Glass, Concrete, And Stone

My new favorite marathon training run is the perimeter of Manhattan.

Typically, we set out from the East 70s. There’s no promenade between 70th and 34th, so we run south on First. It’s all downhill to the United Nations.

I like running past the UN. It may not be the perfect institution, but they’ve got the right idea. I like that big old aqua blue and white tower; so Jetsons. I always feel like a citizen of the world there. Like I’m a part of something. Like maybe it’s not the end of the world quite yet.

There’s a gigantic construction site at East 40th Street. Week by week, iron workers and demolitionists have been tearing a full city block down to its foundations. By the spring of 2008, hundreds of no doubt luxurious condos will stand in its place.

The East River opens up at Kips Bay just above Stuyvesant Town. We pass a few fishermen. We pass the Con Ed station, pumping frothy effluent into the cool water. And soon enough, the three bridges come into view: Williamsburg (1600 feet, constructed 1896-1903), Manhattan (1470 feet, constructed 1901-1909), and Brooklyn (1595 feet, constructed 1870-83).

We run through East River Park, past little leaguers and pick-up soccer players. The park ends just below the Williamsburg Bridge, all rusted and blue. We continue onto a wide widewalk below the FDR in a neighborhood called Two Bridges. In the 18th Century, this area was known as Corlears Hook, a rough and tumble neighborhood where the term “hooker” was coined.

The mile or so north of the South Street Seaport is dotted with elderly Asian men and women fishing, walking, and stretching. We pass the Paris Cafe (founded 1873), below the great Brooklyn Bridge, past the abandoned Fulton Fish Market (named for Robert Fulton, proprieter of the Clermont steamship which revolutionized the young port town by slashing the trip up the Hudson to just 32 hours), and finally the Seaport. Sure, it’s got an Abercrombie and Fitch, and a Sunglass Hut. But at 170 feet, the masts of The Peking — launched in Hamburg, Germany, in 1911 and used to carry manufactured goods to South America and back via Cape Horn — is still a sight.

Invariably, though, there below the great glass skyscrapers, there as New York Harbor comes opens up — Brooklyn Naval Yards, Governer’s Island, the Statue of Liberty, the Verenzano Bridge, the great orange ferry lumbering towards Staten Island — I turn to Abbi and say, “Yunno, it is a pretty great city.”

Most days find me struggling to retain my sense of humor, optimism, and hope. There’s the noise, the garbage, and the stink. There’s the rudeness, the rush, and the rage. And there’s the ruble: the giant hole where those towers once stood.

Still, every time Abbi and I find ourselves on that thin strip of real estate between the Seaport and the Staten Island Ferry, the sky gets a little bit brighter, and the water grows a little bit wider, and I think maybe, just maybe I can make it a few more miles. And, I think, maybe I can make it just a few more days.

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