Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Transit Strike Journal - 2

As promised, I'm continuing my story of day one of the strike with an account of my walk home. I got an early start, so it was still quite light when I left 52nd and 5th. By the time I crossed 14th Street at Union Square, it was twilight. Walking down Lafayette Street just above Bleecker, I noticed some delicate looking pink clouds over the buildings to the southeast.

The big glass of Stella painted on the side of the building looked inviting, but I resisted the temptation to rest my legs while perching on the nearest available barstool.

When I got to Canal Street, the sky was quite dark. Just below Canal, I faced another temptation.
Is "healthy dessert" an oxymoron? I hadn't eaten dinner yet, and could have used a sugar rush (if a healthy dessert can indeed deliver one). Nevertheless, I pressed on.

Approaching Foley Square on Centre Street, I had a good view of "Civic Fame," the gilded statue atop McKim, Mead & White's ponderous Municipal Building, described as "the finest example of Stalinist Gothic architecture in America."

She seemed an angel from another age, standing guard over a city that had undergone enormous change since she assumed her perch. Her eyes would have looked right at the World Trade Center towers as they were built over several years, stood for nearly thirty, then were brought down in one terrible hour.
Perhaps now she was looking down at the swarm of pedestrians heading onto the Brooklyn Bridge walkway, wondering what madness had possessed her polis.

Approaching the bridge, I was drawn into a surge of bodies being funneled onto the narrow walkway. Looking down, I could see a swarm of traffic clogging Water Street below.

On reaching the far side of the Bridge, I found our ebullient Borough President, Marty Markowitz, greeting returning Brooklynites.
In a fit of either historical amnesia or secessionist defiance, he was shouting, "Welcome to the City of Brooklyn!"

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Transit Strike Journal

News junkie that I am, I stayed up until midnight to see if there was going to be a transit strike. There was no point in turning the TV on before then; the kabuki of public employee labor negotiations in New York is such that nothing can ever be resolved until the last possible minute. The first word I got was that TWU President Roger Toussaint had rejected the MTA's "final" offer (its second such, or perhaps third) at 11:30 p.m., and left the negotiations to meet with the Union's board. The trains and buses were still running, pending the board's decision. I watched for a while as Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers' Campaign and others speculated on the likely outcome and its conse quences. When no decision had been announced by 12:45, I decided that I'd better get to bed, as I almost surely had a long walk ahead of me in the morning. This theory was confirmed at 6:00 a.m. by the WQXR newscaster. I rolled over to get a bit more sleep, and wasn't able to rouse myself before 7:30. I figured it would take about an hour and a half to get from where I live, Brooklyn Heights, to midtown Manhattan, where I work. I didn't feel any pressure to be in early, so I had a leisurely shower and breakfast, and kissed my wife and daughter goodbye at 8:45. It was a great day for walking, cold, but with little wind, and perfectly clear. I felt cheerful, with a spring in my step as I walked across Montague Street and down Henry towards the pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. As I crossed Cadman Plaza, I looked over at the bridge approach to see how crowded the walkway was. People were going by at a good clip, and it wasn't packed:

I climbed the stairs to the walkway, and headed toward Manhattan, feeling the exhiliration I hadn't felt for the few years since I'd last crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot.

When I got to the Manhattan side, I headed north past the courthouses on Foley Square and just beyond on Centre Street. As I went past the huge Art Deco Criminal Court building, I noticed a new (to me, who hadn't walked here in some years) addition just to its north. I relaized this was the new jail that replaced the ancient and storied "Tombs." Then, from the corner of my eye, I noticed a brightly colored sign affixed to the elevated walkway connecting the jail to the courthouse:

Given recent revelations, I'm surprised this sign is still there. At least it's fun to speculate as to what behaviors might be symptomatic of a "Bernard B. Kerik Complex."

Going up Lafayette Street, I walked past a bicycle store, noticing a beautiful, chrome yellow bike in the window. Then I saw several men inside, all positioned near the door, willing me in with their eyes. They seemed hopeful of doing a lot of business because of the strike. For a moment, I thought how nice it would be to go in, buy a bike, and ride it the rest of the way. But then, there was the question of what to do with it once I got there. New York doesn't have lots of public bike racks, and surely the staff of the building where I work wouldn't allow one to be brought inside.

When I got to Lafayette and Houston, the light was against me, so I went left towards Broadway. I decide to cross at Crosby, however, because it afforded a view of the exquisite Bayard-Condict Building, the only New York example of the art of Chicago's great Louis Sullivan:

Heading up Broadway, I heard the bells of Grace Chuch (not to be confused with my own beloved Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights) chime ten times. I knew I was taking more time than I should, but I was still enjoying the walk. I went past Union Square onto Park Avenue South, and, by 23rd Street, was feeling the effects of age and lack of serious exercise. A little further, and Grand Central beckoned:

The clock on the Terminal's facade said 10:30, and I still had about twelve blocks to go. I plunged into the Terminal, hoping the ceiling laser show would be going so I could photograph it, but it wasn't. I went across 43rd to Madison, then headed up to 52nd Street. At 51st, I paused to take this shot of St. Patrick's Cathedral from the rear, with Rockefeller Center beyond, and Olympic Tower, site of my office, the brownish International style slab to its right:

When I entered the office of the firm where I work, the first thing I noticed was a bike standing near the door of the senior partner's office. He got up to greet me, dressed in an outfit not unlike that worn by Tour de France contestants.

I have more tales and photos from my journey home, but will save them for tomorrow.