Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Our New York Marathon
Day 12
Friday, June 10, 2011
New Yorkers need to get away from the crowds and concrete of the city as much as we do, it seems.  There are lots of little oases spread throughout the city where people can just sit a spell in a garden or a tree-shaded courtyard, often near a waterfall that drowns out the sounds of the city.  

Today we searched out some of these special spots, and a couple landmark buildings, as well.

But first, we stopped at B&H Photo—a Mecca for photographers world-wide, with an overwhelming expanse of all things related to cameras, photography, optics and associated technology and electronics.  It was the most crowded space we have been in, other than the subway at rush hour.  There was one “take a number” row of 68 sales representatives/advisers to help with purchase decisions, islands for all the major camera manufacturers with sales people to answer questions and provide demos of their products, and countless roving sales people eager to provide advice and sales assistance for merchandise that was not sold behind counters.  You gave each item you wanted to a salesperson as you found it, the salesperson took it and gave you a receipt for it, then you checked out by the front door, where everything you had collected during your visit miraculously materialized.  Other than their awesome knowlegeability about all things photographic, the other thing that was unusual about B&H’s staff was that about 90% of them were male Orthodox Jews.  We understood why the store is closed on Saturday.

Our next stop was the High Line, a linear park developed on an elevated railway bed with a very interesting history.  Back in the early 1900s, Tenth Avenue on the West Side was known as Death Avenue, due to the high number of fatalities resulting from the collision of freight trains with other traffic on the streets of this busy industrial area.  Men on horses known as West Side Cowboys rode in front of the trains waving red flags trying to avert catastrophe.  The High Line, known then as the West Side Improvement Project, was approved in 1930, and built by 1934 at a cost in today’s dollars of $2 billion.  Its 13 mile long elevated track eliminated almost 200 street level rail crossings.  Due to reduced rail traffic, a portion of the High Line was torn down in the 1960s, and the last train ran on the remaining section in 1980 (carrying just three cars of frozen turkeys).  A citizen’s group with a vision saved it from demolition, and the first section of the High Line Park opened in June 2009.  The second section, adding ten blocks to the elevated park, opened just two days before we visited. 

The park is a heavily landscaped rail bed 30 feet above the tenement and warehouse lined city streets.  In some places, it passes so close to the buildings next door, that you feel you could reach out and shake hands with someone standing on their fire escape.  The tracks are mostly covered by blooming wildflower gardens, grasses or planters holding ornamental trees, but they do peek out in spots, reminding us of the origins of the park. 

The one thing the High Line is missing is shade, so we do not linger long after walking its length on the sunny warm day. 

We visit two other pocket parks in Midtown Manhattan, lovely little shaded courtyards with trees and waterfalls where people stop to rest, read or relax with their smart phones or computers.  We are impressed by how many people are plugged into technology here, so that they are present, but not fully present, wherever they go.
In contrast to the quiet parks, we visit Grand Central Station, which is bustling with travelers and tourists, but doesn’t seem crowded, since its huge expanse swallows the masses.  We notice a plaque on the wall recognizing Jacqueline Kennedy’s efforts which saved Grand Central Station from demolition in the 1970s.  That decade was a tough time for historic landmark train stations in the way of urban renewal, as we saw with our own Union Terminal in Cincinnati, but it is hard to believe that New York would consider squandering an architectural treasure of this magnitude.  Thank you, Jackie!  There is an audio tour available, but we don’t have time today—maybe later. 

Our next destination is the Flat Iron Building, where we find the city has closed off a section of the street out front and made a little garden with cafĂ© tables.  Every New Yorker must have a little green space to enjoy nearby, if only they know where to look, it seems. 

Then we are back on the subway to Brooklyn, where we meet Dick’s son Matt, who was been conducting a workshop at PS 261 there.  We got together at a coffee shop for a quick bite, then Matt catches a taxi to the airport, and we head back to the Lower East Side on the subway.
In spite of all the time we spent in peaceful park-like settings, this has turned out to be a far busier day than we anticipated when we started out.  We vow to slow down tomorrow.

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