Images of Manhattan
Jun 20, 2008
|A walk on one of the world's most famous islands - Friday, June 20
We woke to a beautiful sunny day, and after showering and checking in at the office we headed for the ferry to Manhattan. Two round trip tickets cost $24.00 and we had all of five minutes to wait. We boarded and on the ride over we surreptitiously took some pictures out the windows. At this point we were still uncertain as to what was Ok and what wasn’t, and kept expecting another employee to start yelling at us.
The ferry makes another quick stop to pick up passengers on the Jersey side before heading across the Hudson. Manhattan is a long, narrow island sandwiched between the Hudson River on the west, and the East River on the east. It is divided into three sections, Lower Manhattan where the financial district is located, and where the World Trade Center once stood, Midtown Manhattan where Times Square and the theater district are located, and Upper Manhattan or ‘Uptown’ where Central Park and the Park Avenue elite reside.
The Liberty Harbor Ferry circles around the lower end of the island and goes to a dock at the foot of Wall Street on the East River side, and in view of the Brooklyn Bridge. We were at the tail end of the morning commute and the suits were starting to give way to sightseers and tourists. You get off the ferry onto a floating dock that is also pitching up and down, and it’s a little tricky but exciting. We went through the ferry terminal and then stopped along the rail to get our bearings. Up river were Pier 17 and the Brooklyn Bridge, with a large waterfall cascading from a steel structure at the base of bridge’s east tower. It was beautiful, and we later learned it is a new installation they were testing that morning.
We crossed the street and walked the block to Wall Street, which seemed like as good a place as any to start our blind and unguided tour. Wall Street is very narrow, and it’s lined with push carts and food and souvenir vendors. A blue bus filled with Canadian tourists was trying to make an impossibly tight turn onto Wall Street but a pushcart was in his way. The vendor kept moving his cart, but in the end it wasn’t enough and the bus driver had to back up into traffic and take another shot at it. Traffic backed up enough for him to do it, and eventually he negotiated the turn and disappeared into the traffic heading east to the waterfront.
A few blocks later we came to the corner of Wall and Broad Streets, and across Broad Street stood the New York Stock Exchange. The street around it is barricaded off and there are cops everywhere, some with dogs and others armed with assault rifles. We thought something special must be happening, but post 9-11 this is now the norm.
The stock exchange is very patriotic and there are flags everywhere, but at least they’re hung and displayed properly. I asked one of the cops with an assault rifle about the photography ban and he relieved my mind and told me it was no problem. He said someone might ask for an ID if they thought you looked suspicious, but he said, “Just show them your driver’s license.” He didn’t seem to think it was a big deal - and he should know.
From the stock exchange we walked up Broadway to the site of the World Trade Center catastrophe. I had originally not wanted to come here, but you can’t come to New York and not see it. For all their talk about New York’s ’spirit’, and they have done an amazing job of rebuilding and getting on with life, something of this magnitude is like having a child murdered. It changes you forever and there is no previous ‘normal’ to go back to.
What conditions nurtured the hatred that made this possible? If we don’t understand that, then no real recovery is possible. We will forever be caught up in a war against an enemy who understands us better than we understand him, and against the enemy of ignorance and complacency within ourselves. There is no way we can ‘shock and awe’ ourselves out of it, no matter how many troops we send or bombs we drop.
The new World Trade Center is already under construction and the 100 foot deep foundation is well along. Nothing but cranes are visible above ground yet, but millions of yards of concrete have been poured and the structure’s foundation is taking shape. The signs project a completion date of 2012.
From there we walked the halls of the financial district buildings, and had lunch at one of the cafés. Back out on the street we headed for Broadway and Church where we caught an E Train subway uptown to 42nd Street and Times Square.
If this city doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping you might be legally dead. This is the home of excess - enormous signs, neon overload, dense and relentless traffic, and a jostling but mostly good natured crowd. And we didn’t experience any of the rudeness New Yorkers are famous for. Everyone was polite and helpful, and frequently a stranger on the street would see us looking confused and volunteer to help us.
We walked from 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, to 51st Street and 5th Avenue, and nearly every street and block in between. On the way we saw Rockefeller Center, and the Radio City Music Hall. NBC Studios are in Rockefeller Center and we went into their gift store, but skipped the tour, as well as the pricy trip to the ‘Top of the Rock’. Everything here is ridiculously expensive, and we opted out of the blatantly touristy stuff.
Inside Rockefeller Center the walls are covered with strange murals reminiscent of WPA work glorification propaganda, only with figures that look like they are out of a 19th century artist’s sketchbook. Originally Mexican artist Diego Rivera was commissioned to do the mural, but he was a Communist with a message, and the message he chose to paint was of John D. Rockefeller wearing a ‘Capitalist’ label, standing with his foot on the neck of a figure labeled ‘Labor’. Needless to say, Nelson Rockefeller couldn’t allow that, and he paid Rivera off, painted out the offending mural and paid someone else to do the one we see today. Pretty funny stuff.
From Rockefeller Center we walked back through Times Square to 42nd Street and caught the downtown subway back to Wall Street. We were tired and on overload from all we’d seen and done, but it was an exhilarating day and we felt like we’d gotten a good taste of what New York is like. In the next few days we’ll be taking a city tour which will add to it, but there’s nothing like getting out and walking the streets yourself.
We caught the Liberty Harbor Ferry back to Jersey City and it was a fast ride. The windows were water spotted so the pictures didn’t turn out too well, but the softness gives a nice mood to the departing skyline.
It’s hard to picture what this must have looked like in colonial days. The Manhattan skyline gives you the feeling these buildings are eternal and have always been here.
The World Trade Center shows us that is not so - but it also shows us that as long as man inhabits this planet he will always rebuild.