September 22, 2010

Triborough State of Mind

I've got the Triborough Bridge on my mind.

I'd driven across it plenty of times on my way back from Upstate, until I discovered the magical, toll-less Third Avenue Bridge which circumvents the traffic and dumps you out right at the FDR.

I planned to walk across it from Randall's Island once, but the walk across the 103rd St. Bridge and the subsequent mini golf game and feeble attempt in the batting cages exhausted my adventurous spirit.

I'd always kind of liked it, the way it connects the three NYC boroughs of the Bronx, Queens and Manhattan (and Randall's Island!), and have directed taxis to take me home from LaGuardia Airport to Manhattan across it.

And now, after seven years in Brooklyn and Manhattan each, I'm living in my third borough of New York City, in Astoria, where the Triborough Bridge releases travelers into the middle of the Queens borough.

I could walk across the Triborough Bridge now, but where would I be going?

The bridge was recently renamed the RFK Memorial Bridge, after the fallen hero Bobby Kennedy, and all the street signs have been changed. But I refuse to call it that. It will always be the Triborough Bridge to me.

Friday night I ambled down to Astoria Park from 30th Avenue to check out the pool (which I never got to before it closed for the season) and photograph the sunset, and I found myself right underneath the Triborough Bridge, rattling its street-level doors, inspecting the scaffolding that prevents climbers from getting too high. I stood beneath the bridge, stepping left to its south and right to its north, watching as the setting sun peeked out from and hid behind the Manhattan skyline, its golden rays ribboning the darkening, cloud-streaked sky.

Others - presumably locals, my neighbors - jogged by, walked their dogs, waited in parked cars for their kids to return from the playground, their downturned gazes accustomed to the view. But my eyes were cast upward, outward, into Manhattan, which I now must call "the city." I tried to squint past the skyscrapers, past New Jersey, past the entire country to where I imagined the sun was setting into the earth, into the Pacific Ocean.

I suppose bridges began to mean less in the advent of subway tunnels - just as much of the once-necessary ferry service cross both rivers has been decommissioned - but when you're above ground, you know where you're going. And you can stand at one end of the bridge, and see how to get to the other side, if you only had somewhere to go, something to do there. Some reason to go and never come back.

In Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero sits on a bench on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, dreaming about how to get out of his native Bay Ridge, bringing dates to that bench so he can tell them all the trivia he knows about the bridge. Part of the tragedy is, that bridge connects Brooklyn with nothing but...Staten Island. Which is just as nowhere as where Tony's coming from. But, for him, it's a way out, a conduit to something else, anywhere else - and a physical representation of his dream.

Of course, when he actually does get out, it's by riding the subway all night long...He spends a lot of time goofing around on the bridge with his friends, but he never actually crosses it. But without that bridge to attach to, he might have never gotten on that subway at all.

I'm left to wonder whether putting my dreams onto the Triborough Bridge will take me out of Queens, where I really don't want to be, or just lead me in circles throughout New York City, perhaps depositing me into a fourth borough (the Bronx)?

I drove a rental van across the Queensborough Bridge - a bridge I have walked across - to move to Queens. What conduit will be my way out?

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