Monday, May 23, 2011

Sorry, The Brooklyn Bridge Is Closed

Here's a story that crossed my mind recently, probably because the anniversary of it was just this past week...

Although I've lived in the Las Vegas, Nevada area for over 11 years now (!!!), I was born and raised in New York City. I grew up and lived in Queens for about a quarter century, and worked right in downtown Manhattan at 2 separate jobs for about 2 years total. Both jobs were within a subway token's throw of the late, lamented Twin Towers, right in the City Hall/Wall Street area. Being somewhat familiar with NYC, I've played tour guide on a couple of occasions for co-workers in my Henderson, Nevada Post Office who had never been to the Big Apple before. Both times my victims and I stayed at a hotel right in midtown for a great rate, thanks to a friend who worked there (hi, Cappy!). I made up loose itineraries beforehand, incorporating obvious touristy things that the respective couples wanted to see, plus a few interesting nuggets that I knew would be unfamiliar, yet interesting, to non-natives.

On the day in May of 2005 that this particular story revolves around, we made our way from the hotel early in the morning. The hotel itself was located right at 53rd Street & 3rd Avenue, around the corner from the Citigroup Center, one of the more interesting skyscrapers in New York. Completed in 1977, it's unique angled roof (originally designed to incorporate solar panels, a plan which never came to fruition), and one-of-a-kind base make it quite a standout among NYC buildings, which is no mean feat.

Also located within a block of the hotel is another architectural achievement, the Lipstick Building, so named for it's oval shape and rosy color. Since the building tapers in at points as it rises, it looks as if it could collapse upon itself, also like a tube of lipstick. While not a traditional sightseeing stop (it was only completed in 1986), if you're in the area, it's certainly worth a look. Like the Citigroup Center, it also has an interesting and beautiful base, this one comprised of many rosy-colored marble columns.

Our objectives for the day were the Empire State Building, Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building, Washington Square Park, Foley Square (an area familiar to any of you who have ever watched the original Law & Order series, and I used to work in 60 Centre Street, the building featured in the opening credits), City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers used to stand tall. We worked our way south in the order just listed, so there were several short subway jaunts in-between each (it's really all walkable, but my co-worker's wife was not physically capable of doing that much walking without encountering real problems).

Since this was a Saturday, we were at the Empire State Building on 5th Avenue and 34th Street right at 9AM. There was no line to get in, and we were on the observation deck before 9:30, enjoying the view even though there was still a mild bit of haziness in the air. While it limited the amount you could see off to the outlying areas, it did nothing to detract from the view of Manhattan itself. I enjoy doing the touristy New York things with people who've never been there before, because A) it's great to see the enjoyment they're getting out of it, and B) since I only get in every couple years or so, I really enjoy it myself as well.

By the time we made it back downstairs, the line to get an elevator to the observation deck snaked back and forth in the staging area for something approaching an hour's length...which explained to my friends why we had gotten such an early start on a Saturday morning. Finally convinced them I'm not as dumb as I look (to which my co-worker would always reply, "Nobody could be that dumb!" With friends like these, who needs enemas...).

Our next stop was a half-mile south on Fifth Avenue to see the Flatiron Building, right next to Madison Square Park. Shaped like a clothes iron propped up, this is one of New York City's first skyscrapers. While it comes in at under 300 feet tall, which may seem small today, when it was completed in 1902, it was one of the tallest buildings in the world, and the first of New York City's tall buildings to be built north of 14th Street. Its iconic shape has made it a very recognizable structure, and I suppose its most recent claim to fame was its film portrayal of the home of the Daily Bugle, the fictitious newspaper of the Spider-Man universe.

We then wandered over to the Gramercy Park area, just a couple blocks to the east. Completely by accident, we stumbled into a street fair on Park Avenue South from around 18th to 23rd Streets. I suddenly had an extra added item for the visitors, because a New York City street fair on a beautiful day is a wonderful thing. Looking at people selling trinkets and clothing is always amusing, but the best part is always the food! I always tell people 2 things about NYC food. 1) If you recognize the name of the place (like a chain, or someplace you may have eaten in elsewhere in the world), forget it, avoid it. If you don't recognize the name of the place, and it looks like some dive or a hole-in-the-wall, go in, you're likely to get the best food you've ever had. And 2) some of the best dining to be had in NYC is right off the streets. Fruit stands, hot dog carts, pastry carts, street vendors selling all variety of can eat 3 squares a day without ever sitting down at a table.

Washington Square Park was the next destination, just shy of a mile further south on Fifth Avenue. It's the gateway to Greenwich Village (literally...Washington Square Arch, a monument to General George Washington, sits at the north end of the park, right at the point where Fifth Avenue comes to an end), and it's surrounded by beautiful brownstone apartments and buildings that are part of the campus of New York University (NYU). It makes for a nice transitional point from corporate New York to a more artsy area. While normally a reasonably tranquil place to visit, on the weekends (and this was a Saturday, remember) it becomes an absolute hive of activity. The central fountain area of the park serves as a stage for all manner of street performers, doing their acts for the throngs of people who gather around, with the only admission price being a passing of the hat after the performance. Depending on the day (or time of day, even), you can see anything from stand-up comics to gymnasts to magicians, and everything in-between. Another of New York City's wonderful attractions.

Another quick subway hop got us a mile further south to the Foley Square area. As mentioned before, if you've ever seen an episode of the original Law & Order TV series, you've seen this area. This is where the main courthouses for New York City and New York State are located, as well as offices for the County Clerk and the City Register, plus a nice little park (Thomas Paine Park) as well. There's also a place to get an amazing chicken parmigiana hero, but since this was a Saturday and all businesses and offices in the area were closed, the area is fairly deserted, so they were closed too...damn...

City Hall, the Manhattan Municipal Building, the Surrogate's Courthouse, and the Brooklyn Bridge are all just a block or so to the south of Foley Square, so after admiring the architecture of "the Law & Order building", we made our way down to them. These were all built in the late 1800's & early 1900's during the "City Beautiful" era, when money was no object when it came to architectural design. The more lavish, the better. These are some of the more stunningly beautiful buildings in all of NYC, both inside and out. In particular, the Surrogate's Courthouse, while an attractive building outside, has an amazing all-marble lobby with a magnificent staircase leading to the second floor offices housing many records. I worked in this building as well for roughly a year, and would often marvel at the beauty of the lobby when I had a few minutes to sit during the work day. More than likely, you've already seen the lobby, since it has been featured in all kinds of media (film, music videos, commercials, print ads, etc.). And while all the pictures with this story are ones I took, the one exception is with this paragraph, which came from the Government of NYC's own web page about the Surrogate's Courthouse building...thanks!

Going off on a slight tangent, I can even give you a little story about "movie magic" that directly relates to the Surrogate's Courthouse. There was some dumb romantic comedy out last year called When In Rome. This link here is to the trailer for the picture. Everything from 23 seconds to 53 seconds in the clip I linked to takes place in a hall or something in Rome where the reception for a wedding is taking place. It's towards the beginning of the movie, and it's pretty much the only part of it (aside from the end, apparently) that takes place in Rome, as the rest of it takes place in NYC. Except that all those scenes at the reception taking place in Rome, are actually shot in the Surrogate's Courthouse lobby in Manhattan, just steps away from the Brooklyn Bridge! Which should give you an idea of just how extravagant that lobby truly is. I remember emerging from the subway everyday to walk the half-block to get to the courthouse, and more often than not, especially on Fridays, there would be trailers parked on Chambers Street right across from the courthouse entrance. These would be for whatever filming or shooting that was to be going on at night or over the weekends right there.

I noticed something else about When In Rome that I feel a need to nitpick about. There's a scene where the female lead is jogging thru Central Park, and she's heading south as she runs across Bow Bridge. Now she's running thru The Mall (also known as Poet's Alley), when some guy starts chasing her. As she continues on, she's now running down the steps leading to Bethesda Fountain, with this guy still in hot pursuit. Except that if she were really still running in the same direction, she would have already gone past the fountain and up the steps in order to reach The Mall from Bow Bridge. Do I really care? No. But am I gonna point it out? Yup. You can argue artistic license, but if you're gonna make NYC the featured location of your picture, you can bet there are gonna be people who notice stuff like this.

And why did I watch something as vapid and stupid as When In Rome? Because when I stumbled across it on TV one morning, I instantly recognized the Surrogate's Courthouse lobby, and I'm a sucker for NYC locations in movies. Even more so when it's doubling for somewhere else, like, say, Rome.

As we headed towards the Manhattan entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge, we waited at an intersection to cross. The road is for traffic coming from Brooklyn and entering Manhattan from the bridge, and it makes a big curve to the right as it does so. You can't see more than 30 or so feet up the road from where we were trying to cross, so even though no traffic was passing, we weren't taking any chances, and waited for the light. Except I noticed that NO traffic was coming. While we waited for the light to change, not a single car came thru from off the bridge. Even for a Saturday, this was unusual, to say the very least.

When the light changed, we made our way across to the City Hall Park area, so we could get a good look towards the bridge. With the one companion having the walking issues, we probably weren't going to walk out onto the bridge, but we could at least get a good vantage point from here. What I saw though was a most bizarre sight for New York. There was absolutely no vehicular traffic on the bridge whatsoever. This was unheard of. The reason was plain to see from where we were, as the police had closed the Brooklyn Bridge! This is not something that happens every day. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure this is something that had ever happened ANY day. The Brooklyn Bridge, in addition to being a world famous landmark, and one of the most New York things about New York, also serves as a major artery for traffic making its way between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn and the outer areas. To close something like this must have meant there was a serious problem somewhere. In addition, all pedestrian traffic was being allowed to continue off of the bridge, but no one was being allowed on.

I made a couple of phone calls to friends and family in the area to see if they were seeing anything about this on the news, but no one was coming across anything. I made my way closer to the entrance, and started asking around if anyone knew what was going on. Eventually I was able to find out (I can't remember for sure, but I'm pretty certain I got this from an NYPD officer) that some moron had abandoned a rental truck somewhere on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. While that might not raise any eyebrows in a normal area, this was NYC. 9/11 had only happened about 3 and a half years earlier, and people were still pretty skittish about things like that. So when someone abandons a rental truck on a NYC landmark, it gets the attention of New Yorkers. More than likely, whoever left it had mechanical problems. But the fact that it never occurred to them that leaving it sitting on a venerable icon such as the Brooklyn Bridge would possibly be interpreted as a terrorist act is inexcusable. The only reason this wasn't a disaster of epic proportions was the fact that it was early on a Saturday afternoon. Had this happened sometime during the 9-5 Monday to Friday work week, it would have crippled millions of commuters, and would therefore have been MAJOR news. One can only hope that they found the idiot who left the truck and beat the shit out of him. Just sayin.

Blog Post Soundtrack; The Les Claypool Frog Brigade, Fear Factory, Kyuss, Minor Threat, Monty Python, Louis Prima, Prong, Django Reinhardt, Sepultura, The Bakerton Group (live), Beastie Boys, Budgie, Clutch, The Doors (live), Fear, P.J. Harvey, Hermano, The Misfits (live), The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Scott Reeder, Slipknot, Sly & The Family Stone, Tool, Yawning Man, Woody Allen, Band Of Horses, Björk, Sausage, The International Noise Conspiracy, John Connelly Theory, Korn, Busta Rhymes, Leadbelly, Limp Bizkit (live, covering House Of Pain), Metallica (live), The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Nirvana, Primus, S.O.D. (live, covering Ministry), Slayer, The Stooges, Sublime, System Of A Down, The Ventures (covering Booker T. & The MG's), Beck, The Ramones, Eagles Of Death Metal, Sex Pistols, Brant Bjork, Black Flag, Bo Diddley, James Brown, The Clash, Corrosion Of Conformity, Elvis Costello, Deftones (live)

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