My writing and photography has garnered a fair dose of newspaper column inches, a few magazine and website articles and, well, more than 3000 of my own blog posts, but not much by way of good, old-fashion, hard-cover books.
In 2004, my pal Ron Lieber hooked me up with some expat pals of his, Mike Ogden and Chris Day, who were compiling a collection of inspirational essays called “2Do Before I Die”. They helped me edit my original, somewhat rambling remembrance of Mister Rogers, “Mister Rogers & Me,” into the version you read today (and the launching pad for our documentary which, it ends up, is currently “in consideration” for the Sundance Film Festival).
A few years later, a Dutch publisher stumbled on an online photo of mine that I granted him licence to reprint in his book, “Groene Stroom” (“Green Flow”). I assume it’s some sort of environmental text book, but it’s tough to tell on account of it being in, yunno, written in Dutch. All I know is my photo (of the sun, of course) appears in a chapter called Zonneboilers (which, best as I can tell, means “sun boilers”).
Last year, just a few weeks after publishing my post, “The Miracle Of Showing Up,” I received an email from a educator in Texas requesting my series of photos of Nantucket Bay. Yesterday, I received the textbook: “Gateways To Science: Second Grade.”
The chapter is entitled, “Weather Changes.” Over the course of eight pages, below the ever-changing image of the exact same scene, the authors advise:
Weather changes day by day
You can see it as you work or play
Rain may fall. Wind my blow.
No matter the season, you should know.
Weather will change either fast or slow.
Weather is everywhere you go.
Rain and snow fall, clouds go by, and
The Sun shines brightly in the sky.
Weather changes hour by hour.
You never know when the rain may shower.
Weather is everywhere. It’s all about.
Check the sky before you go out.
I was never much for science, really. I enjoyed the earth sciences (like geology), but struggled through biology and chemistry (and avoided physics outright). Still, at the end of the day, “Check the sky before you go out” strikes me as pretty solid advice.
What’s more, it really goes to show what Bo Lozoff has been saying all along. If you show up every day, you’re going to see — and do — miraculous things.
The lights began to dim. The stadium began to rumble. The band’s massive, claw-shaped 360° began to billow smoke. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” counted down from the outsized speakers: “5… 4… 3… 2…”
One by one, Larry, Adam, Edge and Bono took their positions, then launched headlong into a pulse-racing, soul-shaking block of stadium anthems: “Breath” (which, it so happens, is my ringtone for it’s lyric alone: “Every day I find the courage to / Walk out into the street / With your arms out to the people you meet”), “Get On Your Boots,” “Mysterious Ways,” “Magnificent” and “Elevation.”
The band’s epic, sixteen-story, 360° stage (nicknamed “The Claw” and inspired, according to designer Willie Williams, by LAX International Airport’s Theme Building) crackled, flashed and glowed like some 22d Century alien temple. Bono used ever inch of its circular staging, running and waving, leaping and lunging, shadowboxing and preening for the massive, circular video monitors.
Abbi and I were on the floor of Giant’s Stadium, just below The Claw’s shark skin-gray arch some thirty feet from the edge of the outer ring of the massive stage. If anyone could meet the challenge of transforming a generic colossus into a transformative temple of sound, it was U2. Just fifteen minutes in, I stood awed before their alter of transcendent, epic pop, grinning ear-to-ear singing along at the top of my lungs.
And then God entered the room.
Bono has long said that God enters the room when the band performs “Where The Streets Have No Name.” I’m gonna’ go one further. I’m going to suggest that the band affects unprecedented levels of spiritual uplift with any of The Joshua Tree’s holy trinity: “Where The Streets Have No Name,” “With Or Without You,” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” And tonight, we got all three.
Maybe it’s the chortling church organ than floats beneath each. Maybe it’s the epic search intrinsic to the lyric. Perhaps its the song’s legacy, or just nostalgia. Or maybe the band touched something there in the Cold War-era Dublin studio.
Either way, The Edge’s muted and delayed staccato broke the elevated revelry, sending chills through my spine, and tears to my eyes by grounding the band’s jubilation with the challenge of faith: you can climb the highest mountain, you can scale the city walls, but you still won’t find what you’re looking for. It was a tension that band navigated ably and easily all night: moments of outstretched arms and dark despair in equal measure.
And it was precisely what made the show so transcendent. The band understands ebb and flow, minor fall and major lift, waves of regret and waves of joy. They are on the hero’s quest, and we with them, plunging and soaring though thunder and lightning and rainbows and rivers together.
First, Bono floored me with his hushed, nuanced performance of “MLK.” Then, the band delivered a solid, soaring version of “Walk On” (“Love is not an easy thing / The only baggage you can bring / Is all that you can’t leave behind”). Bono sang “Amazing Grace” accompanied only by his beloved, green Gretsch guitar, before leading the band into “One.” And then the pièce de résistance: “Where The Streets Have No Name.”
By “With Or Without You,” it felt as if the band was returning to earth. Once landed, they left us with the new, “Moment Of Surrender,” answering the night’s nagging question.
From the final countdown of “Space Oddity” through “With Or Without Your,” the massive, claw-shaped staging’s ingeniously shape-shifting monitors returned again and again to images of clocks and timers, all ticking down, marking the passage of time, and the approaching… the approaching what?
Liftoff? Perhaps. The end of the world? Maybe. In the final verse, though, Bono reveals:
I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down ’til the pain would stop
Only through the depths and heights alike, through staring into the sun and suffering the dark night of the soul, through the practice of the individual heart and the din of 84,702 voices singing in unison, then, do we a find a way through the pain and loss and suffering to hope, joy and understanding.
“I found grace inside a sound,” Bono sings. “I found grace, it’s all I found.”
Yesterday morning at 11:27 I Tweeted, “Noon meeting. Two o’clock flight. Nine o’clock U2 show. Bets, anyone?”
At the time, I wouldn’t have wagered even a gentleman’s handshake; the communique derived from Overland Park, Kansas, some 1,201 miles west of Giant’s Stadium.
Too many moving parts were in play, not the least of which an airplane. Worse, my noon meeting was over thirty miles south of KCI Airport. So I stacked the deck.
First, I booked a car service, and had the Towncar poised just steps from the corporate headquarters in question. Second, I checked in and printed my boarding pass in advance. And third, I scripted my urgency to attend the band’s performance into the meeting itself, fairly and accurately building my exit into my presentation.
When I stepped free of what seemed the longest hallway of cubicles I’ve ever walked, I spotted my driver, Hasan, high fived him, and then broke the news.
“Hasan,” I said at 12:37. “I have a two o’clock flight.”
“Ah, no problem,” he replied.
And it wasn’t. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kansas City traffic was a non-issues. KCI even less so. I even had time to grab a bottle of water before hearing, “This is the final call for flight 3039 to Newark.” I stepped on board, strapped on my iPod (starting with “Where The Streets Have No Name,” of course), and closed my eyes…
The real challenge began when, three hours later, I was the first of anyone I knew to arrive at Giant’s Stadium. I’d packed light, traveling with nary more than a toothbrush and a tie, but still had to stow my bag; security frowns on laptops and such. While Abbi steamed westward on New Jersey Transit, a few college friends were converging in their cars. One by one, though, they were diverted to remote parking lots. For a few, desperate minutes, it seemed as if I’d fail in the final mile. Until drummer Ryan Vaughn texted. “We’re in the nosebleeds, but we’re here!”
Fifteen minutes and four gates (or 270° around the stadium) later, Ryan trekked down from the 400s, and handed off his car keys. “It’s a navy blue Saturn somewhere between 5G and 5H. It’s license plate WX742L, but there’s no plate on the front. Oh, and the alarm only works really close.”
Hoping against hope, I struck out into the now-dark parking lot, packed with thousands of cars and tailgating revelers. Miraculously, with my heart pounding in my throat, openers Muse throbbing away inside and Abbi calling to announce her arrival, I found the Saturn, stashed my bag (and tie, and sport coat) and raced joyfully back to Ryan.
1,201 miles and at least four circumnavigations of Giant’s Stadium later, I kissed my wife, handed over my tickets, stepped inside the gates, and found my way to a Guinness. We walked inside the stadium to discover that out seats were not seats at all, but standing-room-only general admission right there on the floor. We edged our way to the center, some twenty-five feet from the edge of the stage, looked at each other incredulously, and laughed.
The lights began to dim. The stadium began to rumble. The band’s massive, claw-shaped 360° began to billow smoke. I exhaled and whispered into Abbi’s ear, “Made it.”
When I first moved to New York City, my bets were placed equally between writing for and being on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. The same could have been said of The New York Times, or MTV.
Yeah, I probably should have checked the odds. But we’re talking 1995 here. I was 24-years-old. I hadn’t read “The Spectator Bird” yet.
Well, you sort of know how it’s turned out.
I wrote for Rolling Stone Online for almost a year, interviewing Ben Folds, Ani DiFranco and Matthew Sweet at their respective zeniths. I’ve yet to grace its pages in any other capacity.
And though I’ve never written for The New York Times, I did have a moment a few years when one intrepid reporter investigated the phenomena of cover songs on iTunes
These days, I run MTV News. I’ve been on air exactly once playing waste paper basketball in an episode of “Uncensored.” I’ve been online once talking about U2.
Now, I did geat some terrific press a few weeks ago when PopCandy wrote about our “Mister Rogers & Me” fundraiser (and doubles our trailer views in two days). And over the years, I’ve received a decent amount of, well, less-mainstream press (thanks Albany Source and Waterloo Courier). Heck, legendary DJ Vin Scelsa once talked about my song, “Crash Site” for nearly ten minutes on his seminal WFUV-FM program, Idiot’s Delight.
Funny things happen when you’re not looking. Like this.
On Friday, drummer Ryan Vaughn texted Chris Abad and me, “Yo! There’s a random photo of us on page 143 of the October Esquire!”
It took me until last night to get my hands on a copy, and sure enough, there we are crossing Allen Street together amidst a phalanx of pedestrians. I remember the night well. It was just a few months ago in July. The three of us had just jumped out of the cab en route to an all-ages, acoustic performance at Rockwood Music Hall. It was a great night, one that inspired the blog post “Rock & Roll Reconsidered.”
But here’s the best part. The Esquire article is called “The Perfect Compliment.” So each of the pedestrians have complimentary captions floating over their heads. One guy’s says, “You look like a good dad.” Another young woman’s reads, “That’s one hell of a handbag.”
Mine says, “You look like you know what you’re doing.”
Given the amount of uncertainty with which I wrestle every day (like “Should I be a broke talent, or a broker of talent?”), well, it’s the perfect compliment.
Example. Last Saturday night, The Abads celebrated Chris’ 31st birthday with a roucous night of Cranium (yes, the board game). I showed up from VMA rehearsals well after one o’clock. The shenanigans didn’t wrap until just before five.
The next morning, Chris send an email to the assembled: “Thanks for the birthday hang; a mellow night with close friends was just what the doctor ordered.”
Still, Abbi and I loaded into Chris and Meg’s borrowed minivan enthusiastically Friday night for a five-hour ride to Andover, Vermont. And when we arrived just after midnight, another “mellow night with close friends” was on like Donkey Kong.
The passtime of choice was Flip Cup, a devastatingly-effective, competitive-drinking relay in which teams compete to chug and then, well, flip a plastic cup from top to bottom. Picture twenty of us on the back porch whooping and hollering in the middle of a star-strewn, forty-degree night. (Actually, you don’t have to; there’s video. Stay tuned for that.) The women routed the men in successive matches until, one-by-one, the revelers slowly disappeared.
My wake-up call came early and painful in the form of my Blackberry alarm. Hangover be damned, I had an interview with Pittsburgh Public Radio’s Saturday Light Brigade. I conducted it there on that same back porch, splashing through spilled beer just a few steps from the still-smoldering fire pit, explaining to host Larry Berger how I’d met Mister Rogers, and come about making the film.
My housemates began to stir as I wrapped my “Making ‘Mister Rogers & Me'” blog post. Before I had a chance to augment my measly three hours of sleep, Abadfest Day Two was upon us. I went for a run, then returned in time for the games: golf, volleyball, Whiffle Ball. It was a day spent running around the backyard like kids (yunno, except with Miller Light).
The air was crisp. The sky was blue. The barbecue was blazing. And, save for a few missed bases, foul balls and broken nails, it was perfect. As night fell, Chris, Tony, Casey and I traded songs in the living room while the kitchen bustled with vegan goodness and a few hands of cards.
After dinner, though, ten days of sleepless VMA nights caught me in their grip. I retreated to my bedroom for a power nap that — despite the din from what I am told was an epic run through The Name Game and a Beyonce-inspired Basement Dance Party — lasted nearly twelve, glorious hours.
In the end, the fun was massive but short lived. I bagged a few more miles (and I don’t care what anyone says; it may only be 1200 feet, but it’s still feels like running at elevation to me), wolfed down a few peanut butter and jelly bagels, and then began to pack. Everyone pitched in to wash sheets, clean bathrooms and generally erase all evidence, posed for a group photo, then loaded their respective vehicles, and pulled slowly and sadly out of the long, gravel driveway.
I’ll say this of Abadfest 2: Electric Boogaloo: It celebrates a good man in the best way; by allowing a hand full of friends the time, space and freedom to forget about life for a while.
In fact, I can’t wait for Abadfest 3: The Revenge.
For at least a day now (it’s been tough to keep track, frankly; the last few have been punctuated by black holes where my memory used to be), my email inbox has been slammed by a steady flow of identical, potentially editorially-salient spam comments: Buy Valium.
For my mother, whose graduation from Columbus High School had been celebrated with a then-unheard of trip to New York, Radio City Music Hall was a white-gloved, hi-balled Mecca, thousands of miles in every way from Waterloo, Iowa. I must’ve been about twelve-years-old when she enthusiastically delivered Chris and me to the Christmas Spectacular there. It was larger than life, like sitting inside a time-shifted, building-sized stereo speaker.
To move to New York City as a young man and rent a P.O. Box at Radio City Station was cool enough. To have my friend (and “Pirate Of Penzance” co-star), Tammy, go on to be a Rockette there raised the bar a few inches more. To find myself wandering its ancient, epic and empty halls late Saturday night was eerily out-of-body; the place is big and beautiful and busy with the ghosts of performances past.
But to spend an afternoon overlooking MTV News’ Video Music Awards Pre-Show red carpet from high atop the Radio City marquee and enjoy complete, unfettered access to everything from the backstage to the bowels of the place, well, that’s the kind of thing that blow’s a guy’s mind. Sprinkle in some live television, and, well, call the pharmacist and Buy Some Valium.
While I am ultimately responsible for everything that MTV News produces, my colleague Ryan ably helmed the pre-show. I was tasked with fusing my two worlds: Television and The Internets. My pre-show job, then, was to floor produce Justine Ezarik (aka iJustine) in what we called “The Tweet Seat.” From high above Sixth Avenue (just a few steps from Rolling Stone Magazine, my very first paying job in New York City), Justine analyzed VMA celebrity activity on Twitter using a data visualization developed by MTV, Stamen Group and Radian6.
The application itself is completely bad ass (you can see it over at vma.mtv.com, dynamically measuring the volume of Tweets any given VMA performer, presenter or nominee is receiving at any given moment, then enabling a deeper dive into general sentiment and specific Tweets. (You can watch Justine explain how it works to MTV News’ “Twitterless and Facebook photo-less” Tim Kash at MTV News.)
I watched the carpet build from above, then waited patiently through rehearsals, rain and sirens for night to fall on the city. When it did, Ryan’s television magic lit up Midtown. Lady Gaga kissed Kermit. All American Rejects arrived on a parade float. Pink and Shakira wore the same dress. And Justine and I (with an assist of a small army of producers pas, techs, and on-site product developers) tracked it all. We scripted, rehearsed and blocked her five segments on the fly, buffetted by the screams of thousands of teenagers in one ear and a production truck full of screaming colleagues in the other. The adrenaline rush was like being shot out of a cannon five times in a row. Justine did a band-up job, keeping cool despite the chaos, and overwhelming proximity of Justin Beiber.
Just a few minutes later, I was chasing down a crew to interview Madonna when my Blackberry lit up like The Fourth of July: Kanye West stormed Taylor Swift’s stage. We got Madonna (with no help, as it ends up, from me), I jammed three granola bars, two Excedrin, and a Pepsi One down my throat, and ran up the balcony to repo (“reposition”) for the post-show to assess the Twitterverse’s reaction to the whole thing.
It was there, in the balcony above the art deco lobby, with an open bar buzzing to my left and a failed Internet connection in front of me, that I watched Beyonce on a distant television monitor far across the hall graciously and gracefully cede “her moment” to Ms. Swift. “Aaaah,” I said to Justine. “A happy ending.”
It wasn’t until hours later, though, alone in my quiet office high above Times Square, that I saw the replay. Kanye’s gesture was strident, untethered, and uncool. Taylor’s crestfallen, wide-eyed dismay was heartbreaking.
This morning, I downloaded her “You Belong With Me,” then proceeded to unapologetically listen to it a dozen times. It was another Monday punctuated by the steep dives, loop-d-loops and corkscrews of modern, corporate life, her guileless, tender soprano struck a distant chord, one of a simpler, sweeter time before Internet snark, instant ubiquity, and co-branded everything.
The song’s bristling, shimmering chorus built to crescendo as I raised my keys for the front door, choking me up just enough as I collapsed, exhausted and relieved, into my wife’s arms.
I stepped into Times Square at 12:33 tonight, some sixteen hours after first stepping foot in the office. The sidewalk was slick.
“Huh,” I thought. “Weather.”
This afternoon, I stood outside MTV video Music Awards rehearsals at Radio City Music Hall as one of our crews interviewed the Creative Director in a cramped, curbside mobile office.
I looked up from 49th Street to Rolling Stone Magazine’s offices, and though back to a fall day in 1995 when I watched VMA arrivals there as a young intern. It never would have dawned on me then that I would be in the position I’m in now.
For most of the day, I wandered Radio City unfettered, lurking in the back as Wale, Pitbull and 3OH!3 rehearsed, Russell Brand conducted interviews, and the legions of crew prepared the historic venue for Sunday night’s big show.
A few hours, three slices of pizza and at least two stomach-turning, sweat-inducing crises later, I hailed a cab on Eighth Avenue, relished the sweet smell of wet concrete and wondered, “Do I have thick enough skin for this job?”
I grabbed a beer at the corner store, kissed my beautiful, sleeping wife on the forehead, and repaired to the patio to breathe a while before extinguishing the last brushfire of the night with a few well-worded emails.
A colleague ended a thread thusly: “Mister Rogers would be proud of you.”
“I appreciate your saying so,” I replied. “Though I don’t know if that’s true.”
“Still,” I finished. “I will make him proud yet.”
I could hear the back-to-work buzz before I even stirred from the sheets this morning. Trucks slammed their way up Tenth Avenue. Cabs honked. Tires screeched.
There was an actual traffic jam stepping out of the elevator this morning. Blue blazers stumbled over dog walkers tripping over baby carriages. There was nearly a four-person pile up before we even hit the street.
By the time I made it to Times Square, I had to laugh; the place was teeming with suits, three times more than last Tuesday, all racing around like headless ants. And then I spotted my colleague, Monty, striding deadpan and intense toward the revolving doors, clutching two iced-coffees.
The seasons change quickly around here, but none more aggressively than summer. One minute, there’s no line at the Jamba Juice. The next, it’s all Christmas sweaters and Secret Santas.
Of course, the Video Music Awards add insult to injury, slamming into the Monday after Labor Day like clockwork. This year even more so, as news leaked this morning that Janet Jackson would kick off The Big Show. I raced over to Radio City to tape a stand-up with Sway, and we were confronted with it: the six thousand seat, one-time largest movie theater in the world was decked out like a rock ‘n roll “West Side Story,” all scaffolding, bare bulbs and massive monitors. It was, um, overwhelming.
Last April, I uploaded a fifty-nine brief seconds of near-silent canoe floating fresh from Haulover Creek, South Carolina.
Today, then, as an anecdote to all of our back-to-work and back-to-school blues, I give you this: one minute and twenty-six seconds of waves rolling slowly over the edge of Smith Point, Nantucket. Notice the rising tide cresting over the sand, the passing seagull’s shadow, and how the breeze dries the tiny grains of sand. The hush was palpable there, the hurry up and wait of New York City eons away.
Enjoy; moments later, we were under water.
With all the glass, concrete and stone, it’s easy to forget just how much water there is in and around New York City.
The City’s total area is roughly 470 square miles, some 165 of which is water. From the Hudson and East Rivers to Flushing and Jamaica Bays, there are over a 1,000 miles of shoreline criss-crossed by some sixty bridges.
There are few more dramatic vistas than sun, sea and sky, which means that this great, big city is full of opportunity. One bridge in particular held my interest: The Triboro. It’s not much to drive over (as anyone whose taken the FDR to Laguardia Airport will attest), but it’s a unique collection of three bridges that, over the course of three miles, connects The Bronx, Manhattan and Queens.
As soon as I determined that the bridge was pedestrian-friendly, I decided that wanted to see the city from mid-span. Unlike my last two long runs (seventeen miles to Coney Island, and twenty to Rockaway Beach), my Triboro Run would be a loop. (I loath out-and-backs; what adventurer wants to retread his previous steps? Give me new terrain!)
I estimated twelve or so miles through Manhattan and The Bronx, across the Triboro, then back through Queens and across the 59th Street (or Queensboro) Bridge. With the New York City Marathon less than six weeks out, though, I needed more miles, so I decided to toss in the southern tip of Roosevelt Island.
Sunday morning, then, greeted me with near-perfect running conditions: clear, crisp, and breezy. I set out just before sunrise (setting out to Coldplay’s “Life In Technicolor,” as always), and made my way across town to East 71st Street (where I spotted a woman apparently adjusting her drapes in the nude at 6:31 a.m.) and picked up the East Side Promenade. I crossed back over the FDR at 115th Street into Jefferson Park where, at seven in the morning, people were setting up their Labor Day BBQs. My objective was to cross the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx (the reverse, as it ends up, of the NYC Marathon course), but the sidewalk was under construction. So I improvised, pushing further into Harlem for the next crossing. I crossed the Third Avenue Bridge where the river slacks and narrows, surrounded by warehouses and factories.
In 1945, urban planner Robert Moses proposed a six-lane expressway run through the heart of the South Bronx to connect New York City with Long Island (an eventually that would lead to its suburbanization). This project was one of the most ambitious of the time: blasting through ridges, crossing valleys, redirecting rivers and leveling entire neighborhoods. At the time of construction, the expressway crossed 113 streets, seven expressways and parkways, one subway line, five elevated lines, three commuter rail lines, and hundreds of utility, water and sewer lines.
Most blame Moses for decimating the Bronx. Jogging under the massive, swirling concrete of the Bruckner Interchange, it’s difficult to disagree. It’s an environment straight out of an Ayn Rand novel, tiny patches of sunlight and grass dwarfed by massive, crumbling concrete. I’ve never seen a more garbage-strewn street than 135th, bracketed by the Major Deegan Expressway to the south, and the massive 12 acre Millbrook House urban development complex to the north. And, as I circled the shadowy underpasses looking for the pedestrian entrance to the Triboro Bridge at 33d and Cypress Avenues, I’ve rarely felt less safe.
A word about running through unknown urban neighborhoods like the South Bronx or Queens Bridge. I am a white, bald guy who runs in sunglasses, Nike gear, and Asics shoes. On long runs, I wear an iPod and carry a Blackberry (for navigational and communication purposes). It’s difficult not to feel conspicuous in these far less-affluent (ok, depressed), often shuttered neighborhoods. I don’t worry about being mugged; I don’t have much worth stealing, and anyway, I’m running (and kind of a big boy). I worry about someone (or a pack of someones) deciding that I’m trespassing on their turf. I worry about random violence and stray bullets. I worry more, though, about not being adventurous, or courageous. I worry more, though, about living within the confines of pre-determined, safe neighborhoods. It’s a great, big world out there. There’s a lot to see. And so I put my shoulders back, nod and wave, and push onward.
I was thrilled to climb the stairs to the fist span of the bridge, but quickly disappointed by its descent. No sooner than I’d climbed the Triboro, than I was on Randall’s Island. I asked a young, Latino gentleman in a soccer jersey if he had any idea where the pedestrian path picked up again, but we couldn’t understand one another. So I kept running figuring, worst case, I’d turn around.
Just as I began to despair, I spotted a sign that read “Queens Pedestrian Bridge.” I passed Icahn Stadium (where I saw the Tibetan Freedom Concert over ten years ago), and the Manhattan State Hospital (where ragtime composer Scott Joplin was hospitalized for schizophrenia). And then I saw it: a massive, covered walkway apparently cobbled onto the side of the bridge.
A few minutes later, there I was: mid-span on the north side of the Triboro Bridge (now, I came to learn, known as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge). At nearly two-hundred feet — the pedestrian path is elevated above the roadway, its edges guarded by modest, four-foot railings — it was a stomach-churning vista: Hell Gate Railroad Bridge running parallel, spanning the swirling, shimmering East River below; Laguardia Airport, Flushing Bay and the Throgg’s Neck Bridge to the east; Forest Lawn and Park Slope rising to the south; massive 747s launching from JFK on the horizon; and the New York City skyline like a great, glass and steel picket fence on the edge of it all.
I had already run well over ten miles as I descended into Astoria, Queens. I ducked into the first deli I could find, bought a Poland Spring, and dropped in a Nuun tablet. I jammed down a PowerGel, washed it down, and started running back toward the river. The neighborhood was a low-lying collection of aluminum-sided, multi-family houses many with taxis parked out front. I passed the Socrates Sculpture Park, then headed south on Vernon Boulevard past a — surprise! — Costco Super Store amidst the warehouses, parking lots and corner stores. At 36th Street, I crossed the small, red, lift-bridge onto Roosevelt Island.
Once called Blackwell, then Welfare, and now Roosevelt Island is a narrow, two-mile-long, 800-feet-wide island spanning in the middle of the East River. Since the 17th Century, it has provided home to a prison, insane asylum, and smallpox hospital. Today, it is an, vaguely-Orwellian collection of apartments and hospitals. But it’s location is remarkable: the city sparkles alongside it, the 59th Street Bridge towers over it, the river rushes around it, and still it feels almost completely disconnected; there are just two ways on or off: the aforementioned bridge, and the tram.
My original objectove was to to the northern-most point of the island. There’s a lighthouse there that, legend has it, was built by an inmate of the insane asylum. It’s a breathtaking view there, one fomented by turbulent water. Something (probably that I hate doing half of anything) drove me onward, though, which ended up a good thing.
James Renwick is primarily known for his design of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. At southern tip of Roosevelt Island, through a narrow fence, along a gravel road and through some thicket, I ran past the ruins of the Renwick-designed Elmhurst Smallpox Hospital (which, I’ve come to learn, are undergoing a $4M renovation). It’s a creepy, awesome shell of a place dating back the mid-19th Century. Just beyond the ruins, the island ends. The East River opens up to the massive Turtle Bay edged by the United Nations and Sty Town. The Williamsburgh Bridge, and Savings Bank loom far in the distance.
At this point, I’m pushing eighteen miles, and I still had to get back to and over the Queensboro, then across town. So I ducked into a Gristedes for a Gatorade, choked down two Advil, and set out for the Queensboro Bridge. Back in Queens, the blazing sun on Vernon Avenue felt downright hostile. My legs were getting heavy and slow. Queens Plaza was just ahead, though, and soon I was trudging slow and steady up the bridge’s eastern span. I snapped a photo mid-span, pausing (any excuse to pause at twenty-two miles) to notice just how poor my manual dexterity had become with my exhaustion; I couldn’t type into my Blackberry for the life of me (though I did manage to post updates on Facebook).
57th Street, while gratifyingly familiar, was torturously slow with its tourist-strewn sidewalks and traffic-choked avenues. I relished each stop, though, pausing to stretch my sore back. Starts and stops and adjustments of any sort were increasingly difficult, though, as my muscles would only carry me one way: forward. A young man sprinting heads-down against traffic ran full into me at Fifth Avenue. And though I swore loudly, it was a welcome dose of adrenaline.
Back home on Tenth Avenue, I realized that I was just a few tenths of a mile short of twenty-four, and a few minutes shy of four hours, so I ran a few blocks past my apartment then stopped even: three boroughs, four hours, twenty four miles.
Yes, I under-estimated my mileage. And yeah, I probably ran through a debatable few neighborhoods. But to wake with the sun, to see the city from the heights, and to take in every single step in between is worth all the soreness in the world.
The best part? There are hundreds of miles of shoreline and dozens of bridges left to run.