It started innocently enough. A hiking group on the Bookofface, many denizens of Gotham unable to make extensive trips to far flung areas of the mountains, why not hike New York City? Why not hike every bridge that spans the East River? Major bridge. Sorry Macombs Dam bridge. And yes, the East River is not a river… It is not really a river.
We gathered early for any day, as all of us agreed as part of the designer class we don’t get up at that time, and so early on a Saturday that many were just getting to bed. Still by hall of city and in the golden rays of a late summer dawn, four of us gathered and exchanged pleasantries. Two of our party had an ugly Uber experience and had rocketed past our meeting point at Brooklyn Bridge station and had been taken across the Brooklyn bridge itself. Not yet 7:14 on a Saturday and already we’d lost two.
After some planning we started across the bridge. There is nothing more iconic, at least for a New Yorker, as dawn breaking and shinning that light on the marble, copper, glass of many shades, and didn’t that one guy with the twisty buildings use titanium or such.
And the bridge was relatively silent. A few joggers. One or two aggressive cyclists (missing one testicle/one labia majora I am sure a la Lance Armstrong) whizzing by yelling “cyclist”! For the most part this famous but infuriating span was crossed in resplendent quietude.
We had we completed our first bridge and as true New Yorkers, at once set upon coffee and snacks. Joined by a few additional members, our band set out to return to Manhattan.
DUMBO, or Drastically Unaffordable Move or Be priced Out, is not so much a neighborhood as it is a collection of investment boxes owned by successful capitalist families, power suits, corporate apartments, and technology companies lured to what is essentially as bad a food desert as can be found in some of the worst neighborhoods of the city, albeit on the other end of the point of sale spectrum.
Years ago, in my lifetime, DUMBO was still a smelly industrial area of large trucks and unpaved roads. At 5PM when the day was over it was vacated by all occupants at the end of the work day other than large fat water rats… and skinny models and the photographer-molester-rapists that fed off of them.
For my money the Manhattan Bridge is superior to it’s more traveled sister/brother/inanimate and un-gendered artifice to the south. For one thing, those aggressive cyclists and all their gear can argue and yell “cyclist” on the other side of the bridge. Walkers can safely parade across the bridge at any speed. Also the walkway while close to the subway rails still has a feeling of enclosure and between trains, a calm where one can take in the city skyline. Morning was rising up and we marched along. On the other side we strode through the penumbra of China Town/city/world and then up to the boarder of the Lower East Side to find our next bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge.
The Williamsburg bridge walkway was once a frightening set of metal plates loosely tossed over a structure held above traffic and by extent the churning waters below by coat hanger wire and bits of deli twine. Thankfully, it was gentrified and made into a broad and forgiving avenue that while it rises in a hump is still a simple bridge to walk. There are more walkers than the Manhattan, more cyclists yelling “cyclist!” as they zoom past in their douchtarded getups and matchy matchy overpriced special alloy bikes… Ahem …. Cycles. Nonetheless, the sky berthed the sun and morning crept to day and we all started to feel the warmth of summer and the walk was pleasant and uneventful. The bridge walk left us out on surface roads and a section of Gentrifying Williamsburg that is still in flux, still trying to fully gentrify in a proper tone.
The wreckage of the once-mighty sugar factory loomed over us and we picked our way between torn down edifices and memories of out young city selves and all those stories from The Levy, R Bar, Black Betty, Monkey Bar and so many other spent hours of our singular and collective lives.
We as a group paused at a park, the one that once was a factory and abutting the once and current incinerator, a vestige of the former minority-majority neighbors, the lungs that were meant to process all those particles into clean air were gone, pushed out by the high rents and lux apartments. Today the trust fund kids (Trustifarians) have stopped the operations and the air was a dull clean as far as that word can be used in Gotham when discussing air, water, and cement one encounters.
After our rest, we gathered. We could t be late for our brunch reservation. Already the morning seemed so long ago. The bare naked pile of Williamsburg was just waking up from slumber and nocturnal transgressions and here we were – at the brunch place exactly as it opened.
At brunch more joined us. Our group shaped and reshaped. We lingered for a time. It was comfortable. We had some accomplishment behind us. Three bridges. Noble Spans, each one of them. Let’s go, one of us exclaimed (not me, I was two deep into a cucumber cocktail). So we obeyed. Did the whole group-paying-the-bill-thing, and removed ourselves to the now hot day and expanding sun and crowd. We needed hats. We didn’t have enough water. Short on cash. Some of us needed booze. Sunglasses. Love and rockets and all those hugs mom didn’t give us. Bedford Avenue has all those things and more and for a strange and dangerous time, our group seemed destined to banish, to break under these needs and confusion but after the Turkey’s Nest, our group reformed with more reserve.
We crossed from hipster-Trustifarian Williamsburg to still-Polish Greenpoint although (blah blah blah years ago I this and that I remember but you don’t care) it had changed from what I once knew.
Another bridge crossed. The simple span between Brooklyn and Queens is a forgotten conduit of import but the Pulaski Bridge is yet notable. We entered Long Island City. Yet another developing wasteland of a neighborhood rising from the wasteland of what whence had come before. Finding no shade by PS1 we pressed on. It was now officially hot. And most if not all had to pee. As a group we had some existential moments in trying to determine the most best place to urinate. Some had diner issues, other non-bar issues, some of us just hated Queens, but we set upon a historically Irish bar that had a smattering of patrons. All blue color males it seemed, at least from the hard hats and attire and gender identity. We took over the bar. Liquid out. Libations in. Then it was time for the real journey. The morning had been fun. A jaunt through territory familiar and much in Time Out/Gothamist. Now it was on to the 59th Street Bridge and on on into the – for us at least – unknown. Things were getting serious.
The 59th Street Bridge has been renamed for Gotham’s first not openly gay mayor Ed Kotch. Kotch the crotch we used to call him when we were kids… But not to his face. We were nobodies out in Lawn Guyland. Later, and for reasons too complex for this venue I met him. I just called him sir then… Anyway, he has a bridge named after him now. But to me it’s still the 59th street bridge.
A majesty of construction and either industrial gothic or some other style the spires and decorations truly make it an unsung bridge that has fewer visitors than those of further south. At times we were alone on the span sans walkers, moms jogging with their kids in those power strollers, and where were those aggressive fixie-obsessed cyclists? No one to bully on the bridge I guess, so here we were allowed to pass unmolested.
We returned to Manhattan and the madness. We rested before taking our one cheat… A cable car to Roosevelt Island in order to properly cross the river back to Queens and back to our final set of bridges today know as the RFK bridge, or Robber barons and Financial backer of Korruption.
Roosevelt Island is but a mystery to me. I’ve seen it my whole life but this may have been the second time in my whole existence I have been on it and certainly for the longest duration since we walked from the dock (port?) of the cable car to the bridge that connects the island to The Queens section of Long Island. This bridge is as glum and Berlin as the rest of the island. A mallesque cement shopping center and car park with an elevator and busted escalator to the bridge which was unadorned and even the span of the Pulanski seemed ornate and grand by comparison.
The heat of the day was upon us. And in a not becoming way. There was no doubt this space between Roosevelt Island and out next neighborhood, Astoria, was anything but filler, the stuff poured in to the city to ensure cohesion. Ancient signs seeming to date to one of the Worlds Fairs seemed to indicate we were on a walking trail. The heat and dust and general bland suggested otherwise. Our group grew stringy and disconnected. We had lost one on the island to a birthday party or such. The rest of us were wearing thin and small clusters formed, each waking at their own speed. It seemed, as back on Bedford, we had a group Sargasso Sea – at ugly tulgey morass and would we join together again?
Thankfully, we did meet again at the Queens Bier Hall, the only one of several in he city and oldest in Astoria.
We as a group had officially come so far and indeed it was time for celebration and some redressing of the sun burn some of us suffered. The beer and food flowed and the outdoor space was full of so any types of hipster and we again became lethargic. We lost a few more. This time to housewarming parties, birthdays and [redacted]. Nevertheless, the brave and tired band that had been together since it now seemed so long ago gathered the energy needed, had a few shots of nasty booze, chased down a few energy pills with large gulps of water and made for our last span. The long and dreaded RFK bridge – that technically is two spans.
A little euphoric from our consumption and perhaps giddy from the sun, we still pressed on – one of our party had to negotiate verdigo as the safe surround of the walkway gave out to an open and unguarded railing, right above the angry boiling waters of hell’s gate. There was no way back now. We gathered to encourage and it worked as our band was able to make it across the first span unharmed and to Wards Island, a park that once housed insane New Yorkers and… Still does to a lesser extent to this day.
Pushing on the day light was now fading and took on that red-gold, corresponding to the yellow-gold of the morning. We had walked from early morning and now the weekend was coming to an end as were the spans for us to cross.
It was sad to see the end of our journey, but we were that day to walk 22 miles and indeed it was time to rest. Families were gathered in the part as we passed and the route to the next span was unclear and we had to involve a few groups in locating it, the last of which were two men who shared their very fine Dominican rum with us. Just in case we had not drank enough for that day.
And in time… we found our way across the last span of the day. True, to the north were a number of blinking lights and true many could have fought us on our definition of “major” “East River” “Crossing” but today we can fight about just about anything from serifs and fonts to Raceclassgender but in our day we made it across those notable bridges upon which the bards of the city ring out to the world and upon which the slaves of New York tread, even if just when visitors from out of town ask.
And to the last party, our merry band found a new energy and into the night we celebrated. It was a great day and I hope to again walk the bridges with so many friends if but for no reason that to say they were there and so were we.
Editor’s Note: Photo Credit for Williamsbug Bridge, Jonathan Swerdloff, 2015.