Greenpoint, October, 2015

Saturday, April 30, 2011

What a Difference a Lane Makes

The Kosciuszko Bridge between Queens and Brooklyn affords its riders one of the most spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline. This is not that view. It's the view provided by another bridge--named for no one as far as I know--of the Gowanus Canal where it meets the harbor, with Staten Island in the distance. To look out through the passenger window here is to glimpse for a few seconds a tableau of the working waterfront, with its piers, tugs, and huge clanking machinery from the early part of the last century (I'm guessing).

It took me more than a year to realize that if I got into the far right lane just after the Hamilton Avenue exit (headed west), I would both be closer to that world and see more of it. There's no (sane) option of crossing the bridge on foot. What a great thing it would be to have a platform on which you stand, looking out over the world New Yorkers built and have worked for two centuries.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chanel No 7?

Since school has been on break, I've been off the BQE for almost two weeks. Which has given me more time to indulge in the pleasures of the MTA and NJT. Yesterday, as my Main Street-bound 7 train pulled into 74th Street in Jackson Heights (otherwise known as the Hub of the World), I could see on the opposite platform a young white woman rather elegantly dressed in a longish black dress put down two Whole Foods bags she had carried up the steps. Since she was headed towards Manhattan, my guess is that she had shopped at the WF in Union Square, taken the R to Jackson Heights and was now headed towards Manhattan to get off in Sunnyside--a subway version of two- steps-forward-one-step-back. After she had put her bags onto the platform, she reached into one and pulled out a small (equally elegant) purse, transferred it into the other, then took it out, brought it to her nose, and sniffed it. She sniffed every corner of the purse. Satisfied (of what?) she put it back into the second bag. As my train pulled out, she sniffed her wrist. She seemed more curious than distressed or offended, a more typical reaction to the smells of the subway.

Lest you think I have forgotten the BQE altogether, look for an upcoming post on "The Curious Case (now solved) of the Nice Smell."

(Photo: Arnold Eagle, Chatham Square Platform, ca. 1939)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


The quest for a poet laureate of the BQE goes on. In the meantime, there's Sufjan Stevens' remarkable sight and sound piece performed at BAM in 2007. Comparisons to Phillip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi are inevitable and appropriate. At times the score sounds a lot like Glass (not a fave of mine), at others like Gershwin, especially when panning the BQE from the Manhattan side of the river--Woody Allen in reverse. The photography and editing are the real stars (not to mention the three Hoopsters). The 40-minute film presents a restless triptych of moving images from the BQE itself and surrounding neighborhoods. In the middle of the film there are some exhilarating speeded up sequences of getting onto, then navigating, the expressway. Mesmerizing and, for some, terrifying!

Here's the trailer. The film on DVD with separate CD of music only are available from Asthmatic Kitty Records (cover art above).

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Bridge and Me

My previous post about the Hart Crane poem, The Bridge, has got me thinking about my own experiences with the Brooklyn Bridge. Nowadays, as I drive home on the BQE in the evening, I see people walking or running or cycling across the bridge, singly or in groups. It wasn't always thus.

In the mid-80's, when I first lived in New York, I worked in midtown and lived in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. To avoid the rush-hour subways, especially in warm weather (no AC in those days), I used to walk downtown from 48th Street and get the D train, usually at Canal Street. By then, the trains were less crowded and the ride was at least a little shorter.

One evening in spring or early summer, feeling particularly energetic, I decided to keep walking across the bridge and all the way home. It was just after sunset when I got to the Manhattan side of the bridge. About a third of the way across, I realized I was the only pedestrian--all alone above the roaring traffic below. Feeling a bit foolish, I decided to keep going. I think I saw one other pedestrian and one bicycle messenger the whole way across. In those days, the NYC of Bernie Goetz and sharpened-screwdriver muggings, you didn't do stuff like that.

It was just about dark when I got off the Bridge on the Brooklyn side. I walked the rest of the way home, relieved to be on the busy, dirty sidewalks of Flatbush Avenue.

The photo of the bridge in November 1987 is by Chester Higgins of the NY Times. This post is dedicated to my friend Grazyna, who pointed out that when I write about my life, it always seems to involve cars and driving. Here's one about walking.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wanted: Poet Laureate of the BQE

Fordham University Press has just issued an annotated edition of Hart Crane's poem The Bridge (1930), which, according to the critic Marjorie Perloff is "generally considered to be one of the great long poems of the early twentieth century." Thumbing through the book at St. Mark's Bookstore, I began to wonder if there are any poems that employ the BQE as a metaphor as Crane did with the Brooklyn Bridge. I recalled a poem I wrote in the mid-1980s (I wrote poems then) about my first incredulous experience driving on the BQE. The first line was: "The stealable car climbs up onto the BQE...." I forget the rest or even what the poem was about. (The car, a battered Datsun B210 wagon, was "stealable" because it had been stolen and recovered three times in one year in Providence, Rhode Island, where I was then living.)

I'll keep looking for poetic appropriations of the BQE.  Suggestions?

Crane never lived to see the BQE. He jumped to his death in 1932--not from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Monday, April 18, 2011


I started commuting from Queens to Staten Island at the end of the summer in 2008, about midpoint in the Olafur Eliasson Waterfalls project. I was looking forward to seeing the four man-made waterfalls, all visible from the BQE, albeit with some neck-contorting required. I was underwhelmed (and naively believed they were causing all this midday traffic). They seemed more mechanical than magical, shiny aluminum grids sloughing water somewhat pointlessly into the East River or harbor. But as the summer turned to fall and I got to see them at different times of day and night, I began to anticipate their appearance, especially on the drive home--at once predictable (thus reassuring) and unexpected, depending on the light, the wind direction and strength, and the other moving pieces of the New York harbor: ferries, tugs, helicopters overhead, and so on. I miss them.

Here's the one perched on the edge of Governors Island.

For more info and images: NYC Waterfalls

Saturday, April 16, 2011

BBQ on the BQE or Towering Inferno?

What are those black podlike creatures on some of the balconies of this Brooklyn apartment building nosing up to the BQE? Weber charcoal grills of course. Flagrantly (and fragrantly) illegal. Here's the NYC regulation:


Barbecues on Residential Property.

Barbecues on residential property shall not be operated within ten (10) feet of any combustible material and there shall be available for use a garden type hose attached to a water supply or at least a sixteen (16) quart pail of water.

So get those grills off the balcony and out to a legal BBQ'ing site. And if you need a surefire (pun intended) method for starting your coals without lighter fluid, let me know.