these outrageous doings - without my ever quite connecting the pieces, until looking into this one small poster suddenly tied the whole

O Docker said...

Cool NY Times slideshow of the Acorn and his arrest here.

bonnie said...

...thing together.

bonnie said...

Great slideshow! Thanks, O-Docker!

Pandabonium said...

Interesting stuff. Cool art.

Here's to car-free culture!

Don said...

MTA has optional car ownership? Reminds me of "Wild Wild West" or rich British train nuts.

Did the president have "Train Force 1" before planes were big and reliable enough to haul his entourage around the country?

bonnie said...

No, no, no. They MAKE car ownership optional. If you live anywhere but some of the farther outskirts of the outer boroughs, you don't have to own a car, you can get pretty much anywhere you need to on a bus or a train.

I have never owned a single internal-combustion vehicle in my entire life. A couple of boats and a couple of bikes, that's all!

Rail Force 1!

Don said...

Is that the Virginia under the bridge behind the Monitor?

bonnie said...

Ha! That wasn't labelled "Virginia", but looking at the .jpg version, I thought you might be right. Inspection of the one on the artist's site says no, though - it's an island (one of 2 by the Verranzano Narrows Bridge where the harbor seals particularly like to hang out - a favorite destination for some of the stronger paddlers in the area!

It's almost the perfect shape, though, isn't it?

bonnie said...

Oh, and the other stunt I thought people around here would remember well & maybe connect with this guy was the Boarding of the Robert Smithson Floating Island piece that was being towed around Manhattan a few years back. Made the news, but not quite as spectacularly as the Acorn.

JP said...

I was going to point you in the direction of poems on the underground but Chris got there first

And I agree that one of the good things about city living is indeed you don't need a car!

Don said...

In Burlington they now have a car rental co-op called carshare that looks pretty good for people that just need a car occasionally, or it's an enabler for what would be a 2 car household to cut back to one. The fleet is mostly Prius, but a couple of trucks too.

Anonymous said...

yeah thx to him more "security" individual unaffiliated with any group does not care about the movement for the waters just into self aggrandizement. no more publicity for him puhlease!

bonnie said...

Sorry, Anonymous, I rather love his stuff, I think that any artist who builds a working replica of a Revolutionary War submarine has darned well earned all the attention he gets, and if he does anything else that amuses me, I am going to post about it.

bonnie said...

Furthermore, I doubt his artistic activities have made one bit of difference to security levels in the harbor. He chose to encroach on the security zone that was already in place around the QM2 and he got the same treatment as anyone else would get. What's to resent?