Yesterday turned out to be epic. I made it up onto the walkway of the George Washington Bridge. I went up to see something I guess I’ll never be able to see again: An unobstructed view of the Hudson River. On account of the suicides that seem to plague that bridge it’s been decided that a fence will be set up across the entire span. They did this on the Queensboro years ago. I remember that fence being put in place, but I don’t think they closed the walkway for the time it took to install it. The GWB walkway will be closed completely for at least three months, but the path on the north side will be open. I have driven over that bridge a number of times but I’d never tried the walkway. I used to live right across the street from where the entrance to the walkway is today. I don’t think that entrance was in that place when I lived there 25 years ago. I have pictures of people walking over that bridge and they appeared to have entered from somewhere toward Broadway. Doesn’t matter…
The path is dangerous on account of all the bikes. I came damn close to getting mowed down by three bikes. I guess it would have been my fault if it happened but it’s not like I was willfully negligent. I was looking over the railing at the river far below. This made me a bit nauseous, and dizzy. I backed away slowly so as not to further that sense of unease. I swear I looked but did not see anybody coming. Next thing I knew three people were screaming at me and I felt myself bracing for impact. I never saw their faces. Amazingly there were no obscenities, which to me is synonymous with bicyclists.
The bridge walkway is pretty open. Photography is allowed, unlike on the RFK/Triborough. The suicidalists are spoiled on the GWB, at least compared to the Triborough. They actually get telephones that connect to a live counselor. No such phones exist on the Triborough despite the former presence of a sign saying that a LIFENET phone could be found 150 feet ahead. That sign is now gone.
I walked past the old apartment building on Cabrini Boulevard. A few years ago, when I had the paid subscription to ancestry.com, I looked up one of the roommates I had when I lived there. It appeared at the time that he was still in that apartment, 20+ years on. I had half a mind to ring his doorbell yesterday and see if he remembered me, but I did not.
The walkway on the GWB contains one sign after another imploring people not to jump. In a strange way it felt to me like some kind of graduation ceremony. I saw the signs as entertainment and morbid affirmation for those who come truly driven to jump. One sign said “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” I saw that and thought that you can’t grow anything on rocks.
It is an excellent view from up there. I mean I don’t really care about beautiful views but on that basis I think it was worth the trip. The bridge has a distincly open feel about it after you get past the initial twisty-turny narrow part.
From the GWB I walked up to the Bronx, checking in on the other apartment I lived in at Broadway and 216th Street. That’s Inwood. The building looked the same but now it has a liquor store on the ground floor. That would have been convenient. Hah. There are also giant billboards for vodka and Hennessey on the wall outside my former apartment.
Some years ago I got into a correspondence with someone who e-mailed me to say that she thought she was living in my old apartment. She was not. She lived right next door. But it was an interesting and random correspondence. I have pictures on my web site of that old apartment, with the street address. She looked up the address on a search engine and found me that way. I think she had motives besides randomness in contacting me but we never met in person. She had awesome boobs.
I found what I believe are the northern most payphones on Manhattan Island. One is at Broadway and Isham St., the other is at Sherman Avenue and Isham. That area felt real. People were sitting outside on their foldable chairs blasting Spanish music loud as hell and making themselves comfortable. That’s what Washington Heights used to be like. But this was Inwood.
I remembered more than I thought I would, from big things to subtleties such as the slight curve in the road at Broadway and 211th Street. That bend in the road was my daily comma when I walked to or from the 207th Street A train station.
One thing there was none of when I lived up there was a Starbucks. Actually I don’t think there were any Starbuckses in NYC in 1992. But aside from a McDonald’s and maybe a C-Town there were no chain outlets to speak of up there. That’s changed. I read once that you could have bought a one or two bedroom condo in Inwood for about thirty or forty thousand dollars in the early 1990s. Today those units would go for 20 times that if not more.
Oh but the real surprise (zipping back to WH) was the GWB Bus Station. I never entered the place when I lived there, even though it was right across the street. At the time it had a reputation for being a shit house, even worse than the Port Authority. The closest I came to experiencing the low lifes that lingered there was when I walked past outside. Someone trailed me for two blocks asking for money. I said nothing to him. This upset him. He repeatedly said “Don’t ignore me. Don’t just ignore me. Don’t do that!” He seemed genuinely offended and hurt by my silent treatment.
I don’t know if the bus station inside was as bad as I heard but today the place is squeaky clean and utterly spotless. If I ever need to take a bus anywhere (I hope I don’t) I’ll keep the GWB station in mind. Anything would be better than the dungeon of the Port Authority but the GWB is positively respectable. It’s also quite a bit smaller than I expected.
I never went anywhere to speak of in Washington Heights. The area was considered dangerous back then and being white made me an ASSHOLE. People handing out fliers on the corner would call me “WHITE!” when I did not take their piece of paper. “YOU’RE WHITE!” The only place I remember going up there was the C-Town at 207th Street. The fact that I lived 3 blocks from street # 181 was not a kismet anecdote until years later.
As I exited the 175th Street A train station I remembered a time I came back from being out of town for a few days. It was the 4th of July weekend in 1992. I went to Philadelphia for a few days to see a friend from college. As I exited the subway station I noticed that the street and sidewalks were covered by an inch or so of shattered glass and general garbage. The windshields for some of the parked cars were smashed to smithereens. I noticed that for some reason a lot of blankets and sheets were hanging out of some of the apartment windows. I would later interpret these sheets as a sign of surrender. I saw all this and thought there must have been one hell of a party for this Independence Day. I got home, turned on the radio, and learned there had been riots while I was gone. Big league riots. These were in response to the police shooting of Jose Garcia. This was not long after the Rodney King riots in LA. It was no secret that vapors of those riots fueled what happened in New York. It was scary shit. I stood in my apartment, which looked right out at the GWB, and saw police officers warming up for combat with a bunch of protesters who threatened to take over the bridge and shut it down. The cops were swinging their billy clubs like baseball bats, preparing to beat the snot out of anyone who came near them.
If my memory is correct the protesters never actually made it to the bridge.
One sparklingly vivid memory of that apartment was from the first room I stayed in. I was in a room across the hall for maybe 2 months before moving to the room with the bridge-facing window. Through one of the windows in that room I could see directly into a room in the building next door. It appeared to be a laundry sweat shop. Any time I looked there were 6 or 7 women doing laundry, seemingly 24 hours a day. I wish I got pictures of that, and of the police officers doing their warmups. Never enough pictures.
I remember being in that room when word came across the radio that Mikhail Gorbachev had “resigned”. I did not know more than any common person about Communism and the Soviet Union but when I heard the radio say he had “resigned” I thought “That doesn’t sound right.” It struck me as a sanitized announcement. Somewhere around here (or in storage) I still have the New York Times from the next day. The headline was something like “GORBACHEV STEPS DOWN, ENDING COMMUNISM’S 74-YEAR REIGN.” My dad, probably borrowing the line from talk radio, said that Communism was the biggest hoax of the 20th century.
I called my mother after I learned that Washington Heights was under siege. She had not heard about it either but, coincidentally, right when I called the story came across on the nightly TV news, which she was watching. I did not have a television at the time so she relayed to me what they were saying, adding that it looked pretty damn scary. I was giving her play by play of what was happening outside my window, with the cops swinging their batons and sirens screaming everywhere. In the midst of that I saw a well-dressed man with an attaché case scurrying about on 178th Street, looking busy and oblivious to all things. He was awesome. My mother laughed at my description of him.
If I never went anywhere but the supermarket in Washington Heights it was on account of the area’s reputation. In Inwood I never went any place because there was nothing there. There was a bar across the street called Bakersfield but I did not go to bars back then. I remember going to a diner somewhere near 207th Street. I ordered a cheeseburger and for whatever reason I barely ate any of it. The waiter did not say anything but his heaping scorn was palpable. Ah, memories. I also remember shopping for housewares and such at a hardware shop called DICK’S. The shopping bags from that store said “I LOVE TO SHOP AT DICK’S.”
Yesterday I spotted a number of pubs and such that I never noticed when I lived up there. I ate at a diner that looked like a place from the 1980s. It reminded me of Valdosta, where my dad lived for a couple of years when I was in grade school. Dad memorably declared Valdosta to be an “armpit of humanity,” a verdict which later evolved into an “asshole of humanity.” I don’t remember why he had to live there when he did. That was before he walked out on our mother (and us) so it was obviously work-related. Strange to think of it now. Lucky for us we didn’t have to move there with him, I guess.
Got altogether lost in Fort Tryon Park. At one point I thought I was at 200th Street but don’t think I was even at 190th. Remember thinking that if I could find Indian Road then I would know where I was. It was lost on me that Indian Road is at the edge of Inwood Hill Park, that place of my salad days where I rolled around in the grass playing with bullets I found in the dirt. That’s also where I discovered the caves of Manhattan, which at the time were inhabited by Santaria practitioners. Whoosh, that was eye-opening.
I walked from here to Columbus Circle, and got the A train express to 175th. The walk took about an hour, the train from Columbus Circle was probably 15 minutes. The train back from 207th Street to Port Authority took TWO HOURS. My ass hurt the whole day but it feels alright today. I had some trouble with stairs but today’s ass is positively positive. At the moment the asscheek that hurt yesterday would be my western ass. My eastern ass has never been a problem. It’s always the leftmost ass that gives me trouble.
I rediscovered Overlook Terrace. I discovered that heavenly sounding street when I went up to Don Garvelmann’s place. I have to have passed his old apartment building on Fort Washington Avenue but I would have no idea which one it was. I think I went to his place 3 or 4 times. He died there. It was soon after 9/11 and on account of stretched resources he was not found for what appeared to be several days. I thought of that years later when someone at Sunswick shared the tale of an elderly man who dropped dead in the apartment upstairs from him. It was a hot summer and the dude’s body melted. Flesh came dripping down into the Sunswick friend’s apartment. I remember this person being guarded about telling me this story because he knew that my father had recently shot his brains out.
Ah, that reminds me… In the context of hearing that the GWB walkway would be closed for 3 months I caught a bit of wisdom that was lost on me. I believed the conventional wisdom that jumping off a high bridge into the water below was the closest thing to a painless death as one could ask for. The spine snaps (assuming you land right) and death is instantaneous. Wrong. In fact it is possibly the most painful way to die. You don’t die instantly. That doesn’t even make sense. Your spine snaps but your brain survives, unable to tell your body what to do. It’s like you are being electrocuted but that’s not what kills you. You drown because you can’t move your fucking arms or legs. The only worse way to go would be crucifixion. That takes 3 days for you to die as your lungs colla