Friday, August 28, 2009

Photo Essay: Coney Island, After Astroland

It's not what you think. Coney Island is still Coney Island. The parachute jump is still lit up at night. The big Wonder Wheel keeps on turnin'. The Cyclone rumbles away with the sound of cracking wood and the silent screams of the few dedicated passengers who ride it repeatedly despite their diagnosed whiplash conditions.

But Astroland hangs in the air, suspended in time between them. Some of the rides are gone, but many still stand, unlit, unbleached by the sun, unvandalized and unrusted. The yellow flag for Pony Rides still flaps on its strings. A cotton candy machine almost looks open for business. But they are all boxed up in a chainlink fence, with laser printer signs marking the area "CLOSED."

Still, barkers still bark. Seagulls still squeak.

Deno's Wonder Wheel park























And the El Dorado Auto Skooter was open, ready for me to bump my ass off.

After that, I was ready to dance the night away with Donna Summer at the final installment of the (free!) Seaside Summer Concert Series.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Coney Island's Last Friday of the Summer (September 8, 2007)
High On Coney Island (September 6, 2008)

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

No Suit Required


"We'll stop and see if the water is shallow enough to get out here," John said as he turned off the motor to his small boat, big enough to fit four and downright roomy for the three of us.

John and Edith both dipped their half kayak paddle into the water and chimed together, "Nope, too deep." We'd left John's kayak strapped to his Jeep's hardtop, favoring speed over rowing.

But when John pulled the ripcord to start up the boat again, nothing. Yank yank yank, nothing. No rumble, no put-put-put, no roar. Just John's arm slicing through the air, to no avail.

"Don't worry, we'll float back," he assured us, but I was less worried about getting back to his boat clubhouse in Lambertville, NJ than I was about not getting the chance to swim in the Delaware River.

"We'll paddle just to keep from bumping into things," John instructed, steering us away from rocks and trees and shore and other obstacles.

We all sat silent for a while, having chatted heartily on our way up-river and back at the clubhouse during the club's annual chicken BBQ, drinking John's homemade raspberry wine and flavor-injected chicken. We'd stuck around just long enough to see if we'd won anything in the raffle, and when we didn't, we'd made a beeline for the shore.



John tried a few more times to start the motor, but true to his word, we were floating pretty steadily downstream back to our starting point, so we weren't concerned. We approached a small tributary on the New Jersey side of the river, and heard a distant rushing waterfall before spotting a tiny, muddy beach ripe for anchoring in. In no time, my board shorts were off, pink-and-gray river shoes on, and I in the water, trying to not trip over the rocks and tree branches by the shore before the sharp dropoff that put me neck-deep in the river.

Whatever fed that waterfall made our little cove freezing cold, but once we swam out into the sun-exposed part of the river, the water warmed up by ten or fifteen degrees, at least. The stream that had taken us down-river to this point felt tremendous when swimming against it. We tried standing in it but were soon swept away. I tried swimming upstream and, paddling as hard as I could, only maintained my position, running to stand still.

John was fiddling around for a while, docking and anchoring the boat onto the beach, while Edith and I swam. When he finished, he approached the water, hands on hips, in his powder blue polo shirt and cargo shorts. Unlike us, he'd forgotten his swimwear, but standing knee-deep in the water, he declared, "I'm going in anyway."

Once he got over the submersion into the low temperature, John chatted away with Edith while I zoned out a little, practicing my floating technique, arcing my arms and legs back and forth snow angel-style as the current spun me around. I listened to the falling water, crashing not too far from where we were, and remembered visiting Chittenango Falls with Liz Green in college, taking off our tops and standing under the water that pounded on our backs, shoulders and chests like fists. We hadn't brought suits either, and drove home with the windows down in wet shorts and bras, our shirts dry and thrown in the backseat.

Or one summer in Syracuse, when a bunch of us tried to go to the beach just past twilight after it closed, and were summarily asked to leave by the police. Desperate to get in the water, we plotted to invade the local pool supply company, where the boyfriend of one of the girls in our group worked, and where we knew there would be functional floor model pools, fully equipped with filtration and chlorine. I hadn't brought a suit so I borrowed a pair of Maria's shorts and wore them unbuttoned with my satin purple bra, the only nice bra I owned at the time. We frolicked like nymphs in the water until a coming storm lit up the black sky above, ending our evening early.

Back in the Delaware River, I was glad we found our way into the water, especially having not jumped off Warren's pontoon during my last visit. And although riding the bull on our Lehigh River raft got me plenty wet the weekend before, I'd been itching to swim in something other than the hectic gym pool where hairless pro swimmers splash water in my face and leave me doggy-paddling in their wake.

Of course, swimming as a naturalist has its drawbacks. Something tried to bite Edith underwater (for once, not me), and John recoiled from something dastardly that turned out to be a big leaf. A big, brown, hard-shelled cicada went floating on his back past us on the surface of the water, still singing his song. And unfortunately for us, the sun was setting, casting its final magic hour rays through our wet hair and into our gleaming eyes as we squinted less but smiled more.

We let John give the motor one more try before emerging from the river ourselves, dripping with life and adventure, plopping our wet bodies back into the boat. John and Edith once again hoisted their paddles, led us downstream and maneuvered us back into John's docking area. With a quick wave goodbye to the fellow boat club members, we zipped away in the Jeep, kayak still teetering above, peering over the windshield and rattling over bumps in the road.

kayak

On the train ride back to New York, I scratched my hairline and a piece of the river fell onto my chest. Showing it to Edith on the tip of my forefinger, I urged her, "You have to shower tonight, look." But, hypocrite that I am, I didn't shower when I got home. Dirty hair and all, I slept in my bed coated in river, not wanting to wash it off of me.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Naturalist Urban Wanderer Seeks Same

I haven't been too keen on leaving my apartment over the last week. No, it hasn't been the 90+ degree weather, or a daily hangover from too much partying. I just decided to take a little break from the city after a mildly harrowing experience in one of its parks last Friday.

People always tell me, "You shouldn't go there alone," but what am I supposed to do? I could have gotten grabbed in Syracuse or Connecticut or New Jersey or Philly or DC or Chicago or carjacked in LA. I'm not "safe" anywhere. At some point, I have to just suspend my disbelief and trudge on, alone or not.

Sometimes the solitude is what I'm looking for, like my many hours spent out in the desert while I was staying out in Joshua Tree. But often, other people really make the adventure so much better, like crossing a flooded bridge or climbing up a water tower in the rain. So I was really glad when Joe beckoned me to Long Island, to go explore the Gold Coast with him. Joe has always been a friend who's up for anything ("You want me to jump out of a plane? I'll jump out of a plane"), and it turns out he likes wandering around looking at stuff about as much as I do.

Along Long Island's north shore, you can find many Great Gatsby-era mansions and estates - some in ruins, some open to the public as museums, and some still private residences. We stopped first at Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt's home during his presidency until his death in 1919. My recent travels owe a lot to Teddy Roosevelt, who federalized conservation to found the National Parks Service, the Forest Service, and so on - preserving wildlife and wilderness, conserving natural resources, and giving people unprecedented access to the sites. (Edward Abbey would disagree with me here, but I think what Teddy did was a very good thing, otherwise man would have bulldozed, deforested, stripped, and harvested everything away.) It's fitting that his home was turned over to the NPS to operate it as a National Historic Site, giving hourly tours to families and seniors even in the summer, despite maintaining the house without air conditioning for historic accuracy.

Located in Cove Neck just outside of Oyster Bay, Sagamore Hill once boasted uninterrupted views of Cold Spring Harbor and Oyster Bay Harbor a half mile away, but neighboring houses planted trees for privacy, obstructing the view (and the breeze) from the rocking chairs on the back porch. Paying our respects briefly at the property's pet cemetery, Joe and I climbed down a short, woodsy nature trail to get down to the water via a boardwalk.

pet cemetery

We stood on the shell-lined shore for a while, hands on hips, breathing in the sea air and listening to the rushing water. The shore is full of shells too broken for bare feet, barnacles that crunch underfoot like the West Shores of the Salton Sea. You can't hear the traffic there, just water, and boats from a nearby yacht club.



We had to eventually turn back and climb back up the nature trail, back out into the burning hot sun that soaked our faces and backs. We hopped in the car and headed down Northern Boulevard to Roslyn's Nassau County Museum of Art, whose outdoor sculpture garden is a sprawling treasure hunt of public art. From the stone dogs guarding the formal gardens to looming shapes and figures cast in bronze and reflecting the sun in mirrored glass mosaics, we investigated every weird thing we saw, sometimes not sure if what we were looking at was art or not.

formal gardens

There are a few nature trails there too, but we chose to stay out in the open as the sun's dramatic angle cast shadows of ourselves on the paved paths, and of the sculptures on the rolling green lawns that we climbed up and down in search of treasure across as much of their 145 acres as we could cover. One of the more puzzling sites was a tower, several stories high, covered in wood siding and accessible only through a locked door. Joe looked up and called out "Rapunzel?!" to no response.

tower

Was it one of their 50 sculptures in the permanent collection or on loan? We suspected it was more functional than that, but for what? Protection? Espionage? (Ed: I've emailed the museum to ask.)

We ended our day on one of the quiet park benches in the garden, the sun no longer beating down from overhead, and a bit of that cool North Shore breeze rolling in. It was too late to squeeze a visit to Sands Point for more mansions/castles, but that's OK. It's nice to have a plan for another day of traipsing around the farther reaches of the city.

And it's nice to know I have somebody to do it with every now and then.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Getting In the River

OK, enough of this walking along the river, crossing the river, and riding on top of the river. It is time to GET IN.

I dabbled in the river when I took the flooded Shore Trail along the Palisades Interstate Park, and walked barefoot on the Hudson riverbed, but wet feet, smooth rocks, and splashed ankles were merely a tease.

Yesterday, needing an escape from the city after my narrow escape from a city park attack, Edith and I joined the Adventure Society on their bus trip to the Lehigh Valley to go rafting at night down the Lehigh River near Jim Thorpe, PA, with hopes of catching a glimpse of the annual Perseids meteor shower.

I'd never been rafting at all, and water sports terrify me more than those of land and air. I didn't learn to swim until I transferred from Catholic school to public in fourth grade, and as a result had more than one near-drowning incident. Thankfully, now I love to swim, but I think I have made peace only with chlorinated swimming pools inside concrete walls, and not with open natural waterways like rushing rivers or, say, the ocean.

In fact, rafting was one of those adventurous activities that I think most of my friends already had done - including Edith - so once again I had some catching up to do.



After a three hour bus ride brought us to Pocono Whitewater Adventures, at the gateway to the Poconos (also witness to my skydiving and snowmobiling excursions), we got suited up in splash jackets, life preservers, and paddles, and boarded another bus - a muddy, bumpy, water-stained school bus - that brought us to the boat launch on the Lehigh River, a tributary of the Delaware River north of Allentown, through the Lehigh Gorge State Park. Our inflated blue rafts were lined up along the shore, waiting for us to twist our ankles along the shore rocks and push them out to sail.



Twilight was approaching when we launched, outfitted in glow necklaces for when it got darker and we fell (or were pushed/pulled) out of the boats. The crickets had already begun to sing, and the bats' day's-end divebombing dance was in full swing. With about 30 of us total, 5-7 passengers in each boat that silently drifted down the water, we felt surreal, exploring in the dark, better not to see what perils await...

Even at night, especially with the emerging stars above, the river is a scenic one. It's relatively calm with little white water, so to conjure up some excitement, our guides instigated paddle fights, water bucket tosses, and passenger piracy, grabbing girls by the shoulders out of the boats and claiming them as their wenches. Our guide, Todd, was one of the more mild-mannered ones, and made sure we had a fun ride and really got to feel the water beneath us, even letting me hoist up at the front nose of the boat, grab onto a strap, and "ride the bull" over the last patch of rough waves which normally knock people back into the boat. "Way to hold on!" he congratulated me, but considering the biggest waves only dislodged me from my seat a little bit, I figured that's what he told all the girls...



As night enveloped us, masking the rocks in the river and the tree branches dangling from above the shoreline, we listened to the lapping of the water against our boat, and the slapping of our guide's paddle as it cut through the surface, pushing us forward, backward, and in circles, and even bumpering us into a bridge pillar for a little thrill. We'd sometimes drift way ahead of the other boats, or maybe way behind, and hear the distant cry of someone being tossed into the river, their glow necklace bobbing up and down.

We had a nice, leisurely, (mostly) tranquil trip down the river for over three hours, interrupted only by the occasional reminder of civilization: the traffic crossing the bridges above us, the headlights of cars parked on the shore, and the blinding fluorescent beams coming off of the occasional billboard or warehouse. At times, it was so bright, we couldn't see the stars above at all, though we constantly craned our necks to catch even a glimpse of a meteor shower, or at least just one shooting star...My raft-mates saw something - maybe Perseids - but I missed it. The only thing that sparkled before my eyes were the fireflies, and the burning embers of the campfire that greeted us upon our return on the school bus.



Fresh out of our wet clothes - and we sure did get wet - we sipped peach chardonnay and nibbled on cheese, crackers, and dip while we reclaimed our land legs. Edith roasted marshmallows for our s'mores, careful not to lose them to the blazing fire that kept us warm in the cool, mountain air. Couples nuzzled and dozed, while others got a little tipsy on beer and wine. As one of the guides pulled out her guitar and sang Leonard Cohen, I turned to Edith and said, "If I have to go back, let's just go now. Otherwise I'm moving here."

I slept most of the way home, waking up at 10th Avenue and 57th Street with a heavy heart. As much as I longed for my own bed, I also wanted a prolonged adventure: more water, more rapids, more wine, more marshmallows, and someone to nuzzle. Instead, I returned home, tried scrubbing the mud off my water shoes, rinsed the river out of my bathing suit, and showered away all traces of my day, descending into dreams that only happen when I'm sleeping.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

A Narrow Escape

Let me just put this out there, foregoing all suspenseful narrative structure: I was grabbed in Inwood Hill Park today.

I managed to escape with my life and my possessions, but something inside of me died back there.

I'd chosen to spend the day outdoors in the gorgeous, sunny weather instead of meeting up with old co-workers for drinks. The last time I'd attended a happy hour sponsored by my former employer, I was mauled by one of the young assistants, who drunkenly threatened to give me a "cunt punch" (with accompanying gesture) and then placed his palm over my mouth when I tried talking to someone else. I decided not to subject myself to that kind of treatment again this afternoon (especially considering the circumstances under which I left my last job), and instead go to the park, where I could enjoy nature, and a bit of solitude.

After my treks through many of New York City's parks, which often have placed me frighteningly alone in deep woods, I thought I would take it easy with a little meander through the park at the very tip of Manhattan, in Inwood - a neighborhood which, as I discovered last weekend our walk through Fort Tryon, is quite nice, and not as foreboding as the neighboring Bronx. Inwood Hill Park promised a salt marsh, stunning views of the Palisades and of Henry Hudson Bridge, as well as the northern terminus of the Harlem River - plus a rock marking the historic purchase of Manhattan island, supposedly in the exact spot on which it happened.



The park entrance at 218th Street was bright and airy, full of families lighting their charcoal, bicyclists, and Canadian geese.

There aren't technically hiking trails in the park, just running and biking paths, which is perfect for the kind of stroll I was looking for. I headed north on one of the paths to the base of the Henry Hudson Bridge, hoping for a footbridge but instead encountering a lot of construction (and a sign from 2007 a little farther in, saying that the HHB pathway would be closed for three years). Although I was looking for nature and solitude, I felt safe seeing the Parks Department trucks parked along the pathway, saying hello to a couple workers hauling two-by-fours and sweating under their hard hats. (At least one of their projects was installing or rehabilitating fire hydrants in the park.) "Nice day..." we said to each other, as I plodded along, hoping that the path wouldn't be closed like so many others around the city had been.

Henry Hudson Bridge

I was following a clear, paved path - wide enough for construction trucks - along the westernmost perimeter of the park. At the end of the construction, where the final truck was parked, I could have crossed under the Henry Hudson Parkway through a tunnel to go deeper into the park, but instead I went a bit further and to the footbridge that crossed above the Amtrak train tracks to what looked like a riverside park. A nice-looking, athletic man with salt-and-pepper hair was walking his curious spaniel across the bridge towards me and said hello as the dog gave me a sniff. I was hoping for a shot of an Amtrak coming towards the bridge, so I climbed up to its crest and gave a look in both directions. No train, but I startled a man walking up to the bridge from the river's entrance, walking with his arms heavy on each side, holding something that looked like a pair of shorts and smelling like he hadn't showered in a day or two. When he saw me, his face didn't move, except his eyes, which flashed only for just a second. The rest of his face was stone, pushed forward in a kind of pout, empty, disturbing.

footbridge

I didn't like the way that he looked, and since he was lingering on the footbridge, I decided to go back into the park rather than hang out with him there. I backtracked to the tunnel and crossed under the Henry Hudson Parkway, and the man from the bridge followed me, his longer legs bringing him there more quickly than mine could. I saw that what he'd been carrying was actually a blue-and-white striped sweater, which he'd put on. It was a bad sign to me, because I was sweating in my tee shirt, and I could only imagine that he was trying to disguise himself from something he'd already done, or something he was about to do.

In the distance, up the path, I spotted the friendly man with the dog and hiked quickly towards him, so quickly that my shuffle and heavy breathing startled him, excusing himself and letting me pass as his dog continued to explore. I wanted to stick close to him, seeking shelter or at least solidarity to discourage the now-sweatered man from following me any further, but he'd managed to get in between me and the man with the dog and was trudging along, with purpose, without expression.

I slowed down and let him pass me, walking fairly closely behind him so I could monitor his movements. The three of us, and the dog, walked like that for a while, til the sweatered man followed a fork in the path to the left. It was less paved and more remote over there, so I continued south, keeping one eye on the highway below to my right, and turning back occasionally to make sure he was gone.

I was anxious to get out of there, and I was certain if I followed that path, it would lead me to the southernmost entrance to the park, so I stayed the course. I also knew that if I had to, I could run down the steep cliff onto the highway and seek help, especially if chased. The entire time, I knew I was in danger, and I was plotting. Sure enough, I turned around one more time and faced the sweatered man, who again was walking behind me. The dog-walker was nowhere in sight.

We were alone, and his intention was clear. He was not just out for a walk. He was out for me. What did he want? My camera? My money? My soul?

In a last ditch effort, I tried to shake him. I spotted what looked like the ruins of a building foundation, and I veered off to the left to investigate. I only walked a step or two and then turned around quickly enough to be face-to-face with my stalker, who placed each of his hands on each of my forearms and looked at me intensely.

I shook him off and invoked my best set of crazy eyes as I shouted at the top of my voice, "HEY - WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" He uttered something, murmured it, maybe in English or maybe not, and started backing away. I advanced.

"GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"

He didn't run and I didn't chase him. He just backed away, and then retraced his steps at the same pace he'd been walking the whole time. I was clutching onto my camera, desperate to get a photo of him, but terrified at what would happen if he heard the click of the shutter. So I just watched him walk away, shouting obscenities and threats at him. I was convinced that he would turn around and head back for me a second time, so I stood there in place for a while, until he was out of sight.

When I couldn't bear to stand there any longer, I turned around and headed south again, praying for another footbridge or park entrance, which I reached quickly after striding down the winding path a short distance. I kept looking over my shoulder, ponytail swinging, waiting to see him peering at me again, but he was gone, and I was out of the park.

But was I safe? Have I ever been, and would I ever be?

What was he going to do to me? And what was that that he said to me? While walking behind him, I'd examined his hands to see if he was carrying a weapon - a knife up his sleeve or something like that - but they were relaxed, cupped loosely, dangling. Surely in most circumstances like this, I would have been knifed, drugged, beaten, held at gunpoint, raped, slaughtered, dragged through the mud and buried. Was he just an amateur, to be scared off so easily? And if so, what attracted him to me as his first victim in the first place? My nonathletic build? My gender? Am I automatically a prime target just because I'm a woman? As a woman, am I already a victim by nature?

I held it together in the park pretty well, my anger fueling my escape, but once I exited onto the street, I cried a little. I composed myself enough to find the 207th Street subway station, and boarded the downtown A train, cursing that my day had been cut so short. I've thought of death often, have imagined many lovely ways of fading into the abyss - from car crashes, bathtub electrocutions, faulty amusement park rides and overwhelming ocean waves. And I've always said that I do not fear death, which is true. But today, I feared not death, but dying. Worse yet, I feared dying at the hands of another human being, someone who would enjoy my pain, and the extinguishment of my life, my hope, my plans, my potential. I looked all around me on the subway and the bus ride home, examining each face for its own malicious intent, the thoughts that boil inside and cause the feet to plod in despair, destruction, demonic possession. But they all looked the same as they always do, mouthing along to songs on their iPods, mumbling complaints about people who sit too close to them, meeting my gaze and rolling their eyes at my stare.

I couldn't wait to get home, but once I got there, what then? I stopped for a beer and a dozen oysters on the half shell to calm my nerves and procrastinate my return. But eventually, I had to return.

And now that I'm home, what now? What do I do Monday, when the weather is nice, I'm dying to get out, and there's no one to accompany me? Do I stay home? Make do with Madison Square Park, which is embarrassingly small, flat, and overrun by babies and dogs? Get out of town? Get a job? Get a can of mace?

For now, I think I'm staying in this Friday night. I've had enough of New York City's excitement for one day.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summertime Cityscrape

I did laundry today for the first time since returning from California about a month ago. From the looks of my pre-wash bedding and clothes, I am dirty.

New York City sticks to you. It moistens your skin with sweat and a sweet, sticky glaze that attracts every city particle hanging in the air. From dust and dirt to car exhaust, pollen, smoke and soot, a city sediment exoskeleton seals you so tightly inside, you barely notice it's there. Maybe that accounts for the daze we all walk around in, the invisible blinders that leave skyscrapers unnoticed and baby birds crushed beneath our feet.

I have a nervous habit of rubbing the center of the palm of my hand with my thumb from the other hand. In days of summer, showered and clean, without sunblock or insect repellant, as soon as I walk outside, my thumb scrapes a balled-up layer of dirt from my hand. Have I touched anything? No, just the air. But my swinging arms have waded through a muddy puddle and collected pollution along the way.

My nervousness sometimes spreads to my face, where my middle finger will start digging away at my forehead or chin, my temples or the bridge of my nose. I feel the city there, sealing me in, filling my emerging wrinkles and collecting at mouth corner, tear duct, inside nostrils and around hairline. Sometimes I think my face is not my own, in scowling downturn, frozen like that and literally cracking if I try to smile.

It's most noticeable after a pedicure, when lotion-slathered legs draw dirt up from the ground below, leaving dirty footprints on lightly-colored flip flops. The pink you thought you picked for your toes is now a speckled dusty rose, the newly-painted varnish and quick-dry a magnet for the city's till. If you didn't wipe it off, each toe would become its own moraine, building a new city off your body like spores off a fungus, desperate to reproduce. In a move of final desperation, the till collects in the nail bed, giving your pink a fine black outline, only to be removed by the next pedicure.

Showers do not clean the city off of you. Sometimes after a particularly dirty day, hiking only the streets and subways and not even the borough woodlands, I shower right before bed, hoping for squeaky clean sleep. As I descend onto my sheets, I run my hand along neck or shoulder, trying to relax before turning off the light. I flick city off my fingers and switch off into darkness, pulling the sheet over shoulder and into my collar. City clutches onto sheet's threads, never to be removed, even by bleach at laundromat.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Long Walk By the River

Thank God I'm not working fulltime right now and my freelance workload has lightened considerably, because I have been on a veritable treasure hunt in New York City, seeking all that nature has to offer wherever I can look past the concrete and glass to find it.

Oh, it's there, but New York City makes you look for it. Work for it.

Who knew how woodsy the Bronx is?!

Today I took Metro-North past the Bronx, following the Bronx River into Westchester County. It'll be a while before I can really see anything along the river actually in the Bronx, so I bypassed it and headed north instead. This week's weather has been glorious - surprisingly cool - and with thunderstorms predicted for tonight and tomorrow, I had to make the best of the day while I could.

Westchester County's Bronx River Pathway has been recently outfitted with an audio tour narrated by Dan Rather. You can either download it off their website or call a local 914 number to access the commentary along the pathway. Dan Rather's voice is soothing and muffled over the phone, like listening to my father on one of the audio tapes we recorded in his den as kids. I was happy to call him every now and then and listen to propaganda about what a great place Westchester is and how I should donate to the Friends of Westchester County, with a bit of natural and historical tidbits thrown in. No, Dan, I didn't see a cormorant along the banks of the lake, but I did see a huge egret fly by with his neck tucked in.

new bridge

Starting in Scarsdale right by the train station (lucky for me considering my history of never finding trailheads), I meandered about four and a half miles down to Bronxville, mostly along the Bronx River but occasionally crossing streets and highways, passing train stations and following bridges deeper into ancient woods. The towns along the way are residential, the kind of places where affluent benefactors get recognized on park bench nameplates. Some mommies were out for a stroll, and some bikers disregarded the signs telling them to dismount and walk across the bridges (or under the one bridge that was so low it practically scraped the top of my head). I don't think anybody was in it for the long haul like I was.

low bridge

My phone rang. When I answered it, Joe said, "You sound winded. Are you at the gym?"

"No I'm walking from Scarsdale to Bronxville."

"WHY?"

"Because it's a nice day and there's a path here along the river and it's pretty nice and I need the exercise." I couldn't think of a better reason than that, although perhaps I could have answered, "Because I need to find a way to love where I live."

Joe seemed satisfied with the answer I gave him. "Oh, okay."

After we made plans for later tonight (struggling over what to do on a Saturday night in NYC that doesn't involve sitting in a bar), I hung up and went back to the companionship of plenty of ducks, geese, and a couple of sleeping swans.



I purposely chose this path because it was easy to get to (36 mins from Grand Central), and gave me a couple exit strategies along the way in case I tired of it before I reached Bronxville, the southern terminus of Section 2 of the pathway. It's not the most interesting pathway - lacking in ruins (save for some old bridge foundations) and wildlife beyond chipmunks - but it is well-marked and well-paved. After my adventures in Pelham Bay Park and Van Cortlandt Park this past week, I didn't feel like getting scared or getting lost today. Just a long walk.

And a few splashes of color to brighten my day, even when shaded by the woodsy canopy above.



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Friday, August 7, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

I often wish my blog could be called "Where the Wild Things Are" but unfortunately that name was already taken.

Here's the second and newest trailer released for the Spike Jonze movie version, about which I am unspeakably excited.



If player doesn't appear, click here to watch.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Today's Moment of Clarity


Ring-tailed lemurs at Bronx Zoo's Madagascar exhibit

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Alone in A Crowd: Central Park Edition

There are too many people in Central Park. It is so magnificent that it draws residents and tourists alike to its sprawling lawns, eroded boulders and placid lake. All of its secret nooks and meditative coves have been discovered and appropriated. When you walk down a mulch-laden path or under a stone archway and hear a rustle, surely it is not a bird or a squirrel, but a photographing naturalist or a romantic couple canoodling in the underbrush.

I've never spent much time in Central Park, save for one disastrous Chase Corporate Challenge (which I walked), a few Summerstage concerts, and a New York Philharmonic picnic under fireworks. But after examining its map in search of places in the city to explore - an examination that probably contributed to my map-dominated dreams - I decided to give it a try. Feeling a little under the weather when the weather was holding up so well, yesterday I headed out to take an easy walk along the lake.

Of course its west shore was closed for construction.

But I found a nice walk along the north and eastern shores, weaving in and out of the westernmost boundary of The Ramble - the section of Central Park that most resembles wilderness.



A butterfly was about as wild as it got, but it was quiet on the paths that snaked away from the boat-filled, manmade lake. Only when I took winding paths back down to the edge of the water did I rediscover signs of the city: the skyline, and an authoritative woman's voice barking into a megaphone at the boaters, "Keep it moving!"



You can never really be alone in New York City. You're constantly on top of other people who want your seat, don't like the way you smell, wonder how much money you have in your wallet, and think you're out to get them.

But without people (though maybe not those people), New York would be stripped of much of its beauty. Trees need to be preserved. Flowers need to be planted. Bridges need to be stabilized. Lakes may not need to be built in the middle of a city as an urban oasis, but it sure is nice when they are.

bandshell

As I emerged from The Ramble, I tried to appreciate those sites that most people love in Central Park: the food vendors, the street performers, the portrait sketch artists, and the zoo. But I found myself drawn to a neglected stone structure, built nearly 80 years ago and barricaded. The Naumburg Bandshell stands empty while drummers perform out on the mall, for the people, amongst the people.



I didn't talk to anyone, though I nodded in acknowledgement when I passed a bicyclist or jogger, which was often. I gave dirty looks to the women who tried to maneuver in front of me in line at The Boathouse. Chocolate frozen custard in hand, wiping its drippings off my pink t-shirt with the other, I glided through the southeast exit of the park like a ghost, unnoticed and unnoticing.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Bronx River Greenway Gets a Second Chance

I think I'm going to give the Bronx River Greenway another chance.

Maybe it's because I had such a good time in Pelham Bay Park on Saturday (though we didn't see any goats like the ones that had reportedly been crossing the Hutch right by Split Rock).

Or maybe it's because the Bronx River Alliance just released this new map showing an update on all the construction sites along the Greenway (including Concrete Park, which we passed on the 6 train to and from Pelham this weekend).

Click to download map Click here to download a printable version of the map

I'm willing to put aside the frustration from my last visit and try again. After all, construction is a good thing. Before it started, I probably would have been complaining about neglect.

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You Can Definitely See Me

I wrote recently about the scene I shot for the IFC original comedy series Z Rock. The episode aired last night, so here is the clip I promised.

For now, some of the wacky stuff I do - winning game shows, hosting on QVC, working as a featured extra - is just fun. And why not have some fun now, while I'm young and single, not working fulltime?

I don't have any lines in this scene, but as predicted, you can definitely see me. And that's more than I can say for lots of the other work I've done.



I got cast purely based on my looks for this part. They didn't really need more from me than that. I mean, sitting at a table reacting to what's happening around you isn't exactly difficult.

The scene wasn't really scripted (I don't think the show really is, either), and half the time, Marky Ramone had no idea what was happening around him. Z02 lead singer Paulie isn't exactly an actor either - he's just a funny, charming guy with a good set of pipes.

But we all had fun together, and it's fun to see the finished product.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Bronx Redeems Itself


Split Rock bridle path trestle, full of swallow nests

"You guys wanted adventure..." Eric taunted us as he hopped across the bog that the bridle path had turned into. I was back in the Bronx, finally immersed in nature after a way-too-urban trek to the Greenway two weeks before.

We were on our way to Split Rock in Pelham Bay Park, a boulder that had been split by a glacier 10,000 years ago. We'd tried to find the actual hiking trail to no avail, so we took the bridle path instead, under advisement from two riders we passed along the way.

"It'll be too overgrown to see," said the woman we first encountered. Her light gray, spotted horse was a little jumpy and kept walking in circles as she tried to chat with us. "It's a nice walk up there, but it's wet from the storm last night. Just watch out for the mud."

We conferred and decided to take this trail as planned. Famous last words: how bad can it be?

Another rider stopped to chat after passing us twice, on his way up the path and back. He was a bonafide cowboy, with jeans, boots, and hat and white hair prickling out from his chin and lips. "There's a tree down up there blocking the path," he warned. "I can't get around it on my horse but you guys can probably get under it. I'm going to go get my machete to try to clear it."

Now this was adventure! Who knew that such people hung out in the Bronx?

We trudged up the path to the downed tree, which wasn't too bad to get under, but it was only the first of many obstacles we would face on our four-hour saga in the city's largest park.

The cowboy had also warned us that we might encounter a gate - something else he wouldn't be able to get around on his horse, "But you guys probably can. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone," and we all laughed. When we got to the gate, we realized it was a tall, padlocked chain link fence erected for the continuing reconstruction of the bridle path. Eric poked around the side til he found some orange construction netting that had been torn down, making a path for our entry.

Closed bridle path

The closed portion, lined with more of that orange netting, was actually easier to walk on. It was dry, gravelly, and out in the open air with the sun beating down on us. We soon came upon another gate, but this time there was no way around it. Like a true urban explorer, Eric wrapped his fingers around the chain link and pulled the fence up, leaving just enough room for me to do a crab-walk under. Once on the other side, I pulled the fence towards me to allow Edith and Eric under, and as we plodded forward, the bridle path once again became dark, drippy and a little bit drowned.

Like any odyssey, there were a number of challenges that we would meet along the way, although after the two horse riders and after diverting away from the bike path, we soon stopped encountering people altogether. We were never "in the middle of nowhere" - the path follows to the west of the golf course, and to the east of the Hutchinson River Parkway - but when we reached a flooded bridge to cross over the active railroad tracks, we felt very alone.

Flooded railroad bridge

Given my experience at the Palisades Interstate Park last week, my first instinct was to strip shoes and socks and just walk through, but this wasn't an active waterway. The water was still under the buzz of dozens of dragonflies and damselflies, in a rainbow of colors and patterns from black-and-white striped to blue to spotted wings. Concerned that the water might be stagnant and carrying any number of diseases or creatures to feast on our feet, we looked for another way out. Turning back was not an option, but to the left of the bridge lie a steep drop that might bring us back to the Hutch, but probably not across the tracks. To the right, the chain link fence separating us from the golf course was rusted, dismantled in one spot and rose above the ground in another spot - certainly enough room for us to squeeze through. But on a bright, sunny day, the golf course was busy, and we couldn't imagine tumbling out onto it without a clear sense of where to go next.

Back to the flooded bridge. We guessed that if the storm the night before had been strong enough to bring a tree down, it probably had released enough rain to flood the bridge, which was several inches deep in water and mud. Eric tipped a bare foot in and let out a groan. "Cold?" I asked. "No," he said, "HOT."

I stripped off my shoes and socks and stepped carefully in, my foot sinking into a couple inches of mud under the water. It was warm like bathwater, heated by the sun with no tree canopy above (unlike most of the trail). I wanted to run across it but it was too gravelly underneath, so I placed down one careful foot at a time, hoping the water hadn't weakened the bridge. On the other side, Eric sacrificed his white undershirt so we could dry our feet off enough to put them back into sneakers and boots.

"I actually feel a great sense of accomplishment," I announced, and Eric agreed. After all we'd already overcome, we couldn't imagine what other perils our hike might hold in store for us.



After more muddy trudging, the path let out onto a paved opening, and we found ourselves along an inlet of Long Island Sound. We climbed down to the shore for a break, smelling the ocean and spotting an egret. I still couldn't believe we were in the Bronx. Sitting on a rock, I declared, "Something just spit on me," and examined the muddy streak running up my leg. Peering down onto the shell-laden shore, I realized that we were not alone. I found two snails slowly moving towards each other. Amongst all the empty shells that had washed ashore, Eric found one with a mussel still in it, smiling up at him. Edith crouched down, and then with a "Whoa!" announced a geyser down the shoreline. As we departed, we disturbed two hermit crabs which quickly retreated under their respective rocks.

At this point, we should have counted our blessings, and called it a day. Instead, we got back on the bridle path towards the Bartow-Pell Mansion.

The mud we'd encountered up to this point had been merely an appetizer to the course we were about to be fed. I already had one caked sneaker whose muddy encasement was leaking into my sock, but by the time I made it through the next section, I had two soaked feet, a back covered in mosquitoes, and twig scratches all along my arms and legs. We'd been walking pretty gingerly through the woods up to this point, careful of poison ivy and Lyme disease-toting ticks, but on this part of the path, we had no choice. Wishing we had the cowboy's machete with us, we plowed our way through complete overgrowth and full-on muddy flood.




Exclamations like "Oh God" and "Ugh!" had become so commonplace that we'd stopped asking each other if we were OK. A few times, Eric and I thought the mud had finally gotten the best of us, grabbing onto our feet with the suction of quicksand and not letting go. But we always got through it. We hit one totally flooded section, and Eric, undeterred as usual, made his way through it in his hiking boots relatively unscathed, but Edith and I were ready to turn back. We sent him a little farther down as a scout, shouting questions like "What do you see down there?" as though we were in a cave or on an alien planet. Eric, who sounded like he was really far down the path, called back to us, "I think we can get through..." so Edith and I, doubtful but with no choice, crossed the moat.

The path finally released us at the mansion, but we were too tired and harried to explore anymore, so we made a pit stop at the Golf House and then caught the #45 bus back to the subway in the nick of time.

I never had the chance to get lost in the woods as a kid - getting lost is still one of my bigger fears - so once again, I am making up for lost time in a big way. Throughout the day yesterday, though, I wasn't afraid once. And I kept feeling so glad that I had two fellow adventurers to share the saga with. Yes, we wanted adventure, and we certainly got it. Despite the numerous placed in our way by man and nature, we faced nothing that was insurmountable or impassable.

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