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Monday, December 9, 2013

A Fish Out of Water in New York City


Where there are mountains, there are canyons—enchanting, seductive landscapes that both beguile and unnerve. New York City is mountainous—dazzling man made monoliths topped with radio steeples that cast long winter shadows across deep canyons, canyons every bit as deep as those found in Colorado. I was born a curious child and remain a curious man—a prerequisite for being a wanderer—and while I'm not drawn to the clamor and glitter of over-peopled cities, there is that one that begs exception. I am intrigued by oppositional landscapes and lifestyles, and who better to play the role of antagonist than the city of all cities, New York, with her determined, and oft misunderstood inhabitants.


Sermon on the Mount

Do not be fooled by impostors waving banners of "Adventurer" and "Wanderer," for there are false prophets about the blogosphere. A true wanderer should not single out only destinations of fun, familiarity and comfort. Only those willing to deny longing hearts, shorts, flip-flops, and embrace the bitter (cold) along with the sweet are worthy of the moniker. 

Growth and enlightenment come at a cost; look for evidence of toil, sacrifice, and suffering, lest eyes and ears deceive. Recall the hardships of our forebears and see how we measure against their yardstick. Pitiful. One of Life's axioms is that wisdom, understanding, and growth are greatly accelerated by tribulation. So why do so many run from it? If we don't reach beyond the security of our own backyards, we profit little. It is in discomfort that we realize strengths, weaknesses, and limits. A life lived without challenge beyond Auto Pilot only scratches the surface of who we are, and renders few opportunities to realize insight, growth, and potential. 


Preaching to the Choir
That said, New York City is not exactly "Everest." After all, nine million people call it "home." But in the eyes of a small town loner, where any assembly of more than ten people means there's either a fight, a wedding, or a funeral going down, well, it flares my claustrophobic side just thinking about being trapped in the Big Apple. That my worst phobia came true on a damp, cold, and windy Black Friday is proof positive that I do occasionally swallow my own "medicine."


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From "Kansas" to Oz

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these the homeless tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

I couldn't remember Irving Berlin's lyrics beyond "Give me your tired, your poor…" but the short sentiment was sufficiently apropos given my whereabouts...riding the Staten Island Ferry from New Jersey to Manhattan. I literally began to shrink under a skyline scraped by so many towers. I thought for a moment it was a dream and whispered to no one commuter in particular, "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore…"


Jonah and the Whale
The ferry cruised past Lady Liberty, a lovely patina green figurine that cut Jersey's skyline like a symbolic knife. She bore a crown of seven spikes representing the world's seven continents and seas, a tablet inscribed with the Roman numeral date of our hard-won Independence, and a torch...thrust 300 feet into the sky... representing a beacon of "Welcome" and symbolically illuminating the way to a freer and better life in America. 

Then Ellis Island floated by, where fortunate able-bodied dreamers were welcomed, and the diseased turned back—destitute, near death, dreams shattered—to the life they had fled. Off the ferry's bow set a horizon spiked with scores of audacious skyscrapers, they grew to impossible heights upon our advance. I felt like Jonah, slipping into the gullet of the whale. Is this a dream? If not, how in the world did I get here, and why?


The "To Dos or Not to Dos" Leading up to Spending Black Friday in New York City
On what can only be described as a "furious itinerary," there was but one unplanned day: Black Friday, a day to stay home and out of harm's way. Several options were bandied about for that infamous day after Thanksgiving, one of them being "to go into The City." Traction and commitment for a NYC trip was mixed at best; even those in favor had moments of doubt. So "The City" in the days leading up to Black Friday was on again-off again, like some wobbly legged toddler who'd just discovered a light switch. At first mention I secretly knew it was something I had to do…if not now, when? 

Having been to NYC several times, it only took Bobbie the better part of a second to count herself out. For the remaining "fence-riders" the "light switch" became a strobe…freakishly wired to time of day, blood alcohol levels, and abdominal distention. In the morning's post-coffee highs, we were all in...charged up and ready to take on The City, Black Friday and all. But as the day wore on, between assorted Champagne Buffets, IPA's, and Baileys Irish Creams—all great solvents of resolve—our Jury was hopelessly hung by mid-afternoons...overstuffed people sequestered in a room full of overstuffed couches, dulled by indulgence. In a fleeting moment of near sobriety near the end of Thanksgiving day, there was a renewed consensus. "Let's do it." 


First Impressions
We don't know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don't always appreciate their fragility.
Malcolm Gladwell


Engines groaned and shuddered as our ferry maneuvered into its docking slip. Passengers disgorged in waves, briefly flooding the terminal, then melting into an ocean of people. A damp, cold wind greeted grim faces: Welcome to winter in Manhattan. I bundled up against light flurries of snow…whirling, but never landing, really. The Ferry Terminal was like a mall, complete with its own Food Court. The presence of Security and Police Officers was palpable. Drug sniffing dogs nosed the air. It gave me a partial sense of relief, that I was not going to be immediate script fodder for some future CSI TV show. 

On our way to the subway it struck me that many emigrants coming to America via New York City never get beyond Manhattan...from turbaned taxi cab drivers, demonstratively gesturing with hands and arms, to a plethora of languages emanating from shoulder to shoulder pedestrians. The "melting pot" is not necessarily a "melding pot." There are cities within this city where English is a second or third language. But assimilation is not what NYC is about; NYC is about diversity, and that is the foundation of its magnetism.  "Come to America," yes, but know that the waiting line circles the globe. 



To be Continued...























27 comments:

  1. Mark, being allergic to cities, I could barely even look at your photos, well done as they are, before having an allergic reaction - eyes running, heart pounding.

    Me thinks you belong a bit further west, my friend.

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    1. Spotted Dog,
      People like you and me might feel out of place in NYC, but so would most of NYC feel out of place in western wilderness. I went to a couple of two-week training classes back east and the most frequent curiosity/fear among classmates concerned wolves, bears, and other creatures that could do one harm. I enjoy feeling out of place once in a while; it's sort of a "reset" button.
      thanks, C.

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  2. I guess this means that Mark and Bobbie are bored with the San Juans, and are moving to Denver. Sigh.

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    Replies
    1. Well, I certainly wasn't bored in NYC. But you leap to conclusions without a net sometimes, pal.

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  3. I used to thrive in this environment. The energy is beyond description. I loved seeing these pictures, Mark... BUT it reminds me why I don't 'do' big cities any longer. ... it makes me sooooo tired.

    I love the state of New York ... the Finger Lakes Region is a knockout .. Adirondacks ... gorgeous

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    1. Yes, once you can't tap into that "energy" anymore, I think it's time to leave. It's a demanding lifestyle, and often comes with side effects of Burnout.

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  4. I have never been to New York. Living in Chicago for 54 years makes me weary of cities. But I think it is someplace that everyone should visit at least once. I love your descriptions of this day. I hope Boonie is just joking with his comment. A true explorer can be happy anywhere, if it is for a short time. San Antonio has a large population, but it feels totally different than Chicago and I have enjoyed walking around the downtown area here.

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    Replies
    1. "A true explorer can be happy anywhere, if it is for a short time." So glad you got my point, Teri. And I love doing San Antonio's river walk every so often. It is quite a setting… Venice-like shops and outdoor cafes under shade trees along the canals and such.

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  5. Replies
    1. Gumo,
      You know the old adage, "One man's madness is another mans…."
      thanks, good to have you come out of hiding :)

      Delete
  6. You can't imagine how I have been waiting for this post....and then to get to the bottom and find "To be Continued!" What a tease!

    It does my heart good to see that you "get it" that New York is not just "a city." It has a living, breathing soul and addictive energy all its own. I went as a two year "experiment" for a job, thinking I would force myself to stay for 2 years. After 10 years, they had to "blast" me out -- literally ;-(

    As the epitome of a loner, I can vouch that there is no better place to be one than Manhattan, because the city affords all the infrastructure for any kind of activity you can imagine (SCUBA, sailing, kayaking, biking, picnicking, rollerblading, concerts, dining, etc) yet unlike other places, you can actually do it independently without a raised eyebrow (even SCUBA diving buddy system is "Same day, same ocean.") You never feel like a stand-out, because you are surrounded by hundreds of other loners doing the same thing. You get to do all the fun activities without the required mingling. It is the introvert's dream. ;-)

    For the true "explorer," there are also limitless quirky places, unique pubs and bars, hidden parks, rich history, odd architecture, and as you pointed out, an authentic ethnic neighborhood for just about every flag flying over the UN.

    As much as I have admired your photography over the past couple of years, of course I could not wait to see your NY photos. One of my favorite things when I lived in NYC was for people to come visit, because I always saw the city in a fresh new light....through their eyes. Your photos have that same affect. I can't wait to see the second installment...

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Sorry Suzanne…
      It was an exercise in reduction, that's for sure. I know some grow weary during long posts.
      That you were abel to camp on the fringe of NYC was amazing. And you sailed the Hudson, rode your bike, hiked parks and took the ferries: I was surprised at your comfort level and expertise at shifting gears back into The City! Thanks for your experienced comment.
      mark

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  7. I love cities...in small doses. I loved this post so much, and as I looked deeper, I could see I was glad it was you that was there to tell me about it and not me actually experiencing it. And yes...I too can't wait for the second installment of magnificent Mark words and photos. I am a hopeless groupie, Mark. Pretty stupid at my age.

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    1. Sue,
      I can look so deep into some of those cityscape photos that I gel lost in details…they bring up so many questions, most starting with "How do…"
      thanks

      Delete
  8. I'd rather see NYC through your lens and story.

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    1. I know…but if the opportunity presented itself, I'm sure you'd go too…kicking and screaming, maybe, but you'd go.

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  9. Ditto Gaelyn! We purposely drove from Cape Cod west to the Poconos and south through the Blue Ridge to avoid NYC and DC, though we'd been to DC before!

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    1. Traffic is the achilles heel of NYC. You must adapt to public transportation or die.

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  10. Oh My OLD stomping grounds....I was a NYC EMT/Paramedic for about 6 yrs...imagine navagating that traffic in an ambulance on an emergency call??? Although I recognize where you took all these lovely photos it does not make me want to go back into the Concrete Canyon!! NOW if you really want COLD ride the N or Q (orange line) downtown to the last stop...the Coney Island Boardwalk...it will be all battened down this time of year...but you can see the Wonder Wheel and the wooden roller coaster Cyclone~~~I lived down in that point by the Seagate lighthouse..( a gated community) it is a great view of the Varrazano Narrows and Bridge and the ships coming into port... but COLD icy winds 10 months of the year! I hope you enjoy, practice tolerance, keep an open mind... OH and your ticket is round trip!!

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    1. I saw an ambulance near Times Square…lights and siren going and completely stopped in traffic. It raises a few questions. We didn't get our of Manhattan…those other sights will have to wait till next time :)

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  11. Great photos for something out of the ordinary for you. We did a one day trip to NYC on the train while visiting friends in CT. It was a Sunday and we couldn't get over all the traffic, people and noise. One day was enough!
    Look forward to the rest of the story.

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  12. I used to visit NYC regularly. Now I have no desire to return. You are quite the adventurer to visit on Black Friday and your photos of the city skyline are awesome.

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    1. Thanks Ingrid,
      I get that…You've been there, done it. Time to move on. But you at least did it, and know of what it's about.

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  13. Your photos are excellent, really really good. We were in NYC our first year with the travel trailer. It's an amazing place, it sort of hums. I would like to go back, but the other half of the team remains unconvinced. Looking forward to the rest of the story.

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    1. Thanks Allison,
      "Hums" is a good description...

      Delete
  14. Was stationed at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn end of Verrazano Bridge, for 90 days in 1966 while in the Army. Saw all of NYC that I ever want to see during that time. Been there, done that don't ever need to do it again.

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