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My Boys and the Subway: A Dad Shares His Kids Love of Riding the Metro

A typical 4-year-old boy is obsessed with things like collecting bugs, watching Sesame Street, or playing with sticks outside. Not Arthur and Gustav. To say these two brothers developed “a thing” for riding the subway would be an understatement. While other kids whine about sitting in their booster seat, 3-year-old Gustav pitches a fit when he has to take the express train — not local. Instead of begging their parents to spend the day at Chuck E. Cheese, Gustav and Arthur dream of spending the day at the Transit Museum.

Such are the everyday parenting woes of Christoph Niemann, New York Times visual blogger and dad of these two subway-crazed boys. In his latest book, Abstract City, Niemann chronicles everything from his struggles with physics and spooning, to the joys of riding the subway with his kids, through interesting abstract drawings and witty dialogue.

Excerpted from the first chapter of his book, “The Boys and the Subway,” Niemann shares with us funny stories about his kids’ love of riding the New York City subway. Check them out, after the jump!


  • Forget Chuck E. Cheese 1 of 13
    Forget Chuck E. Cheese
    My sons Arthur, five, and Gustav, three, are obsessed with the New York City subway system.
  • Big Bird is for sissies 2 of 13
    Big Bird is for sissies
    They can barely sit through an episode of Sesame Street. But when we go for aimless subway joyrides on the weekends, they sit like little angels, devoutly calling out the names of every station for hours.
  • Real men … ask preschoolers for directions 3 of 13
    Real men ... ask preschoolers for directions
    People often ask me for directions in the subway. Even though I know my way around rather well, I still have to defer to Arthur very often. Yet it seems people don't trust the advice of a preschooler. They should.
  • Amateurs 4 of 13
    Amateurs
    Arthur knows the map so well that when he got his first pair of subway-map socks, he pointed out with a chuckle that it had the Q still running as an orange line.
  • A seasoned veteran 5 of 13
    A seasoned veteran
    Arthur spends hours studying the subway map. He laughs at his mother when she suggests taking the B on a weekend. The only questions he has are about the pronunciation of some station names.
  • Who needs the ABCs? 6 of 13
    Who needs the ABCs?
    This morning he read the timetable for the number 3 train and sang the stations to the tune of "Shalom Aleichem."
  • Forget ice cream 7 of 13
    Forget ice cream
    The two happiest words Arthur and Gustav can hope to hear are "service changes."
  • Sippin’ juice from the NQRW 8 of 13
    Sippin' juice from the NQRW
    They see everything through a subway lens. When they fight about who gets which cup for their apple juice, they don't refer to them by color.
  • Fritz it is 9 of 13
    Fritz it is
    When we had our third son recently, my wife, Lisa, and I knew that we could not name him anything like Ivan, Keith, Otto, Pierre, Toby, Ulysses, or Xavier. We decided to go with Fritz.
  • Love on the MTA 10 of 13
    Love on the MTA
    A chaperone on one of Arthur's school trips told me something he overheard when all the kids were neatly lined up in rows of two. The girl holding Arthur's hand asked him, "Have you heard of Peter Pan?" "No," he replied. "Have you heard of
    Metro-North?"
  • Local pangs 11 of 13
    Local pangs
    When your child cries in public, it is usually an uncomfortable situation. Once, we needed to get home quickly from Chambers Street, and I told Gustav that we had to take whichever blue train came next. The A train pulled in, and Gustav (who had been hoping for the C) started throwing a fit. However, the other passengers in the car gave me warm smiles. I guess they hadn't seen that many three-year-olds sobbing, "Local . . . I want the local."
  • Sneak a peek 12 of 13
    Sneak a peek
    We often go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. They have a little children's garden that the boys love. Arthur and Gustav's favorite spot is a little gap between some bushes, from which you can see the Franklin Avenue shuttle train go by.
  • Do we have to leave? 13 of 13
    Do we have to leave?
    There is one place that's even better than the subway: the Transit Museum! One weekend, I promised them they could stay there as long as they wanted, just to find out how long they could possibly last. After four hours, I heard the announcement that the museum would close in ten minutes. Arthur and Gustav cried as I dragged them out.

Excerpted from the book Abstract City by Christoph Niemann (Abrams, 2012) with permission of the author.

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