Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ghostbusters Firehouse

There are many, many places in NYC that are recognizable to movie lovers, but for me none of them were as exciting to see as the Firehouse they used in Ghostbusters. Its a 3 story free standing building on N. Moore and Hudson.

It is still a working a working firehouse and known as Ladder 8. They are fully aware of their distinction among site-seers and have a large Ghostbusters sign hanging inside...they also have a wall-of-fame for melted telephones but that has nothing to do with the movie.

The old #8 has existed since 1865 but didn't move to this location until 1912. It's not a very heavily travelled tourist spot, but walking past it always makes me smile. I haven't seen the movie in about 10 years, but it was never really about the movie, it was about seeing your city on the big screen.

It wasn't a very long outing, but i had to go and snap a photo of it before I leave.

A stroll through TriBeCa

I have worked in or near TriBeCa for over 10 years. I never get tired of being down there or taking a walk through the neighborhood. Before anyone gets semantic about the neighborhood only being the small triangle south of canal by Lispenard street, lets get our maps out. Since names of neighborhoods are only useful for real estate agencies and descriptives for its citizens, and since they are mostly innocuous and random, TriBeCa is the Lower West Side between the Highway and Broadway, and south of Canal as far down as Park.

Before the name was given to this area by the Lispenard Block Association it was either called the Lower West Side or Washington Market after the fruit market in the hood. You can find some evidence of the name in the same-named park next to BMCC or in a sign for the Eureka Fruit Packing sign of the Hope Fruit Co. on Harrison (I think it is harrsion). picture

No other area of Manhattan has changed more over the last 15 years and probably no other is such a paradox.
  • Old "boring" looking plain red brick warehouses now hold multi million dollar luxury lofts.
  • Dirty dive bars next to champagne lounges.
  • Pot hole filled streets being land-marked because of the cobblestones.
  • One of the richest public high schools in the country (Stuyvesant) connected by footbridge to a community college (BMCC).
  • 1$ dirty water hot dog stand outside of a 5 star restaurant.

It makes sense to me, although sad and worried about the future of the human race, that TriBeCa is become so expensive to live (12th richest zip code in the U.S.). It is walking distance to the financial district. It is also, for those of you who care about such things, one of the whitest neighborhoods in NYC (82.34%).

During my walk yesterday, where i walked every street in the hood, i was interested mostly in the architecture. Little intricacies are everywhere: Old building freezes, address cornerstones (like above) industrial stars, an old bridge connecting 2 buildings in a former hospital over Staple street alley, a compass in the sidewalk, a subway map in the sidewalk. There are all glass building like the ones overlooking the Hudson and there are eerie skyscrapers with no windows at all (the telephone building). There are sidewalks like those on Worth that actually glitter and there are rooftop gardens that cost more than a Mansion on a New England Beach.

Taking a walk through TriBeCa is like walking through old New York, especially at night with the old lampposts lighting the street yellow. If you are in the right mood and the air is a bit foggy, you feel like you are in an old movie...and you might be if you accidentally walk through a movie set shooting with one of the local celebrities as its star.

Take a look soon, before long all the roughness of the neighborhood will be swept clean, the graffiti washed off the wall and gates put up to protect its citizens from people like me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

That's Garbage!

This is going to be a short post, but I had to share this you you.

I wrote yesterday about my trip to Staten Island and mentioned briefly about the giant Fresh Kills Landfill. As I normally do these days, i was reading some of the history today of the great dump and I came across this stat:

In 2001, the last year of operation, the Fresh Kills Landfill was taller than the Statue Of Liberty!!!

That's one big heap of garbage. If it was to be opened for its expected lifespan, it would have become the tallest spot on the EAST COAST, larger in mass than the Great Wall Of China and the final sign of the apocalypse. Its amazing to me that it took so long for it to be shut down.

In the hey-day of dumping in Fresh Kills, almost 13,000 tons of garbage was dumped there a day. New York is still throwing away garbage at an alarming rate...almost half of it is paper product. Maybe its about time we all start recycling, huh? If over 75% of our daily garbage can be easily recycled, how come there aren't more recycling bins on the streets than garbage cans. It saves money, good for business and is absolutely integral for us to save this planet.

Change is slow and politicians are lazy...but that's one man's opinion.

sidenote: the landfill is set to be turned into a park 3 times the size of central park. There will be nature trails, kayaking, ball fields a 9/11 memorial and room for 7 wind turbines expecting to produce enough energy to power 5,000 housholds.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Staten Island is Cool...and Dirty!

I spent all day yesterday ankle deep in black industrial sludge and broken oyster shells. Sound like fun?

The northwest neighborhoods along the shore of Staten Island are nothing like anywhere else in the 5 boroughs. I went out to see what I can of a rumored boat graveyard in the Rossville Area, and ended up walking about 5 miles along the Arthur Kill Road narrowly avoiding getting hit by one trucker after another. (They really ought to put in a roadside pathway).

I took the bus all the way out to Rossville Road and immediately saw a glimpse of a rusted out tanker in the sludge out in the creek. There wasn't that great of a view and there were a few houses that warned of massive bodily injury if you were caught trespassing. I assume that was in reaction to many urban explorers like myself trying to get out to the boats. I thought about crawling down the small cliff side and head through the weeds, but it looked like the marsh was rather deep. Normally that wouldn't deter me very long, but this particular marsh was literally in the shadow of the largest garbage dump in the world.

The Fresh Kills Landfill has been closed down for a few years (Thanks in no small part to NYPIRG) but remains a monument to human excess and is one of the absolutely worst things we could have done to the future health of the borough. I wouldn't be confident about looking for any clean ground water on the island for some time. So there was absolutely no way I was going to wade into a marsh that has been in the dumps runoff for the last half century.

While i was snapping photos from the ledge and trying to find a creative way to get a better angle I hear behind me:

"Hey...what are you doing?"

"Just snapping some photos."

"Cool, you want to see a better spot?"

This guy was a local crab fisherman (yes he catches and sells shell fish from the Arthur Kill...yummy). He also is a local nautical history buff and gave me some good spots to go and see some of the boats. Great timing, I was about to call it quits and bus away with a few good shots of just a 3 or 4 wrecks. Instead i got 3 more hours of things to see.

You never know exactly how big something is until you have to walk it. I have been using my handy hagstroms map for 3 months now. You think i would understand the basic concepts of scale by would think. Its not that walking 3 miles is hard to do...even in 35 degree windy weather, but walking 3 miles on an industrial highway without a sidewalk or anything resembling a shoulder is just outright unpleasant.

On one side of me was a great protected parkland called "Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve." On the other was a series of interesting points of interest. Along Arthur kill road which is a 300 year old roadway from Richmond Town to Tottenville I passed by The Arthur Kill Prison, a giant paint ball field, a 200 year old cemetery holding the remains of the Sleight family an enormous Mobile Oil Plant and several auto body shops (this is important for what i find later).

I tried to walk down a road to the shore (my new friend told me it was open to the public) but a big asshole of a man stopped me by skidding his truck in front of the gate to ward me off. Not being susceptible to reasonable conversation or even any conversation for that matter since he didn't open his window or stop spinning his big wheels churning up dust, i flipped him off and walked away.

After walking some more down to the Charleston area i found a better entrance at the end of a small dead end road. There was a old run down auto body shop with a broken down pickup that had "Shut Down" painted on it. I climbed the fence and found a small opening in a field of reeds. I don't know if anyone out there has even walked through reeds before but its downright eerie. The reeds were about 12 feet high and too thick to see 3 feet away. So for about 10 minutes I tried to follow other footprints through the marshy field hoping that there was an opening soon and that i didn't accidental run into some big fellas dumping a body in the muck.

Finally i came to a small "beach" and i use that term very loosely. There it was, a huge field of rusted burnt out ships and nautical wrecks. Forget for a second how dirty this whole thing is and how shameful it is for industry to ruin what once was a stunning landscape. Just for a second. The dirty, curious kid in me loves this stuff. It was amazing to see it all.

The first bout yard i saw up on Rossville road is from the Witte Marine Equipment Company and has many old NYC fire boats and abandoned tugs. Some of them were used in trying unsuccessfully to help the General Slocum Tragedy that took 1,000 lives in a fire. This second group of boats are mostly old ferries. The one above says New York and Astoria on the hull.

I walked through the reeds a little more to get closer and came across a car...that's right a car stuck right there in the middle of nowhere with no possible way to get it there by road. Then another, and another and then an opening with dozens of old rusty stripped cars. Some of them half buried in the muck that are probably covered by water most of the year, and others that are up on the rocks that still have visible char marks from fires. My first thought was...uh-oh this is where they hide the cars after burying the bodies. I guess i have seen one too many mob movies...and if you have seen the most recent "We Own The Night" there is a crazy chase in the reeds out in Floyd Bennet Field that look a lot like this. But in a guess more based in reality the cars are probably from illegal dumping from the auto body shops in the neighborhood.

I spent about an hour walking around the wrecks trying to get as close as I could. At times my foot sank to an uncomfortable level and I almost lost my shoes a few times. The colors for photographs were perfect but the weather was absolutely freezing. I wish i had a little row boat so i could get closer to some of the ships further out. The big metal ships were fun but i wanted to see the old wood ones that were left as nothing more than old skeletons.

A good day of urban exploring ended with a hour and a half bus ride, a 20 minute ferry ride, and a two subway trains home. If I wanted to document the New York City Transit system, this would have been a good start.

check out the pictures here:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Thanksgiving Wish!

OK...before you say anything, I know the picture above is not a Turkey or anything representative of Thanksgiving, but i don't have a picture of a turkey and I like my picture of this Blue Peacock from the "Garden Of Eden" botanical gardens on the road to Hana in there it is.

And speaking of turkeys representing thanksgiving here why I am writing this blog entry. For the last 4 days, there has been a line hundreds of people long in a local avant-garde soul-food place in my hood called Jive Turkey. Normally, the JT has at most 2 people in it at rush hour. From what I hear its good food but seeing as I don't eat turkey, i never went in. Today there are no less than 3 hundred people waiting to buy their gourmet thanksgiving turkey meals.

I have never been a very preachy type of vegetarian, but listen: Just because some version of history says that the traditional thanksgiving meal is turkey doesn't mean that you HAVE to eat turkey. It also doesn't mean you have to buy the biggest turkey in the store...or that just because you bought something called "free-range" that somehow you are acting better than other consumers duped into buying more food than you need.

Its just another day. If having dinner with family and friends make you happy, great...that is indeed an occasion to celebrate and enjoy. It shouldn't however mean finding all sorts of useless gifts to buy and food to over-purchase or use more gallons of gas to hurry to dinner.

True that environmental destruction and community upheaval may very well be the true legacy of thanksgiving, but that doesn't mean that we have to oblige.

Castle Clinton

Throughout my tour, I have been avoiding most of the obvious tourist magnets and bigger monuments (with a few exceptions of course) but I always found this one interesting.

Castle Clinton, later renamed Castle Garden is that old round building down near the battery that is now unfortunately used now only as a big ticket window for the Ellis island ferry. It was built in preparation of the war of 1812 as a NY city lower Hudson guard. At that time the Castle was surrounded by water and the area resembled nothing of the modern day park. Over the years, the southern tip of Manhattan was enlarged by landfill and eventually engulfed the building.

It was used starting in the 1820 as a cultural and performance center, opera house, promenade, used by PT Barnum and even as a beer garden. During this period the structure had added floors and was roofed over. It was used mostly in this hodgepodge manner until it was transformed into an immigrant process center. Over 8.5 million immigrants went through the castle before the center on Ellis island was created soon after the civil war.

Its most famous use was that of the Aquarium starting in 1896. As is the unfortunate fate of many of New York's landmarks, the aquarium was shut down and the structure almost entirely destroyed by a behemoth bridge plan proposed by Robert Moses. The aquarium was moved to Coney Island and the original castle saved and landmarked. Its not very exciting to see now, since its used as a f#@king ticket booth...but i do find its history fun and worthy of note.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

BAM and my Bar!

On Sunday, I spent the night in a very fun interconnected stoty between Brooklyn's Premier music center, BAM and one of my all time favorite bars, Mooney's Pub.

I went to go see the movies with one of my great movie buddy's and we saw "Before the Devil Knows Your Dead". It was one of the most depressing movies I have seen. Beautifully acted and directed and actually had one of the most real moments of any movie i have ever seen. However, it was one of those movies where all the characters are on the brink of absolute collapse and nervous breakdown. I don't like movies where i wish everyone would just go ahead and kill themselves...but that's just me.

Anyway, back to the fun. In the movie, their local hangout was a bar named Mooney's. We looked at each other and kind of acknowledged the coincidence that we were about to go to a bar name Mooney's. After the movie and a very cold bike ride up flatbush avenue, we got to the bar and had this interchange with my buddy Scot who was bartending:

"We just saw the most depressing movie ever"

"Was it 'Before the Devil Knows Your Dead'?"


"Was there a bar in it called Mooney's"

"'d you guess?"

Apparently the writer of the movie drank at this Mooney's for years and wrote the bar into his story. At the last minute, they changed the location to a bar in LA but kept the name. Scot then showed me a letter they just got from the writer thanking them for the use of the name and a framed prop Mooney's drink coaster that they used in the movie.

Then to make the coincidence even tighter, Scot showed me the Sunday Times article that came out that day that featured Mooney's. (The bar is being shut down later this year to raise the rent...more on that when it happens). Both Scot and the movie are mentioned in the article.

Funny. Who knew that the movie and the bar we had planned on going to Sunday night was going to be so closely connected. Gotta love it.

Cougar in the Bronx my last blog entry I told you that I almost stepped on a large cat that I was sure was a bobcat or something like it. What i was embarrassed to admit was that I first thought that is was a cougar. Ridiculous as it might sound, I was absolutely sure it was something like that. I rationalized things in my head for a while and all I came up with was Bobcat.

Well while talking to a buddy about my large cat encounter, he said:

"I bet it was a cougar, at least once a year a cougar gets hit by a car in the bronx."

I just checked some reports out online and there it was, first hand stories about cougars in the bronx. I don't know if there is actual proof...not everything you find on the internet is true. But take that with my first initial reaction and the picture above and I think I almost stepped on a COUGAR!

There are conflicting ideas about what the cars have hit. Some say they were cougars, some say they are only in the cougar family. Whatever it was, what I saw was big and it was a cat. The tail, as you can see, is striped like some cougars and as wide as the barrel of a baseball bat. Its body was bigger than your average Labrador dog. I wish i has seen its face but I wasn't about to wake it up to find out.

Anyone know anymore about large cats in the bronx?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pelham Bay Park

Pelham Bay Park is the largest park in NYC. It is over 2,700 acres (3 times the size of central park) and broken up between the south meadow, Orchard Beach, Hunters Island, Twin Island and Rodman's Neck. The latter is a NYPD firing range and is off limits to the public (happy day).

Since the park is so large, I intend to go back a few times. Yesterday I walked through the south meadow section, checking out most of the waterfront. 600 acres of the park fluctuates between walkable trails and underwater marshland. This time of year it is low water so i was able to see some fun stuff along the way.

After getting off the last stop of the 6-train, i entered the park and immediately noticed that I was one of maybe 10 people in the whole park. There were just acres of trees and trails scattered with random picnic tables and barbecue pits and nobody enjoying the scene. Maybe I'm the only one that likes to walk around New York in 35-degree November weather. I wasn't really in the mood to sift through the picnic area so I delved into the wilderness section of the park ASAP(as you can see above, its "Forever Wild"...except for the fence and orange netting, occasional street lamps, the few paved paths and of course the sign itself).

All jokes aside, it was exceptionally nice wilderness land and is a great place to check out some great mostly untouched land. I had a near run-in with some wildlife myself. I was walking toward a trail opening when i suddenly realized that i was 5 feet from stepping on a rather large animal. It was sleeping so I backed away before taking a few pictures. I first thought is was a bobcat. Weird I guess seeing as i was in the Bronx...but feasible. They are in westchester and could have stayed here without being bothered. But I looked at the pictures later and it had a tail like a raccoon. My roommate says that raccoons can get as big as 50-60 pounds. I don't know, this animal was bigger than a dog...and had the body of a large cat like a bobcat. I never saw its face to see, but if it was a raccoon...damn that was one big raccoon.

Anyway back to my trip. I spent the next hour walking along the waterfront just south of the now capped but still dangerous Pelham Bay Landfill. This area along the Long Island Sound is not really meant for public walks, but you all know how much I love my urban exploring. There was a nice low-tide trail along the water lined with oyster shells, tide-smoothed stones and some random washed up garbage. The highlights were the ruins of an old building that I can't find anywhere on the web as to what it was, a 12 foot high rock jetti that was fun to climb out on, great views of the Throgs-Neck Bridge and City Island and an overall incredible waterfront scene filled with all the fall colors.

If you go to Pelham Bay Park, go now while the colors are great and the crowds are gone. Also along the way, when the 6-train gets above ground, keep your eyes open for the great rooftop graffiti that hasn't yet been driven out by newer buildings.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Walk in the Woods

"You only need to sit long enough in some attractive spot in the woods, that all of its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you in turn."

H.D. Thoreau, Walden

I was back up in the Bronx yesterday yo visit the final bit of Hudson River waterfront that I have yet to see up close. I took a nice long walk in 2 connected but separate parks. First the Wallenburg Forest and then Riverdale Park.

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish Diplomat that was thought to have been killed by the KGB in 1947 at the young age of 35. He was an important figure in helping save the lives of European Jews bound for concentration camps during WWII. He was famous for printing counterfeit Swedish passports for Hungarian Jews and purchasing houses that were adorned with the Blue and Yellow Swedish flag to house condemned Jews. These houses were considered neutral diplomatic property and beyond the reach of the Nazis. Wallenberg has been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.

The forest is just across the street from Riverdale Park. Most of my trip was spent walking through this park (RP). I entered the park at its southern most point at 232nd street and walked north. I'm not sure whether its city conditioning or my recent adventures, but i spent the first 20 minutes wondering when i was going to get "somewhere". It was then that i realized i was just taking a walk in the woods. This wasn't a park like those in most of NYC, it was just a long stretch of undeveloped forest set between the Hudson River and the rest of civilized Bronx. If you wanted to, as I did, you could cut left and scoot down the woodsy hill toward the river and take a look. Its cut off by a fence that blocks you from the train tracks, but you can get a great view of the raw beauty of the open cliffs of the the Palisades. Outside of just one opening in the forest, you can walk all the up to Westchester without interruption.

The trees are great and you'll get a lot of company from the birds and squirrels that are scurrying everywhere. Enjoy your walk.

Friday, November 16, 2007

If It Ain't Baroque...

The history of baroque music follows the history of its benefactors and the involvement of the church. That's why I found myself on Wednesday night at church. St. Thomas Church on 5th avenue and 53rd st to be exact. I was invited there by a good friend of mine to see some music by Bach, Handle and Buxtehude. It was a good night.

I'll get to the music in a second, but first the church. St. Thomas is an amazing building. Built in 1913, it is an Anglican church designed in High Gothic Architecture adorned with a hell of a lot of French Flamboyant details (and I thought I'd never use any of the information I learned in my music and architecture iconography class in college).

The most breathtaking feature is the 80 foot reredos behind the altar with 60 fully realized figures carved from sandstone. There is a giant choir loft, a large stained glass rose windows, a magnificent arcade with open triforium and just to show off about my limited but focused knowledge of architecture, the entire nave is supported by quadripartite ribbed groin vaulting (Mrs. Karch would be so proud).

Being a musician however, I was taken in by the 4 large organs that have helped make the church a must visit for keyboardists everywhere. The Great Organ has been refurbished and rebuilt many times but as it stands now has 4 manuals and 156 ranks. This organ fits well with the architecture and can be viewed on most days during the church services...or as my friend pointed out, during lunch hour when you may be lucky enough to catch the organist at practice.

The second featured organ, the Trompette-en-Chamade, was built in 1996 and is found directly beneath the rose window. It stands out due to its newer 25 stops and 32 ranks but also because of the white oak and 24 karat gold trim that matches absolutely nothing in the building. It is however an exquisite instrument.

We were there to see a performance by the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys. The ensemble is the finest in the United States and boast of a choir taught in one of the last fully operational choir schools in the country. The choir has had acclaim all over the world, has sung for the pope, and has recorded much of its repertoire. In the church choral tradition, the group is well known. Outside of the music world they made headlines as the group that sang the world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem.

Although sung often in music halls, opera houses and other venues, the music of Bach and his contemporaries is best heard in a church setting, since that is how if was written. The period instruments (played well by the Concert Royal) and the close harmonies of the choral writing is best brought to life by the openness and high acoustics of a church like St. Thomas.

I have to say the performance was good, but I was most excited to see the church itself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Once again, i traveled outside of NYC for my Farewell tour. I swear, it was worth it. Many people think of NY state and immediately think of cement, tall buildings and subways. NY is, in my opinion the most geographically diverse areas in the country. We have Great Lakes, Niagara Falls, the largest state park in the country, The Hudson River, the Finger Lakes (we actually have more lakes that Minnesota, the so called Land Of Lakes) we grow more varieties of Potatoes than Ireland and have a city that legally has its own monetary system (Ithaca).

But above all that, we have some of the most gorgeous beaches this side of Maui. This weekend i travelled to possibly my favorite place on earth (i reserve the right to change my mine on this). I went to Montauk.

Past New York City, past Jones Beach, past the north shore towns on the Long Island Sound, past all the farm lands, past the vineyards and even past the Hamptons is Montauk...The End. Montauk has more protected land than developed land, its a fishing village with million dollar homes. Its an East Coast surfer's haven with farms that grow the best tasting sweet corn i have ever had. Its a summer tourist spot with a year round community. It has been the rumored home of government headquarters for black-ops, alien cover-ups and hiking trails with unexploded land mines. It has a famous lighthouse that is surrounded by amazing waterfront cliffs.

I have been going out to Montauk since I was a kid. Seeing it in the cold air of November is always fun. There are less people, better sunsets, great food, sharks, sea turtles and if you time it right you can catch a seal or two sunning itself on the rocks. (not this trip, sorry to say).

Forget the Hamptons...go out to Montauk.

see the pictures

Friday, November 9, 2007

230th st(aircase)

When I heard that there was a 4 block long staircase in the Bronx, I knew immediately that it would be one of my stops.

230th street runs through Riverdale and past Van Cortlandt Park all the way out to Hutchinson River. But in Kingsbridge, just west of Broadway where it meets Ewan Park it suddenly turns UP! Its officially called a "Step Road". I thought for a while that calling it a road was not exactly fair. Its not a road...its just a long staircase. But then I saw it. It isn't a road, but it is definitely more than a staircase. It is a vital thoroughfare that intersects 4 other streets and although doesn't have any sort of vehicular traffic...might as well be called a road.

It is thought to be the largest step-road in New York, but outside of the other few in this neighborhood and the one i know in Bay Ridge, i don't know of any other. Perhaps i will find some more to compare.

Need some exercise, and want to see some very great old houses along the way...check it out.

Spuyten Duyvil

I had planned on exploring all of the West Bronx between Van Cortlandt and the Hudson River yesterday...but that didn't happen. I was on foot, as I probably will be for most days from here on out. Even if I had my bike, there was no way to do this in one day. Riverdale is the most hilly neighborhood in NYC and there is so much to see, that I will have to go back a few more times.

Yesterday I took some time and visited Marble Hill and Spuyten Duyvil. Marble Hill, although entirely on the New York State mainland, is still technically part of Manhattan, or at least New York County. They get a bit touchy if you tell them they are from the Bronx...even if you show them a map. It is a small niche on the cliff side of the Harlem River and not more than a nice walk through a semi-private community.

Spuyten Duyvil is tucked in the corner of the Bronx right where the Harlem River meets the Hudson. Try and ask people to pronounce the little Bronx village and you get many variances. Dutch in entomology, it could mean either "Spite the Devil" or "Devil's Whirlpool" depending on how you say it. It has also been called "The Sit Down Place" after the original Lenape Indian name for the hill.

Once you pass the Henry Hudson Highway, you enter into a very guarded community and have a few "Mapped Private" streets. All of the roads leading to water view access are marked as private. All the houses on Palisade Ave. are built into the hillside. Some are larger apartment buildings and some are fantastic houses with leveled overlooks and outdoor river view patios. There is a public viewing deck called the "Half Moon Overlook." You can't see much through the heavy tree cover, but you can scramble down a steep path that doesn't look like an official walkway. You pass old building foundations and cement pillars covered in graffiti.

Once you get to the bottom, there is an open passage to the train tracks. I'm sure i wasn't allowed down there, but there was no sign, no fence and nobody there to stop me, so i did a little urban exploring and avoided all contact with the occasional Amtrak or Metro North trains that sped by. You get a great view of the river and the Henry Hudson Bridge that looms over the Harlem River toward Inwood Hill.

If you want to go, expect some, or a lot of walking up and down hills. The neighborhood is a very interesting part of the Bronx and worth the trip...especially if you like to see old architecture. Some of the houses were built as far back as 1880.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Trinity Church

You can spend weeks traveling the narrow streets of lower Manhattan and never tire of the historic buildings, architecture, statues and the like...that is if you like historic places to begin with.

New York is not the oldest European settlement in the U.S., but it could be the richest spot for studying the beginnings of American society. With extensive shipping ports, the foothold of high society, the eventual location of the first Presidential residence as well as being the beginning and continual steward of American Capitalism, lower Manhattan is the birthplace of what America has become. But above all that, religion was the driving force behind early US society, and Lower Manhattan holds some of the oldest and culturally relevant churches in the country.

If you were to travel into New York Harbor at any point between the 17th and early 20th century, you would see a rectangle building high on the hill and eventually the tall spires of Trinity Church towering above the low skyline at Broadway and Wall st. The Church is now in its third rebuilding. The first was destroyed in 1776 during the Great New York Fire after the British took the city, the second was torn down after water damaged during a wave of snow storms in 1839 and the third still stands today.

Walking in there today you might think it just another memorial to 9/11 seeing all the photographs of post tragedy church yard and a knocked down sycamore tree, but the church has tremendous historic value. The inner sanctum of the church is a Gothic hodgepodge of architecture with incredible stained glass windows. The cemeteries are among the oldest in New York and hold the remains of Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton and James Astor. Some of the tombstones are famous for their mysterious masonic markings and more than one story has ended with treasure hunters finding their holy grail buried deep under the churches foundation.

Amongst the newest draw and drawbacks of the church are its bells There are 23 original Bells and a new set of 12 installed after 9/11 are artistically groundbreaking but causing the locals to complain about the noise. Ain't that like New York.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sidewalk Clock

I was talking about my tour to a friend of mine this weekend and he asked me "So, what was today's adventure."

"No adventure, I told him, but I did go see the clock in the sidewalk."


"Yeah, there is a clock in the sidewalk at Broadway and Maiden Lane."

"Really, I live on John Street...i cross there everyday, I've never seen a clock in the sidewalk."

And there is the point of my Farewell Tour. I have seen some of the big things (Ellis Island, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens), and I have seen some of the hidden things (yellow submarine, Atlantic Ave. Tunnel) but there are some things out there that pass us by everyday that we miss. New York is filled with amazing little crevices and quirky architecture or long forgotten monuments to out past.

The Clock (seen above) is embedded in the sidewalk on the northeast corner of Maiden Lane and Broadway. Its the size of a large Frisbee and is protected by a thick piece of glass. It was put there in 1899 by William Barthman Jewelers. It has withstood many attempts by nogoodnicks to break it or dig it up. Its electric motor has kept it running and in good time for well over a century without fail.

I wonder how many people pass it everyday without noticing it. I also wonder how many people use it everyday to see how late they are for work.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

NYC Marathon

In 14 years in NYC I have failed to see the NYC Marathon up close. I either forgot it was happening, was out of town, or slept right through it. In a former apartment of mine in Clinton Hill, I was actually on the marathon route and didn't even go down the stairs to see it. I know, I know...pretty pathetic.

Today I made up for all those years of neglect and woke up early and got a good viewing spot along Lafayette in Brooklyn. This is Mile-8 of the 26.2 mile race route. I watched the beginning of the race on TV and then got to my spot just in time to watch the Female leaders come by. It was still only 1/3rd into the race but the eventual leaders Paula Radcliff and Gete Wami were already far ahead of the pack.

The Male leaders came by about 20 minutes later a little with the lead pack of about 10 runners, including Martin Lel and Abderahin Goumri who later finished 1st and second. I waited another 20 minutes and after a few scattered packs of "elite" runners, the mighty horde of runners came by. Thousands of runners from around the world being cheered on by onlookers from everywhere. Right in front of me was a man from Scotland holding up his flag. As runners from all over Great Britain came by they shouted Yea Scotland and touched the flag.

Before, during, and after these crowds were assisted runners, racers in wheelchairs and all sorts of cancer survival stories came by to massive roars of the Brooklyn crowd.

The NYC Marathon, as I have now finally experienced, is a great NYC day. Nearly 40,000 runners started the race and thousands more enjoyed the brisk sunny day here in the big city. Thankfully, after a long race and millions of hours of preparation, months of grueling training and I can still go watch for an hour and then go home and down a few slices of pizza without feeling guilty. Maybe years from now, when I make a triumphant return to NYC, I'll do it by running in the Marathon...probably not, but maybe!


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hippies Take Manhattan

New York isn't all skeptics with bad attitudes and punk rockers dressed all in black. There is a very strong and vibrant population of tree-huggers, free spirits, bleeding hearts and yes even hippies. They aren't all Grateful Dead fans...but the ones that are had their eyes and minds focused on the Nokia Theatre last night to see Phil Lesh and Friends.

There have been many semi-reformations of grateful dead members and projects since Jerry Garcia dies in 1995, like Ratdog, The Dark Star Orchestra, Bruce Hornsby solo, The Dead. None of them have continued to excel quite like Phil and Friends. Each tour, Phil has invited new musicians from other great bands to join him and celebrate the music of years past as well as share in new musical experiments together.

This year the band includes Steve Molitz (Particle), Jackie Greene, Larry Cambell and John Molo. Their 7 show encampment in NY is called "The Other New York City Marathon". Last night they added Ryan Adams to their team and pulled off a great 3 set show.

As in most things, the music reflects off your mood and opens up to what you want it to. The 3rd set opener "Wharf Rat" which i predicted with the 50 year old former-head-turned-banker i was standing next to, meant so much more to me last night than ever before, especially during:

But I'll get back on my feet someday
The good lord willing, if he says I may
I know that the life I'm livin's no good
I'll get a new start, live the life I should
I'll get up and fly away, I'll get up and fly away

After 4 hours at the Nokia, many of us in a big hippie parade went 30 blocks south for 4 more hours of music lovers crack and watched Particle play for another 4 hours with Guest guitarist Josh Clark from Tea Leaf Green.

Maybe music is escapist in New York, maybe it hides reality, maybe its nothing more than a little entertainment. But, going to shows like these in a city like this is so much the Paradox that makes life fun.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Breakneck Ridge

Even though this Blog and my Farewell Tour are dedicated to the glory of New York City, I decided to take a trip up the Hudson River and explore some of the best hiking available to New Yorkers in the river valley just to the north. Small weekend escapes and little getaways are a big part of life in NYC and unless you go looking for it, you may miss some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, less than an hour away.

Yesterday's destination was Breakneck Ridge, named by in 2005 as the best hike in the country. You can get there by Metro North or by driving to Cold Spring. The ridge is on the almost shear cliffs of Mt. Taurus in the Hudson Highlands State Park. Just north of the ridge are a string of other peaks leading you all the way to Beacon.

The interesting story about this cliff for me is it's location. Across the river is Storm King Mountain and the town of Cornwall, the town where I grew up. All through my teenage years, i spent many hours on Storm King, biking up the world famous rt. 218 (storm king highway) hanging out at "high point" and hiking to the peak. I always wondered about the mountain and cliffs across the river, but never made any attempt to find out what was there. When my buddy asked me to go hiking up Breakneck Ridge i told him that it sounded a lot like the mountain across from Storm King...what luck!

Reading a little about the trail before hand could scare the shit out of any leisure weekend hiker. Every magazine and web-site I found warned hikers of the "arduous and very difficult" level of hike we should expect. Or this little gem from GORP web site :

"If you deviate much from the rock ledges that comprise most of the trail, you'll fall hundreds of feet down the mountain's south face. Utmost care is required on Breakneck and deaths have occasionally been the price exacted for carelessness"

Even after rosy reviews like that, we went out for an early hike. On weekends in good weather, the trail is probably more crowded than we would have liked, but yesterday, on November 1st, a Thursday, on a semi-cloudy morning there was nobody out there but us. In fact we hiked for 6 hours and did not see another person on the train all day.

From the small car pull-off at the tunnel on route 9D, the trail head started at the aqueduct building just north of the tunnel. Immediately, the trail went up, and when I say it went went UP! For the 1st 3/4 of a mile, the hike is almost all a giant rock climb. There were few times in that stretch that i didn't need to use at least one hand to help my ascent and most of the time it was a hand and knees scramble up steep ledges, shear rock face and natural steps heading up the ridge.

It was absolutely amazing. The climbing was exhilarating and challenging to say the least, but what made the physical exertion worth while was the pay off at the lookout points. If you were to design a perfect rock climb, this might be it. Just when you thought your calves were about to explode or your breaths couldn't get any heavier, the trees cleared and the rocks flattened out. There are 5 "knobs" along the path. These are platforms or natural lookout points...or in our case yesterday, resting spots for a sip of water and chance to snap some photographs.

The views of the Hudson Valley are what makes this hike special. Up river you can see the Newburg-Beacon Bridge, Cornwall-on-Hudson and Bannerman's Island. This little island looks like something out of a movie about William Wallace. There are old castle ruins and Gothic structures that make the island a gem for site seers, but visiting the island is a no-no. Bannerman's now owned by the state of new york is thought by both Native American and Dutch settlers to be haunted. Even if it wasn't, there are old weapons and other remnants buried on the island that makes for a dangerous trip.

Looking south you can see the lower Hudson valley and West Point. The most striking view and the one that keeps people climbing the ridge is that of Storm King Mountain. Storm King is the most unique and recognizable natural site along the river and the sheer cliffs broken only by the cut of the highway halfway up makes even the most experienced outdoorsmen stop and appreciate the sculpting powers of the glaciers that once ruled the landscape.

Once on top of Breakneck, there is a trail that takes you down a less arduous trail back down towards the least that's the theory. We missed the turn off!!! We kept hiking up and down other peaks and valleys for the next 5 hours, until we finally came to the highway about 2 miles from where we should have. What should have been a nice 3 hour hike over a 2.5 mile trail, ended up being over 6 hours and probably closer to 8 miles. I looked at some trail guides today and found where we went wrong. We ended up hiking over South Beacon Mountain, the highest in the region. Oh well, we went out for an adventure and we got one. My bad ankle may be a little angry that we went so far off trail, but i am glad we got to see the rest of the area.

Final analysis: Although Breakneck Ridge is not as hard and dangerous as the trail mythology would like to make you believe, it is a physically demanding hike, but on of the best you'll find...especially this close to NYC.

Check out some photos: