Reaching Back New York is an investment in time even if you live near the portal. You can only get through the portal by riding the #2 Red Line from one end to the other. ALL THE WAY from Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to 241 st in the Bronx, or vice versa. No exceptions.
It's not a matter of magic so much as it is attention and knowledge. The Gate Guardians are going to quiz you about the ride when you approach the portal for Back New York. They want you to tell them who you saw come on and get off the Red Line, what they said, how angry they were, what music they played. That is the price you pay for reaching Back new York: You have to experience the raw material of the city to the fullest extent you can in a single day. Bring a notepad with you. You will not look like any more of a weirdo than any other weirdo who rides the train.
If you cheat, you will fail, and the mighty stone arms of the gate guardians will fling you up the stairs into the Bronx.
If you succeed, you will be allowed to pass through the gate and board a train made of stone. Worry not, the train moves at a decent pace. It's a bit loud on the tracks, but the engine makes no sound. That is because the train does not run on combustion, but on foot power. Do not express concern for the people in the engine room. They take pride in their ability to move the train.
In any case, the train will, after a short while, emerge from the earth into a wooded landscape, where the tracks are the only sign of human construction. Do not be alarmed. You are still in Greater New York. After a train ride of about ten minutes, the train will stop at a little village of stone houses. Do not get off here. This stop is only to pick up residents. They prefer that you stick to Manhattan, further south. You will scoff and say, well, what do I care? But you will look at the people getting on and you will have second thoughts, because they are made of stone. Did you bring a jackhammer? I assume not. At least, I hope. Bringing either of those into Back New York would be like bringing a Nazi flag into Moscow, or a Janissary into Athens, or Kraft Singles into Paris.
The trees will resume just outside the town. Nice view, right? Keep your head below the windows. These woods contain a splinter group of Manhattans who don't take kindly to the train, and the train doesn't have any windows, and the Manhattans are skilled at hitting moving targets. They use paint arrows, because honestly, what else can you do to stone people without having explosive rounds? And Amazon doesn't deliver to Back New York. You're not going to get a chance to look at the landscape before your face is covered in paint. If you are hit by an arrow, do not think to appeal to Big Chief. He indulges these people as long as they stick to paint arrows. He will mock you for not keeping your head down, and for wearing a fancy suit to a place where nobody wears clothing. Your loss, traveler.
You will pick up more stone people in a village about 5 minutes from the far side of the Harlem River. Call this Stone Harlem, as most people do. The true name is unpronounceable for tongues made of flesh. You would need a wood block to duplicate the sound. Call the people Saxons, for they are made of stone, and they remember that the latin word for stone is saxa. They are a learned people, and take pride in their knowledge.
From here it's ten minutes to your destination. Feel free to stick your head out the window at this point. The more belligerent Manhattans keep to the other side of Stone Harlem. The less belligerent ones are concentrated in this region and don't take kindly to being splatted.
They are too busy digging their quarry. About 5 minutes from Stone Harlem, the trees on the left side of the train will disappear and you will notice an extremely wide area where the dirt has been removed to expose the bedrock, which is being mined. It's not very deep, but it is broad. You will have an unobstructed view of the massive stone towers of Stone Manhattan. Before them, in orderly ranks, stand hundreds of thousands of stone statues in the shape of human beings. The Saxons in the train car will clack loudly in their native tongue, and turn their heads from the windows, and scowl.
You will, at last, pull into a stone temple, above whose entrance is inscribed GRAND CENTRAL STATION. Some things hold true across the realms. Do not get off the train when it stops. You must wait for your bags and pockets to be inspected for contraband. Such items include the chemicals used in mining (Sulfuric Acid, etc), jackhammers, chisels, explosive materials, paint arrows, spraypaint, and Kraft Singles. (Some things are offensive everywhere.)
Pass this inspection, and you are free to do whatever in Stone Manhattan. I suggest you head to the north edge of the city and seek out Big Chief among the statues. It is his favorite place to get away from the responsibilities of his office, so you are likely to find him there. More and more likely, as a matter of fact, now that he is getting older. Find him. He will tell you about the city.
Here is what he told me. "Jo", he said, "You see what happens when a bunch of sterile immortals decides to settle a city. They don't eat, and they don't die, and they don't have kids, so there's not much to do besides make stuff and learn things. Those towers are the work of 400 years of boredom. Yeah, 400 years. You think this place is stuck in 1630? Time moves the same here as it does in the Center. It's just that, without population expansion, there's no point in extending the city very far out. So they build Up, and figure out how to fill their towers later. Mostly with books and black boards. A Saxon's head is filled with knowledge. Don't ever try to double-cross one of them.
"The stone they use is a similar substance as themselves, and it is supple as they are, and it grows. This quarry is not their work. it is the work of my people, who have acquired primitive mining tools. They made the statues. They have forgotten why. The chief before me said that it was a matter of offering tribute to the gods in their midst, but the chief before HIM said that everyone was trying to make more Saxons. Who knows. I've never seen any of the statues get a reaction. It's a Tradition by now. Carve a stone person, become a Man, earn your adult name, all that jazz.
"Girls earn their adulthood by carrying the statue to its intended location. We're a tough people."
Alas for your fleshly, tiring legs, for Stone Manhattan has no elevators. Rumor has it that the best books are at the top of the towers, but unless you're willing to climb, and camp out in the tower overnight, you will never know. Nor are there any ferries to Staten Island, or bridges to Brooklyn or New Jersey; the Saxons prefer to walk along the river bed. Saxons never tire, and have all the time they need.
Most humans who come to this place are looking to fish and dig oysters. Oysters from Back New York fetch high prices, due to their cultural value as well as the effort required to reach them. Who wouldn't pay top dollar for a taste of what the harbor used to be? Hell, if I could choose between emptying my wallet, and riding a train all day to dig oysters in a city where everyone is totally indifferent to me well...actually that's not very different from Manhattan, but Back New York feels colder. You can't find a happy smile from a food vendor here, and you can't find any Naked Cowboys or glowing billboards or angry taxi drivers. Everything is pretty quiet. Hell, even the thump of stone feet is quiet on dirt roads. I'm willing to pay top dollar to avoid having to come here.
Especially since the only way back to Central new York is the same route you come in on.
The only real draw for me is when night falls. Stone Manhattan is lit by lamps, but if you go out to the East River, you can see the starlight fall upon the water, and gaze up at the Milky Way. There are people from the Center who come here to stay for just that reason. They live off oysters and fish and never come back.
But neither you nor I can stay. We've got work to do.