December 20, 2005

Walk On and On and On By

Reasoning that it would be better to get home from work before nine tonight, I left my office on 36th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues at four thirty.

While I had read that on the way in this morning people were gladly sharing their cars in order to comply with the four-person-per-car rule, I had no such luck trying to get home since that rule only applied to people entering the city this morning. So I walked. And walked. And walked. Down Broadway through the Fashion District, past Madison Square Park, lit up in lights. Through Union Square Park and the craft stands that have been set up for the holidays. I took a brief break to warm up at the Strand Bookstore before continuing down Broadway. If it weren't also just a few days before Christmas, I would have assumed that the store was crowded because of other people like me, looking for a distraction before having to venture out again into the ever-colder night.

Walking through SoHo, I caught up on a few phone calls, calling friends and giving them an insider's perspective on what they are only seeing on the news. New York is Paris. New York is London. The only difference now between those cities and here is that in Europe strikes happen with every new moon, not every twenty-five years.

When I got to Canal Street, I figured I'd have some luck flagging down a cab. Surely there had to be other Brooklyn-bound commuters willing to give a fella a lift. No such luck. Cars queued up at the entrance to the bridge were stuck in gridlock and none of their drivers were willing to make eye contact with the would-be hitchhikers on the sidewalk. A few people were waving at drivers, trying to get them to roll down their windows so they could beg for a ride, but no one responded. Apparently some people's charity ended as soon as the restrictions for getting around the city did too.

So I crossed the street and made my way to the pedestrian walkway on the Manhattan Bridge. It was busy, but not crowded. A few cyclists buzzed by, but most were polite and a few even walked their bikes through some of the more bottlenecked stretches. Over FDR drive, I paused to take a picture of the scene below: red tail lights snaking south towards the Brooklyn Bridge , but open lanes as clear as they are in ads for luxury cars in the other direction.

As I passed DUMBO and the big clock-topped apartment building that is the neighborhood's centerpiece, I could see into a few windows. People at home, watching TV, making dinner. I remembered the big signs that graced Storrow Drive in Boston before the Big Dig: "If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now." That memory was broken by the sound of silence. Something was missing from this walk - which I had done with friends one late summer night not long ago. I realized that without the trains running across the Manhattan Bridge every few minutes, my trek across the river had been relatively quiet. The denizens of DUMBO probably hadn't experienced so much quiet since the blackout. For this moment, I was glad I had forgotten my iPod at home.

Back on land on the other side of the bridge, I figured I'd try my luck at finding another cab. Surely someone would be jumping out of one now. But luck was not on my side. No cabs were to be found, only passenger cars, jammed onto the streets that fed off of the bridge. When I made it over to Flatbush Avenue, cars were at a dead standstill. Even if I had been able to find an available cab, I would have paid at least twenty dollars for the priviledge of going nowhere.

So my walk continued and I easily outpaced the traffic. Eventually I passed the Brooklyn Academy of Music and I knew I was in the homestretch. L and I have often gone to movies at BAM, and it was the first real sign of home. A little further on, I turned right onto Fifth Avenue, leaving the fumes of the idling traffic behind me.

By now my feet were killing me. I had worn comfortable shoes, but there's a reason marathoners and seasoned hikers put as much thought into their socks as they do their sneakers or boots. My socks were bunching up, rubbing my heels, and I knew that I needed a break. So I crossed the street and popped into Gorilla Coffee. A two-dollar hot chocolate warmed me up. At this point, after walking more than six miles from my office, I felt like I needed - and deserved - ten cups.

Then, back outside. At this point I was in the home stretch. A turn left and I walked up the slope that gives my neighborhood its name. The territory became even more familiar. My bank. My grocery store. My favorite coffeeshop. My street. I was home.

It was almost seven o'clock. Considering my detours - book browsing, photo taking, the cocoa - I had made good time. Seven point two miles according to Google Maps.

When I got home, this magazine was waiting for me in our mailbox. Here's the cover:


As if I needed any help remembering what I love it here. My walk showed me a city I'm lucky to be a part of but don't often get to see from my seat on the F train. Sure it was cold and my feet are going to require a bit of rest. But I don't care. If this thing isn't over by tomorrow I'll just have to do it again.

Posted by Doug at December 20, 2005 07:53 PM

I too felt great camaraderie with New Yorkers as I walked over the bridge. The Red Cross was handing out water and hot chocolate to pedestrians, and Marty Markowitz was positioned with his bullhorn welcoming Brooklynites back home. It brought a frozen tear to my eye. It wasn't so bad going through it together. New Yorkers can get through anything!

Posted by: Lori at December 20, 2005 10:57 PM

Poetic. Loved it.

Posted by: jen at December 20, 2005 11:06 PM

Hi Doug! This could be the start of a new blog or a book. HUGS SONDRA

Posted by: Sondra Finegold at December 21, 2005 09:02 AM

At times like this, I am exceedingly grateful for my commute from the bed to the desk.

Posted by: Ellen at December 21, 2005 09:13 AM

Bike time?

Posted by: Ellison at December 21, 2005 10:12 AM

I thought about biking, but the traffic approaching both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges is so bad that it might be a little dangerous. Plus, cops are stopping cyclists and requiring that they walk their bikes across the bridge. So, I don't think I'd save all that much time, plus it's too cold!

Posted by: Doug at December 21, 2005 11:28 AM

I'm glad someone NY blogger is telling me what's going on! It was great to hear your perspective. Living in a small Southern town, where my office is less than a mile from my apartment, I cannot begin to know how you feel.

Merry Christmas! And stay warm!

Posted by: Tracie at December 21, 2005 03:52 PM