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Friday, December 13, 2013

A Fish Out Of Water, part two: Where have you gone Ira Zaslow...

In retrospect, I laughed at the naivety of my last post—attempting to convey New York City's soul, spirit, and substance after a one day surface scratch. It was like trying to convey the Grand Canyon after a drive-by look through the window of a tour bus. The Big Apple doesn't lend itself to encapsulation any more than the Bible or War and Peace lends itself to Cliffs Notes. Even my far view photos are inadequate, for they overshoot the lives of men, women, and children. The story of any city, region, or country, is told on the streets in the faces of its people. The photographer in me knew that, but it takes a little pluck to invade dignity and personal space with a lens. My eyes framed the faces of a thousand New Yorkers that day—so unlike me on the surface. But if one scratches deep enough, we're really not so different after all.  

The Longest Day: Eight explorers, three agendas, two cars, and one dozen freeways
From Darin and Tracey's house in the lovely Borough of Doylestown, depending on traffic, the ferry to NYC is somewhere between an hour and a half on a good day, to "don't even try to get in" on a bad day. We had a "good day." But, due to a gas stop and (ahem) an emergency pee stop by yours truly...one that involved an empty Gatorade bottle, the back seat, and curious pedestrians (blush)...it took our caravan two hours. This, dear readers, is why you should think twice before purchasing a used rental car, and drinking from a previously opened bottle. 

I've never seen so many cars, roads and people in my life; I tried to lock onto Darin's exhaust pipe like a heat seeking missile, but on Black Friday in New Jersey, all exhaust pipes look the same. The hearty "players" on this adventure were as follows: Nephew Darin, his daughter, Megan, myself, Caleb, my son, and MOAB, which stands for Maia, Owen, Anita, and Nephew Brent (also the "pecking order"). 

Sub Sandwich
I prefer my trains above ground. But when in NYC one must use the subway to save time and money. Besides, taxi's are frequently gridlocked and slower than walking. Here goes, out of the Ferry Terminal and into the "fire," from "Fish out of water" to "Rabbit down a hole," into the bowels and inter-workings of the busiest subway in the world; 468 stations, 842 miles of "revenue tracks,"  and 5.4 million rides per day. 

Stumble number one: It's hard to purchase a subway pass with a credit card when the English directions are long worn away. Heres a math problem for you: How may possible ways are there to slide a credit card through a reader? Too many. Thankfully, Caleb came to my rescue; "all aboard." Darin did a quick headcount as the doors on our horizontal elevator closed behind us. Knowing the natural tendency of mechanical things to go awry, I was a little discomforted by the high speeds...I'm guessing over 50 mph...and only inches apart from oncoming trains (Blurrrrr). So this is how people get around the jammed streets and sidewalks of NYC, by risking their lives on bullet trains.

Groundhog Day
We popped back above ground somewhere in midtown Manhattan, miles from the ferry terminal, in what is best described to fellow westerners as a man made slot canyon. We didn't see our shadows. Surrounded by colossal sky scrappers and Christmas shoppers on a mission, quarterback Darin called a huddle. MOAB wanted to go to the top of the Empire State Building. Megan wanted to do some shopping and see a friend who lived downtown. Darin wanted to do a walking tour, but opted to go shopping with daughter (how's that for sportsman-like conduct). Caleb and I were along for the ride, happy just to be there. We threw in with MOAB, in order to gain a birds eye view of The City. Agreeing to stay in touch by phone, we'd rendezvous later at a place yet to be determined. Little did we know, none of our phone batteries would last the day. 

Skies greyed from partly cloudy to overcast, lightening shadows in NYC's slot canyons. Snow swirled lightly in a brisk wind—trying to add a little holiday spirit, but in reality just making it uncomfortable. Our group spotted the Empire State Building; iconic; soaring; masculine. It looked so close… a rookie optical illusion. The sidewalk crowd thickened as we approached Macy's, another icon, at times forcing us into the street gutter amongst a gridlock of vehicles going nowhere fast. Repeatedly we got strung out, forced into single file. Fortunately, Johnson's are a tall, goofy looking lot and easy to spot. 

I had the sense that this vibrant, energetic "street scene," is what Darin wanted me to experience. As we fought through the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, I began to understand why. Much of the essence of New York City resonates in the faces, voices and garb of its denizens. It's difficult for an outsider to understand the multitude and magnitude of color, ethnicity, and language...all under one nation's flag. It rebukes history, if not world in general—those that build walls and draw borders around commonalities in an attempt to keep real and imagined enemies at bay. Divisions derived through religious alignment, single-mindedness, and, in some cases, ethnic "purity," is a house of cards. At the risk of being called a "Social Darwinist," I do believe that this country's greatest strengths comes as a direct result of its diversity, and New York City, more than anywhere else in the world, is the standard-bearer for the model.

We loitered at the back of a long line that formed outside the Empire State Building, waiting to pay 29 dollars each for a peek of the city from its lofty observation deck. A street hustler tried to sell us a "pass" ticket that would allow us to go to the front of the line. He assured us we could be on top in a matter of minutes, for the modest price of 54 bucks (credit cards accepted). Cynic that I become when in Lands of Oz, even if I wanted to pay that much to shorten the wait, how could I know he was legit? Funny, an hour later, feet aching, no end in sight, I would have taken my chances with that "hustler," and paid him a hundred. Think of the most popular ride at Disneyland on a summer holiday weekend; that's the line we were in. Alas, now I know what a schmuck is.

In the beginning I felt like the Empire State Building wasted precious time. But now, upon reflection, it was the right choice. The Observation Deck gave me perspective, a vantage point upon which to gauge the improbable physical reality of the world's premiere megapolis…something that would have gone missing wandering canyons. I'm glad we stood in that slow moving line, long and hard as it was, and highly recommend it as a blow-your-mind starting point. A "maze" is more easily grasped from "above," as opposed to "in."

Dim the lights, please, and start the slide show...

From the Empire State Building's 360 degree observation deck. Looking east…East River, Queens Borough (or Brooklyn) Bridge (far left), Chrysler Building (extreme left with tower) and Brooklyn's high rise downtown across the river. Some of Wall Streets Financial business was conducted from there after nine eleven

Walking  counter clock wise around the perimeter of the observation deck, this shot is more northeast. It is important to note that the smaller buildings in this photo are really quite tall. Consider the task of keeping millions of windows clean.

Counter clockwise further still, The Hudson River comes into view, (looking northwest?) Can you find two "Met Life" buildings, and the dwarfed spire of St Paul's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue? Central Park stretches out above the tops of buildings, 840 acres of "Urban Wilderness" preserved by long sighted New Yorkers in 1858.

Glancing back toward Brooklyn and Queens…a curve-of-the-earth perspective with an outcropping of the Empire State Building thrown in for reference and scale. Take a minute and study the detail in this photo…bring it up on a bigger screen if you have one. It boggles the mind…the gargantuan, labyrinthine of convoluted infrastructure that's required to fuel and maintain each and every building…with all of their floors, people, ducts, piping…water, sewer, trash...  

Looking down, down, down…Note water tanks on some rooftops, and manicured gardens and pools on others

Continuing counter clockwise…more of the Hudson River and mid town Manhattan. Jersey City, with it's shipyards across the Hudson.

Looking into a sunset over the Atlantic, and the convergence of the East and Hudson Rivers. Note the tallest building is the nearly completed "One World Trade Center" build near the former site of the Twin Towers

And the circle is complete

Owen and Caleb…not sure of the bridge over Caleb's  shoulder.

Brent and Mark, under the communications tower on top of the Empire State Building

My favorite Photograph...the detail is astounding

Beer time at the "Rattle and Hum" Tavern…Where we regrouped with Darin, but not Megan.

"Armageddon" indeed...

Rendezvous, Parting Shots, and Impressions from the Nine Eleven Memorial
Needless to say, by the time we began our descent from the Empire State building's observation deck it was getting late and colder. Brent and I had been trying to check in with Darin and Megan (now separated), but, unbelievably,  couldn't get a cell signal, eighty some floors above NYC! And as if that wasn't strange enough, all phone batteries were suddenly drained into the danger zone. I thought it had something to do with the high wattage radio tower directly above us on the Empire State Building…some weird energy hole. 

Back on the street, Brent got a text from Darin telling us to meet him at the Rattle and Hum Tavern. I plugged it into my iPhone map app but it was confused and tried to lead us in the wrong direction. We did manage to find Rattle and Hum eventually. Darin was there, waiting patiently, looking like he had made good use of time by sampling various IPA's. We did our best to catch up, then had a great meal courtesy of Brent and Anita; much needed fuel to get us to, and through, a jammed packed Times Square. Then a confounding series of subway rides to the World Trade Center Memorial, arriving one minute before closing. Megan came sprinting out of a bar from across the street; miraculously, we were all rejoined. 

Maybe it was because I was tired and cold, knew that there was a two hour drive hanging over my head before I could take off my shoes and crawl into a warm bed. It's just that I thought I would succumb to emotion at the Nine Eleven Memorial, maybe tear up. It was beautiful; two rectangular waterfall fountains marking the locations where the Twin Towers once stood. Falling water glowed against the backdrop of darkness, and the fountains mirrored each other just as the buildings did, before they were leveled by an evil, wicked brew of ignorance, jealousy, and fanaticism. But my eyes remained dry. I felt the same way I did when I watched the towers fall to the ground on live TV, sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Angel Fire, NM. Numb. Angry. 

I ran my hand along the names of people who perished as I walked around each fountain, trying to feel something, name after name after name after name, until one in particular leaped out at me. I shot a photo—I don't know why, really, it just stood out; "Ira Zaslow," such a strong name. Who was Ira Zaslow?  Was he married? Did he have children? What did he do in the Towers? What did he do on his days off? I spoke his name outloud, "Ira Zaslow." Numb. Anger. 

And now, a week later, writing this epilog post to New York City from the comfort of home in Lovely Ouray, tears stream. I have been haunted by Ira Zaslow ever since that photo...needed to know who he was. After a quick nine eleven search, I found a face to put with his name. Now it's personal. Now I'm finally feeling something besides numbness and anger, after all this time. I began reading about Ira Zaslow. His obituary said that he was a quiet passionate man, and that he liked to make other people feel good. And the caustic irony is, that I can't stop crying...

Where have you gone Ira Zaslow, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  

The new Nine Eleven Memorial Museum opens next year. Through the windows we could see remnants of the wreckage and rubble on display…twisted columns of steel. This is a controversial subject among families of the those who perished; should personal items found at the site be on display? Recordings of panicked phone calls to 911? Firemen's helmets with their name visible? Footage of people jumping from windows…trying to escape the jet fuel and fire of the upper floors?   

I have walked the streets of some of America's largest cities…Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, L A, and now, New York. They aren't that much different than people, really; each have their own unique style and energy. New York can eat you alive, or make you a star. It's high strung, fast paced…competitive. But you better bring your A game, you better have some moxie and thick skin. 

I think because of what happened on Nine Eleven, we are all New Yorkers on some level. I needed to go; I'm glad I went. Thank you, Darin.

The March on Times Square

MOAB'S Photos


  1. Wow, awesome pictures, thanks for taking us along to the Big Apple!

  2. Wow, just wow. Astounding, all of it

  3. Great photos and storytelling as usual.

    1. Hope you guys are enjoying Arid-zona. We'll see you eventually, down the road.

  4. Good post, but I'm glad it was you and not me. Maybe this is the same as the harsh wind thing you were bitching about awhile ago. Now you can appreciate all the nature stuff a bit more?
    It must of been the beer that helped you survive this? I think I would need more than that. :O)

  5. NYC always looks so cool...but it's those waits in long lines with people pushing up against me and the foot pain from standing on the concrete just aren't worth it to me and I'll probably never go. I don't think there is ever a "slow season" in NYC, is there? ;) Great shots though, Mark!

    1. Pam,
      I doubt there is a "slow" season in NYC…maybe a day here and there, but not a season.

  6. Brilliant ... absolutely brilliant, Mark. All of it ... Ira Zaslow ... went to work one morning and was blown away ... sniff and bawl!

    1. Carolyn,
      Gracious, friend…Ira along with nearly 3000 other people. sniff and bawl...

    2. So touching. Ira Zaslow was my cousin. WOW, seeing this just now, 9/11/22

  7. I want to thank you for this great and very reflected posting on NYC and its inner soul. Extremely interesting!

  8. Very interesting post and wonderful photos. I got claustrophobic just looking at all those tall buildings and the mass of people. Loved reading about it though!!

    1. Donna,
      Then you wouldn't care for the long, crowded elevator rides either...

  9. God your good. Are you shooting in raw? Understand Bobby's feelings exactly, twice is enough.Ok, well you survived , maybe a little teary eyed, which makes me think Mark you need to make one more big leap into an experience you will never forget and it will draw you back time and again,like those slot canyons in Utah & Arizona. I am referring to the Center of the Universe....like the American Airlines add says.... serving over 190 cites and One You Will Never Forget.....PARIS....don't let another year pass you by, I know your soul is yearning for a climatic experience that will surpass every thing you have every known. But you will need to do some research, learn a very little French and go in Springtime (early May), stay for a week , it will go by like a day. Then if you've been lucky in real estate, hire a car ,cross the French Alps and see BIG SWITZERLAND. Then when your time comes to go to the home you will have no regrets.
    I will be looking forward to your post with pictures
    From Sonoma Co. California
    Stay thirsty My Friend

    1. My Sonoma friends,
      I rarely shoot in raw. It will come back to haunt me someday, when someone says "I want to make posters out of your photographs" (sigh).
      I know what you say is true…Paris, in the spring, "unforgettable," balanced with the oppositeness of the Alps…with their valley villages and green pastures. You keep planting these "seeds," but the "water" is expensive. We'll see, my friends…we'll see. Perhaps you will meet us there and be our "guides." Hummmm?

  10. Laverne here:

    I am speechless....and yes. yes you are good! I feel like I have been to NYC again! It has been a while, but once you have seen it....you can't forget it....Thanks! (and when you go to Paris, I want to go with you!) Just kidding, but I await your pictures from Paris!

    1. Laverne,
      You are too kind…
      I'm working on "guides" for the Paris trip :))

  11. What knock-out photos! So distinct, I can pick out the building where I lived on 16th and Third. The B&W sunset photo is suitable for framing! Stunning!

    And how I loved the stories and impressions. This line brought back a memory of 9/11 that haunts me still; "with all of their floors, people, ducts, piping…water, sewer, trash..."

    When they first let us back into the downtown area, I went by bicycle so I could cover a greater area to see the damage first hand of what had been my daily commute. I remember straddling my bike in the intersection near Church St across from the fallen Towers, thinking "Where did it all go? The desks, the chairs, the telephones and toilet seats, the elevator cars, escalator steps, silverware from the Windows on the World restaurant....and ALL those people?! Where did it all go?" Then I looked down at my legs, tennis shoes, and bike tires, completely caked and splattered in thick, gummy gray dust, and realized, "Oh....It's on me." One of the many moments I hope I never forget.

    Thanks for the great trip back through your lens.

    1. Suzanne,
      I was pleased with the sharp "edginess" of some of my photos. It's great that you could see old haunts and recognize familiar places from them…it adds purpose, so thank you for mentioning that.

      Your nine/eleven story ("it's on me")…it turned my stomach. Now I will never forget your memory of the "dust," and being there in the aftermath of Obliteration.

  12. NYC, Time Square, Empire State Blg., World Trade Memorial, quite an evening with the family. Great photo's of the energy of the City. NYC has some of the best restaurants, always enjoyed an evening with customers that knew how to get around the city. Thanks for bringing back the memories......
    John Q

    1. John Q,
      I'm glad it brought fond memories. A tourist does need an experienced guide, eh?

  13. Dear intrepid Mark... And your precious family! In reading these two blog entries, I went from oh, this will help me answer the burning question of whether or not I really would be able to ever actually go to NYC; to oh God no, I'm not ever going to that mess; to tears... and the feeling that someday I must somehow go to see that completed memorial to the people we lost in such an horrific event.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for being such a prolific writer and excellent photographer and having such a generous enough heart to share so much of such a personal journal and time with your family.

    1. Meow Momma,
      Your comment humbles…thank you for expressing that.
      I hope you do go. The Nine Eleven Memorial is reason enough.
      Again, thank you...

  14. Replies
    1. Thanks Kelly, Look for Thanksgiving Two in the coming days…
      Uncle mark

  15. Just absolutely amazing!!! Wonderful photos and commentary. Thank you so much for going and showing us living in the hinterlands. You have saved me from having to go now and it is so appreciated. I would never make it in that mass of humanity. Give me the mountains and the plains any day. One question tho, where in the heck do all those people live!!!???? Or do they never go home?? Thanks again for the great photos and comments.
    Don in Okla.

    1. OK Don,
      Thanks for commenting…
      I understand the need for "wide open" places. NYC would both deepen your appreciation of "home," and open your eyes to a greater understanding of how different we are as people. That said, maybe you got that from my post as you claimed, and can do without. :)

  16. I lived outside Philadelphia most of my life. Visiting NYC is always a fun time.

    Wonderful photos from the top of the Empire State building!!

  17. Zaslow was a good man.


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