Monday, October 5, 2015


Photo by April

Great God, the only bridge of power, life and joy, the bridge that was a span, a cry, an ecstasy - that was America.'  Thomas Wolfe

I was only on the bridge once.  Some friends were visiting from Texas and we decided to walk from my apartment east of Prospect Park down to the bridge and across into Manhattan.  We took a slightly roundabout way, walking down Washington Avenue through Fort Greene, so that I could show them some of the architecture of Brooklyn and one of the oldest schools.  A walk that would have been about five miles became six, and by the time we walked into Chinatown in Manhattan and down to the Wall Street district was quite a bit longer.  But it was worth the walk.  It was always worth it.

There we were on the top level of the bridge – the part totally given over to pedestrian traffic – with the wind coming off the river and the mystic rise of the steel cables like harp strings soaring above us.  The cathedral-like arches standing there more than a century and the wooden sidewalk like a shoreline boardwalk beneath our feet and the whole of New York Harbor in our vision.  Miles and miles of water with tankers anchored in the deepest parts, water taxis scurrying across from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and the Staten Island Ferry in the distance gliding past the Statue of Liberty.  Seagulls soaring and perched and light glinting on the windows of the buildings in all the boroughs – from this place, all five boroughs can be seen.    

Traffic, cars and trucks, cross the bridge on the level below the pedestrian walkway.  No trains cross on the bridge.  All train travel is on the Manhattan Bridge right next to it.  And actually, I preferred looking at the bridge to standing on it because any time of day in any kind of weather the bridge is beautiful to look at.  At night the string lights outline its main cables so that it’s always visible in the darkness.

Photo by Wallyg
Skateboarders, skaters, and cyclists also use the pedestrian bridge and they have the expectation that anyone on foot will get out of their way.  I was almost hit by an aggressive cyclist who screamed at me “MOVE MOVE MOVE,” then gave me the finger because I wasn’t fast enough for him.

By that time, I had lived in New York long enough to know that a Native New York bike rider would not have sounded like that.  The guy could have come from New Jersey, Illinois, or Wisconsin, but he wasn’t raised in New York City.  Not that New Yorkers aren’t rude, they sure can be, but they are so used to tourists and delays and dysfunction that the language might have been the same, but the tone of voice would have been very different, less bitchy and more dramatic, and I would have moved much faster.

But that is part of the rhythm of the City.  The millions of personalities that touch it every day.  And what I learned as I lived there, instead of just visiting, is that I must keep moving along, like the river, like the traffic on the bridge, like the subways and the escalators that descend down to them -- even when they break the feet keep moving down, keep moving.  The City feels indifferent because it keeps moving, but how else would millions of people be fed and sheltered and kept warm if the City stopped.

[Clips from Ken Burns’ documentary about the bridge can be found here: ]

Post by Alana Cash

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