Friday, January 14, 2011

Long may you run

We didn't get an immediate chance to see Manhattan, as we immediately left the bus station on 42nd street for a converted warehouse in Williamsburg. The room was straight out of the film 'Big', but was occupied by 12 beds, and not skateboards. It was a fantastic example of what gentrification can do, and easily a place I'd love to live in (with skateboards replacing backpackers of course).
Morgan Ave Subway ad for William H Macy's hot bod.

Not wanting to bunker down into the comfort of the room, Dicky Peach and I wandered through the streets, past community housing and eventually into an area that was more Puerto Rico than suburban Brooklyn. When the safest bet for food was Subway and fried chicken, we both felt it was time to move into Manhattan for the night.

Like faux-hipsters, we consumed at Urban Outfitters and Starbucks on our way to getting lost around the triangle of the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Little Italy. Eventually, after an hour or two of bafflement we settled for Piano, a bar on Ludlow st. It turns out that Peach had tried to get into the same place on a drunken night out in November, but had to wait two months for entry.

John St John, Sam and Lil joined us as the cup of good times runneth over. We all tried different beers, avoided the gigs out the back and upstairs and eventually found ourselves taking shelter from a snow storm. What was a pleasant bite in the cold transformed into an inundation of falling white. More and more people filled the bar, in search of a reprieve from the weather as much as a drink.

The weather never relented, so Peach and I put our beer coats over the ones we were already wearing and ventured out like Shackleton on our journey back to Brooklyn. My snow angel on Ludlow failed, and my snow balls in mittens were pitiful, but the unfamiliarity of snow was still proving to be a frozen bucket of fun. When we did make it back to Brooklyn we found the streets to be worse than Manhattan, and that even with a snow plow, the best place to walk was down the middle of the road. Like our last visit to New York, Peach and I were taking advantage of jaywalking through the city's streets.

Naturally, we didn't start the day at a time in the A.M. but strategically, it gave the workers of New York City time to clean up some of the streets from the snow. Through icy paths that soaked through the canvas of Peach's shoes, we walked up Broadway on a course for the Williamsburg Bridge.

Crossing bridges in the city is amazing, and since urban exploring has made everything off limits, Manhattan's big three have enveloped climbing totem into their daily role. As much as I would like to climb to the top of the bridge, the amount of ice and one functioning hand turned me off were two of the many reason my feet stayed on the path. The view of midtown was hindered by a safety fence, but the skyline through red mesh is still something to behold.

climb me

Three years ago I visited the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan and left feeling disappointed that
scaffold and a security fence were sites for souvenir peddlers and people trying to peak at rubble. I have been to the city twice since then, and despite the progress I had reservations about going back, such was my disdain for how the site was then. However, this time, knowing the rate of progress I felt I should go back.

While the site is still remarkably empty, the fence height has fallen. Rightfully so, the tallest structure in the construction site is the replacement building, Freedom Tower. Now that there is something to be proud of, the city is once again showing it off. This year will be the 10th anniversary since the two towers fell, and though the new skyscraper will not be finished by then, the building's skeleton is something akin to a beautiful woman getting ready to go out. It's taking time, but you can see it getting better looking by the moment, and by the end it is going to leave people in awe.

We walked past the site, seeing it from all sides and getting up close and personal to the beams that will support the memories of the people lost when the two towers fell. The feeling of the site was a marked improvement from years ago, and even when Peach and I walked to the Hudson River I still kept turning my head, watching the building grow before my very eyes.

It was some walk, and we had covered many miles in a few hours, but the cold from the water and the ice on the paths forced us back to Williamsburg. Not to worry, again John, Sam and Lil would join us, this time in Barcade.

The lady behind the bar was hardly friendly, and an example where the expected tipping service fails, but whatever, I was there to push quarters into old video game arcade machines. Donkey Kong is still my kryptonite, paper boy is impossible unless it's on a NES, but Rampage, that's where it is at.

Peach and I embodied giant gorillas and reptiles as we punched our way through pixelated apartment buildings. John had taken to tetris, and his architectural background handed him an unorthodox, but successful style.

We gamed, and drank and gamed some more, working up a hunger only an early morning (or late night) feed can satiate. A dine took our orders of late night eggs, and before we knew it, the food was eaten and it was time to call it a night.

Unlike previous occasions, it was actually time to say good-bye to John and we parted ways in a Williamsburg subway stop. We had spent an outstanding semester together, and together our jeans showed more asscrack than all of the plumbers in Massachusetts combined. With that goodbye, my first semester felt like it had finally passed, and the next day with my return to Amherst, my second would begin.

It doesn't blend in, but because it resembles a broken lego wall, this building is one of my favourites in Manhattan.

Before then I escorted Peach to his new hostel in the Upper West Side. Going to a place like New York City, it's nice to see more of another area, as they all change so much from suburb to suburb. We left two stereotypical Jewish old woman to complain about the area in their hilarious accents behind as we walked to Riverside Drive. It was cold and covered in so much snow that someone actually equipped themself with poles and skis and rode past us.

The street was cold, and we traded it for a glimpse of the diner from Seinfeld on our way to Harlem. I had also been there three years ago, and I was again impressed by the place. It's streets and surroundings are less congested than the rest of Manhattan, and the reputation the area had earned in rap songs seemed unfounded. Then again, we did see a man with paraphernalia supporting black nationalism, and had posters of Robert Mugabe.

I said bye to Peach on the subway before I went to the same pizza shop I have visited every time I go to New York City. From there it was a bus back to Amherst, via upper Manhattan and the new Yankee Stadium. The ride offered some perfect views of Manhattan at night, and though it always hurts to leave the place, I'll be back there next weekend to fall in love with it all over again.

Amherst was almost unrecognisable upon my return. Snow has been piled up everywhere, and where it hasn't been shovelled upon itself it sits about 50cm from the ground. After riding on buses, being scared for my life in Baltimore and sleeping anywhere I could, I was startled to discover that my taxi ride back to campus would be the most dangerous part of my adventure. The driver, always on his phone, was taking notes as the van weaved from one side of the road to the other. When he stopped at my door, he spoke well of my English accent (welcome back to Amherst) and spun his wheels on the icy roads as he drove off.

The campus is a ghost town, though blanketed in white this time. If I had my way I'd still be in New York City, but returned back early so I could have my cast removed. It had been seven weeks since I broke my wrist and though the cast was attached to me, I was not to it. The saw could miraculously cut through the fibre glass, but not my skin and revealed the gross new version of my left arm. It was crusty, furrier than usual and unlike my expectations, does not have a lot of mobility. I was heartened when the doctor said the bone looks better than he thought it would, though there is a permanent chip on the bone I didn't fracture.

So while I don't have the full mobility of my left hand I'm still enjoying the reprieve from living out of a bag and the relative freedom of not wearing a cast. This little trip was great fun, and I'm grateful for seeing much more of this country than I had anticipated, even if it meant missing another family xmas. The comfort and weather of home seemed distant when walking around icy streets, but for the sacrifice of one day in Wollongong (which I've already had too many), I will happily trade it for all the long bus trips and floors to sleep on that are offered if it means learning a bit more about myself and the world.

Bruce Springsteen - Long Walk Home
I wanted to visit Asbury Park, NJ on this trip as it's Bruce's home town. It was too cold in NYC, so I'll wait until March. Until then here is the Boss singing in some of his town's abandoned buildings in an appropriately titled track.

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