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Archive for May 6th, 2010

Circumnavigation 4

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

After sliding past the Williamsburg Bridge, the Circle Line narrator began to talk about Queensboro (he called it 59th street bridge- grrrr) and didn’t mention the Newtown Creek. Tourists wouldn’t want to hear about that story, I guess. One thing that really annoyed your humble narrator were the constant references to pop culture icons like the Seinfeld sitcom and the Spiderman movies. Realization that that’s what tourists have as touchstones for NYC is obviated, but still… blurring the line between fantasy and reality is a real issue in the modern world.

from wikipedia

George Louis Costanza is a fictional character in the American television sitcom Seinfeld (1989–1998), played by Jason Alexander. He has variously been described as a “short, stocky, slow-witted, bald man” (by Elaine Benes and Costanza himself), “Lord of the Idiots” (by Costanza himself), and as “the greatest sitcom character of all time”. He is friends with Jerry Seinfeld, Cosmo Kramer, and Elaine Benes. George appears in every episode except for “The Pen” (third season). The character was originally loosely based on Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, but surnamed after Jerry Seinfeld’s real-life New York friend, Mike Costanza.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The power of cinema and television to present a cogent and absorbing telling of historical events is actually a dangerous thing. Again, I realize that the tourists aboard the Circle Line aren’t looking for hardcore history, but there’s a lot to say about the Queensboro bridge that doesn’t involve the Green Goblin or George Costanza. History is made not by accurate or cogent catalogs of events, but by distribution. The reason we know about Aristotle or Voltaire is that MANY copies of their work were made, distributed across a wide area, and were quoted by others. This means that distaff copies of their work survived the fires and floods. This means that to future eyes, the surviving copies of Spiderman and Goodfellas might be all they have.

Which makes me wonder if Pliny the Younger might have been the Dean Koontz of his time.

from wikipedia

As they watch over May in the hospital, Mary Jane tells Peter she has a crush on Spider-Man, and Peter expresses his own feelings for her. Harry catches them holding hands and tells his father about their love for each other. Now knowing that Spider-Man has feelings for Mary Jane, the Goblin lures him to the top of the Queensboro Bridge by taking Mary Jane and a Roosevelt Island Tramway car full of children hostage, then drops both at the same time. Spider-Man saves them all, but the Goblin takes him to an abandoned building for a fight. Spider-man eventually defeats and unmasks the Goblin, and Norman dies after asking Peter not to tell Harry that he (Norman) was the Goblin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the boat passed Roosevelt Island, the looming hotel construction sites of Queens Plaza rise behind it. Within a few years, tens of thousands of Queens Plaza and Dutch Kills hotel rooms will be serving the self same tourist trade which is satisfied by attractions like these Circle Line cruises. Perhaps this is what we New Yorkers are destined to become, apes in a steel and glass cage put on display for foreigners as we live out our funny lives. Just like on Seinfeld.

from wikipedia

Tourism in New York City includes nearly 47 million foreign and American tourists each year. Major destinations include the Empire State Building, Ellis Island, Broadway theatre productions, museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other tourist attractions including Central Park, Washington Square Park, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Bronx Zoo, South Street Seaport, New York Botanical Garden, luxury shopping along Fifth and Madison Avenues, and events such as the Tribeca Film Festival, and free performances in Central Park at Summerstage and Delacorte Theater. The Statue of Liberty is a major tourist attraction and one of the most recognizable icons of the United States. Many New York City ethnic enclaves, such as Jackson Heights, Flushing, and Brighton Beach are major shopping destinations for first and second generation Americans up and down the East Coast.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, the folks whose lives are a little too funny can be found on Ward’s Island at the psychiatric hospitals that serve the City of Greater New York. I’m never quite sure which building is which in this complex, as your humble narrator is convinced that getting too close to a madhouse would be injurious to his freedoms, but this is either the 509 bed Manhattan Psychiatric Center (I lean toward this) or the maximum security Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center. The Circle Line narration didn’t mention either.

from soundportraits.org

There seem to be two constants to life on Ward 2-West. One of these is violence. The state considers the staffers who work on the ward to hold the single most dangerous job in New York, with the highest injury rate of any profession. The other constant on the ward is noise. There is nowhere to escape it, although there is one patient who seems to have adapted to it quite well. His name is Peter, and you can always find him at the front of the dayroom, hunched over a table peacefully drawing with yellow plugs stuffed deep into his ears. He is about 50 years old, has curly brown hair and a graying beard, gentle eyes behind thick glasses. Before committing his crime, Peter was a successful commercial artist. Today he’s working on a still life with pastels.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amongst the more pleasant realities of the trip was this view of the Hell’s Gate with its two spans- the Triborough Bridge(s) and the Hellgate railroad Bridge. The plane taking off from nearby LaGuardia airport was pure serendipity.

from wikipedia

Hell Gate is a narrow tidal strait in the East River in New York City in the United States. It separates Astoria, Queens from Randall’s Island/Ward’s Island (formerly two separate islands that are now joined by landfill).

It was spanned in 1917 by the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge (now called the Hell Gate Bridge), which connects the Ward’s Island and Queens. The bridge provides a direct rail link between New England and New York City. In 1936 it was spanned by the Triborough Bridge (now called the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge), allowing vehicular traffic to pass between Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hellgate Bridge has long graded approaches which sprawl out all the way to the Sunnyside Yards on one side and continental North America on the other, providing a freight and rail link between the archipelago of islands which form this City-State of ours. Triborough’s approaches and ramps are almost too numerous for me to count.

from wikipedia

The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, better known as the Triborough or Triboro Bridge, is a complex of three separate bridges in New York City, United States. Spanning the Harlem River, the Bronx Kill, and the Hell Gate (part of the East River), the bridges connect the boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, and The Bronx via Randall’s Island and Ward’s Island, which are joined by landfill.

Often historically referred to as simply the Triboro, the spans were officially named after Robert F. Kennedy in 2008.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the boat motored past Ward’s Island, where the Canadian theatrical provocateur’s called Cirque du Soleil had set up a circus tent, the Amtrak Acela rumbled over the Hellgate tracks. The last part of this trip that I can claim intimacy with until we returned to the Hudson, the Circle Line continued Northward.

Venturing into the “not part of my beat” areas of the City of Greater New York which your humble narrator is least familiar with- specifically the northeast sections of Manhattan and La Bronx, I actually got see a few things I didn’t even suspect…

from wikipedia

Acela Express (often simply Acela) is Amtrak’s high-speed rail service along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in the Northeast United States between Washington, D.C., and Boston via Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. It uses tilting technology which allows the train to travel at higher speeds on the sharply curved NEC without disturbing passengers, by lowering lateral centrifugal forces,  based on the concept of banked turns.

Acela Express trains are the only true high-speed trainsets in the United States; the highest speed they attain is 150 mph (240 km/h), though they average less than half of that. Acela has become popular with business travelers and by some reckoning has captured over half of the market share of air or train travelers between Washington and New York. Between New York and Boston the Acela Express has up to a 37% share of the train and air market.

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