At 9:34 p.m. on a January evening, a photo of an MTA subway platform is posted in Stuyvesant’s Class of 2020 Advice Group. The photo is obscurely framed, its focus honed on the twisting railroad tracks, the steel pillars that hold the ceiling above, and the shining blue lights illuminating up the interiors of the tunnel. Except for an orange square that forbids the reader from crossing or entering the tracks, there are no visible placards indicating the platform’s station or route.
“Guess the station! First correct guess wins 5 collectible MetroCards!” the caption of the photo says, followed by a list of the rules to the game. Immediately after the photo is posted, students flood the comment section with answers entered seconds apart. This game is not new to them, and they are determined to win. Nevertheless, it takes about 135 comments before a person finally guesses correctly, and a trail of 45 more for students to realize that the contest is officially over. Faster than the amount of time it would most likely even take for you to walk to your closest bus or subway station, the contest is finished within a slim window of five minutes.
The game was inspired by a similar one posted in a Facebook group junior Greg Huang follows called Transit Photos and Videos. “Strategy is most important, but most people guess randomly with no logic at all,” Huang critiqued his own game contestants. “They guess elevated stations when stations are clearly underground. Just try to observe the photo carefully. You should be able to guess within one try.”
The prize, the collectable metrocards, lovingly handed to Huang by his father, an MTA employee, are stored safely in Huang’s room. A binder the size of two marble notebooks preserves the rarest of these cards precisely like an eager boy’s pristine collection of Yu-Gi-Oh cards. “I don’t give those away at any circumstance,” Huang said. “Some date back to 2004 from my 7th grade science teacher. They are in their original blue and gold color scheme that was in circulation 1995-97.”
The Metrocards that are given out weekly are stored hundreds at a time in a cardboard box, replenished every month or so by Huang’s father. “You have to pay a one dollar fee to activate them, but they are collected for plastic and not actual use. They have special designs like advertisements, which [are] in very stark contrast to [the public service announcements] on the back of today’s blue and gold metrocard,” Huang said.
For the many students who have never personally met the mysterious creator of this Friday weekly contest, it may be hard to recognize him in the school hallways. His Facebook profile pictures do little to clear up the enigma that is his identity, for his entire album mainly features a collection of buses and trains with only one recent group photo. There is only one main clue, which is the blue Arial font that spells out his name: Greg Huang.
From the “RIP Orion V” messages he cryptically leaves on chalkboards during his classes to the thousand plus videos uploaded on his Youtube channel, again featuring all of transit and none of his face, junior Greg Huang is probably Stuyvesant’s most famous transit enthusiast.
When he immigrated to the United States from China twelve and a half years ago, Huang immediately became fascinated by the various subway car types and windows. “Back then, there was a car type called the R40,” Huang began the first of many rapid-fire informative lectures. “This car type was retired by 2009, but what made the car type so distinctive is that [it] had a […] huge window at the front that I could easily look out [from], even though I was really short back then. [In] the other car types, the window was replaced relatively high up, so I couldn’t see out, and my dad had to lift me up. But not the R40. There’s a term for it. It’s called railfan. You can still get a railfan window today on the 7 train, but only three trains out of forty plus have them. Or on every other J or C train.”
For a long time, Huang was only a casual observer of the New York City Transit system. However, in 2011, his appreciation for the MTA subways skyrocketed. He began seriously researching different subway car models, and in a few months, knew the entire subway system along with its line systems.
In 2013, Huang expanded his MTA horizons by becoming a serious bus enthusiast. He started to do research, and within half a year, mastered the entire bus MTA system and most of the common bus types in North America. To this day, New York City transit remains his first and only true love. “No other city’s in the world is like it,” he said. “Other advanced transit systems, like Asian stations in Tokyo and Singapore, have almost identical looking stations. I do know a bit about the D.C., London, and Paris systems, but they are nowhere near as interesting as New York City’s.”
Huang did not hesitate when asked about his favorite bus models. “My favorite type of car is the rapid transit series, called RTS, which is a huge series of transit buses that has been in service for New York City since 1981. Current models in service are from 1997 to ‘99. That is pretty impressive, because buses usually retire at 14 to 17 years of age,” Huang said. “RTS average age is 18 years. I don’t only like it because it is an icon of New York City, like the red double decker is to London. But it has also been in New York City for so long and has been featured in countless movies, TV shows, etc. Very distinctive design.”
On a cold, winter Friday afternoon, when most students would go out with their friends or go home to relish their first good night of sleep in a week, Huang decides to spend his evenings exploring the vast ends of the MTA transit system. This season in particular brings a special treat: MTA vintage buses, retired all year except for a select few days in the winter. We had the special opportunity to tag along with Huang on the search for rare retired MTA bus models.
Huang has been riding these vintage buses every year since 2011, yet his excitement to ride them again the day we joined him almost convinced us that our first time would also be his. We almost missed him on the bridge. Huang came rushing out of the bridge doors with his Columbia blue jacket, light beige khakis, and his blue wheelie backpack trailing behind him.
As we hurried to the Chambers Street subway station, Huang identified every bus model that passed our way. “That is the most common bus model in circulation today,” he said in reference to the passing M22. As Huang breathlessly described the different models of buses we passed throughout the brisk walk, the New York City streets suddenly felt like a living, breathing museum, and the MTA buses were transformed to the main exhibition on display.
At the subway station, Huang took out his camera to snap his first photo of our trip, a picture of the one to two railroad track to the uptown Bronx. “This model is an R142 2001,” he added. These photos are taken and collected on his computer to be uploaded weekly for the Guess the Station game, as well as almost daily uploads for his Youtube channel. The Youtube channel, titled “Greg Huang,” houses over one thousand videos of both commonplace and rare bus and subway models, spanning all the way back to July of 2013. “I couldn’t find a more interesting title,” Huang confessed.
The uptown 2 train arrives as Huang is beginning to look more impatient. The time is already past 4:10 p.m., and vintage bus service ends at 5 p.m. “We have to hurry,” Huang said. “It isn’t guaranteed we will catch one.” When we arrive at Times Square, Huang half power-walks, half runs down the block through tourists to reach the awaited bus stop. We barely manage to catch up.
At the corner of 42nd and 6th, we stand in the freezing cold, diligently waiting for more buses to come. Luck seems to be on our side, and after one regular service bus and one out of service vintage bus pass, a white vintage bus with rhombus tilted windows arrives. We get on and sit in the back, admiring the antique atmosphere with advertisements that still need to be plastered onto the boards inside.
For most of the ride, Huang is silent, focused on his surroundings and intent on videotaping the bus ride for his archives. We admire the old “Stop Requested” sign, the lack of carpeting on the walls and seats, and the peculiar yellow color of the bus interior. The bus makes an old-fashioned ding noise when one grabs a wire to alert the driver that they have requested a stop.
However, we never pulled the cord because we get off at the last stop. When we exit, Huang is already eager to wait for another one, scurrying around. He takes pictures, moving so quickly from place to place that it is hard for me to follow him, even with my eyes. He seems so transfixed as he records something that very few people appreciate.
In the future, Huang plans to continue spreading his knowledge of the transit system by continuing to run the Stuyvesant Transit Association (STA), which he started during the March of 2015 with fellow transit enthusiasts sophomore Trevor Jensen and junior Shiva Vummidi. The club takes trips together and provides services to the Stuyvesant community. Last summer, the STA put in hours of work into a transit safety manual that was distributed to the incoming class of 2020.
“The Transit Association is a good way to help people. If someone needs transit help, I try to give it based on where they live. I also try to help whenever there are delays, by posting in the advice groups. I don’t get any thank you’s, but I hope that the advice helps them,” Huang said.