I've always had long commutes. (I'm a firm believer real men don't have short commutes.) My commutes - more like journeys, than commutes, started when I was 12.
There was no easy way for me to get to Winthrop. Meyer Levin would have been closer, but I graduated in '55 and the school was not a option.
It was less than a mile - as the crow flies. For mere mortals, it was a little longer: Church Avenue trolley ( yes, 'trolley.') to Utica. Then, the bus up to Winthrop St. Then, 2-blocks to the school.
I don't remember what qualified a student for a transportation pass, but I sure qualified. No one else had a longer commute to school. Each month a new pass. They were called bus passes, but I was the only one in my class to use it on a trolley.
I got the free monthly pass for a while. Then I remember paying a dollar a month. By the time I got to high school I paid a nickel per trip. Anyone out there remember what the deal was?
I liked getting on the bus or trolley and flashing my pass. Unlimited use on school days. Sometimes we'd ride the Utica bus up to Empire Blvd to White Castle for lunch. That was cool. Lunch consisted of six hamburgers and a cola. Close your eyes; think small square hamburgers smothered in onions on a soft roll. Six of them lil babies. Then compare that to the tuna fish sandwich on stale Wonder bread your mother packed for you in waxed paper that sat in the wardrobe until lunch period on a hot Spring day.
Waiting for the trolley and the actual ride was an exercise in optimism. First, you hoped it wasn't stuck behind some double-parked delivery truck. (This problem was more prevalent on Church Av which was narrower than Utica Av.) Then, although you were supposed to wait at the curb at those corners with the blue enamel 'trolley station' signs, you hoped the motorman would see you, so you would step into the safety zone near the tracks and hope that the small warning sign and the white lines painted in the street would protect you from on-coming motor vehicles. See the picture at the top right. That sign would have to be on a car driver's hood for thedriver to read it.
Our claim to mischievous behavior consisted of putting pennies on the rails and waiting for the trolley to flatten them. Amazing what a couple of tons rolling over a penny can do. Years later a friend of mine admitted to putting a rock on the Utica Av tracks and watch to his horror as the trolley derailed.
There was a short one-track shuttle trolley that ran along Tilden Av from Nostrand Av to the west entrance of Holy Cross Cemetery at Brooklyn Av. It may have run only on weekends. Two blocks east; two blocks west. And so it went, all day. Change the poles at each end of the trip; probably left half the seats facing in each direction. Talk about a low-stress job.
By the time I rode the trolley by myself these old double-ended cars had all been replaced by sleek, streamlined PCC cars and the Cemetery shuttle had been replaced by a bus.
The Presidents' Conference Cars (PCC) were trolley's last gasp at competing with buses and represented a radical change in design and operation. They came on the scene in 1936 and as lines elsewhere were converted to buses, they wound up on the McDonald Av and Church Av routes, the last trolley lines in New York City. (October 31, 1956 was the last day of operation for the trolleys.)
The neatest thing about the Church Av line was the tunnel under Ocean Parkway. No one knows the rationale for the tunnel. One school of thought says it was to appease the rich people on Ocean Parkway who didn't want the noise; another group claims it was to avoid the long red light at that intersection. The tunnel was unpaved; originally it was just a single track but later widened to two sets of tracks set into the dirt. Every once in a while a motorist - usually at night - would learn that it was a private right of way for trolleys only. For some reason the vehicles, perhaps on sheer momentum, could make it down to the bottom, at which point they would have to be towed out, disrupting trolley operation in both directions.