Love and Travel

photo(5)I have lived this way for over 10 long years perhaps my entire life.  Moving all the time.  It is a technological miracle that I have to thank and perhaps it is deeply embedded in my roots that are either Gypsies or Tinkers or Cossacks, the very code that some think dictate your every move based on cell memory.  Perhaps it is a reaction to being still for so long.  For being in one place during a number of formative years and I have just not developed as other do.  To move about a little and then as the old people say, to settle down.  I have always been semi nomadic, or is it semi sedentary, I do not know the semantic difference.
There are the things we carry and the things we lose along the way.  They are all with us at some time or another, lined up, on our pack, next to us on a bed.  Some are objects of value, others we toss aside willingly and without thought.  We move and hope it transforms us, we stay still and hope it makes us grow.  We look out, willingly at the bend in the road and wonder what is just beyond that turn, just out of reach.

photo(1)My sibling and I used to make a break for it when our parent wasn’t looking.  We would push out of the house on the junky bikes we cobbled together (mine didn’t have brakes in the back and the other bike had an issue with the shifter gear) and we would make it to Rosedale.  No reason other than to see if we could get there in time, in time for darkness, in time to be home when our parent returned, for no other reason than to make it to another destination, a little village not our own where I think I at least secretly believed that being there would change my life.

We made several attempts.  One time we came back to find the house locked up.  Our parent had returned for something and in anger locked the doors to trap us outside.  We were perplexed as well as concerned at the wrath of our parent.  In time, we found a way in.  A loose window in the cellar.  One of the benefits of having a rambling and decrepit 14 room house is that it is difficult to secure every opening.

Whatever happened, it didn’t stop us.  We continued our task of making it over the mountain and to the next village.  This was before the Googles.  Before the Map Quests and the cellular telephones with the Apps that tell you everything.  We had to remember whence we came and where we were going.  It was like poking in the darkness.  Long roads, we checked out all of them.  Beaver Lane, Crest Road, Elder Post Avenue, all of those then small roads.

We had to take care for the cars.  They did not expect bikes back then.  We knew it was dangerous and coming home was a satisfaction.  Seeing now that it was a scant 9 to 12 miles each direction, it seems so infinitesimal now, that little distance, that desperate escape we made when we could and to this day I don’t believe my sibling was that interested in the journey and more interested in just ensuing I didn’t die.
And I didn’t.  And we got there.  And it didn’t change our lives.

photo(2)After university, I kept moving.  In retrospect the three years I spent at my alma maters was the longest I have lived anywhere in once place.  I spent the academic year there and then worked over the summer, punctuated by an extended three month (or so) trip to Europe, Africa, and almost Asia, if by Asia one considers the Sick Man of Europe to be that long and storied continent.
After University I moved.  Traveled.  Moved again.  I could not ever afford to live where I wanted to play and was always distant from where I had to work.  Again movement and subways and splurge on a cab and a long walk and a subway at night when the bums and the tracks sweat and the only trains on the rails are those that fix them or suck up trash or just come by pumping gas fumes and buzzing and rattling like a wolf in a death throw.

photo(4)And moving and traveling this time to Russia and China and moving ever on and things were lost along the way and things were taken and things were stolen.  I had cats and a garden and a spouse but I could not stop moving.  Commuting ever out, wider and more round concentric circles tossing ever ever out, expanding just so, from Brooklyn to beyond to the far mountains and in the snow as I stood in total darkness, something snapped and I was not right for years to come.

I continued moving.  My home moved and shifted again and work moved and shifted again and we pushed on and I gave up caring for everything for a while and lived in the woods among the owls and the fens and a girl that would come in the darkest part of the night and serve me tea.  By the firelight we would exchange vows in words with only glyphs and speak only in poetry and the sounds that birds make when they are lonely.

photo(3)This was traveling and this was wandering and this was madness and I was in love with it all and I slept on cliffs and welcomed the sun and I swam in cold dark pools without any clothes and I drank at springs and feared in the night when I heard a noise I could not place and i wondered if Buddha or bears or both were to fall upon me in my little stone fort, the one Sam build back in the 1960s and I could not bring myself to confess that I was there, now, too.

And onward on cars skidding about and rushing into the night on motorcycles with young drunk girls and whispering women on the back and finding bars where we were not welcome but we were indeed included as family and on to cities I didn’t want to live in and people I wished to spend the rest of my life with, friends and lovers both and I was torn away.

And there it was in the terrifying night to watch a fawn be born to this world. Right in the road.  And to follow it as it grew up, right before our eyes.

photoBut movement is travel and the sun comes up and this is something that you have to live that dream you had the other night, even if it was stupid.  You have to live through this, even if you know it is bad for you.  The dark night with the owls is a memory again. The voice of a mouse in the other room of some farm house and you want to stay at that farm forever and also, equally, flee.  To see another village.  Another country I will not see again and there stands a boy who tells me his grandfather has gone into town to see God.  It is travel and it is motion sickness and we get on airplanes and visit relatives we knew only from photos and try to condense a lifetime of family into a few days and he said, I will shoot myself when you are gone.  The necklace I bought he looked at, he knew who it was for and he knew my ways since they were once his ways, when he was young.  He had changed his name as frequently as he changed women in his life. I watched whales breach the waters from the deck.  The rush of the surf was away off and I sipped an exotic liquor from the nation of his birth.

The next month after we were gone, he poisoned himself.

photo(7)And back to the routine, to and from work, every day and back to where I live and back out again and to move to run the roads and rails for those you love because you cannot be with them and even after all this work, the labour the spent hours, this too passes since all live if fickle cloud and the shapes of which are shadows on the ground and invented faces in the billowing folds that in a wind then change shape, move on, or worse, dissipate and you cannot imagine what had been there.

And the only thing to do is to move on.  To keep moving but searching for something to hold on to – a post card, a rock from a beach, a shell from the top of a mountain, but these are lost in time and as before there is a suitcase, or backpack, and the road.

photo(6)And the road now is a choice.  Something one does not to run away but to expand.  I will never rejoin the many youths of the many people I have missed along the way, but I have loved them all and miss them all and expanded my own circle to include those I would never have awareness had it not been for movement and travel, and on, and exchange, and sleeping in some unusual places and my aching back in the morning on so many occasions.

This may be that I need escape on that rusty and clattering bike.  It may be simpler.  It may be that my blood is thick with the DNA of some Cossack and I now move because I see it is the best way for me to be alive.

photo(8)Editor’s note; Now, that’s what I call a rant.

The Gothamzee:East River Ferry

photo 2 (2)Dearest Gotham is an archipelago city. It is a port city once connected to the waters by hundreds of spidery arms, piers dipping out to the water and skimming the tides and ice flows. At one point in the history of This Great Land the majority of the Grand Dispensation of Produce (GDP) was floated down the mighty Hudson and stacked and restocked before being shoved across the ocean to then Mater Europa. Then, the city raised it’s drawbridges and withdrew from the waters edge to dwell on the hot pavement and eschew its life aquatic.  The streets became dessicated and the only moisture was that which hung ever in the air.  A seagull perhaps came by, but except for the tolls paid for free movement at the many bridges, little contact with the waters about these mica schist peeks and valleys.

Suddenly, a few summers ago, there was renewed interest in the waters. More were returning to the water to live and play and even more rethinking the city as a castle surrounded by various dangerous moats and wanted to make peace with the waters even if they are still a long time to forgive the city’s industrialism and leaking seeping chemical drip that have produced such toxic dangerous kill zones as the English Kill, Dead Horse Bay, and famed Gowanus Canal.  New life was coming to the water.  New Glamboxes were being tossed up old factories were pushed over with heavy machines, carefully deconstructed, or set ablaze. Something had to be done to move people now living on water’s edge.

photo 3 (2)Churning through the tidal sheen of these still unrepentant waters was a new service for the old East River – the aptly named East River Ferry so named after the left branch of the Hudson River (with your back facing the territory formerly known as Rananchqua).
While Staten Island has for generations and certain gated New Jersey communities for decades enjoyed travel by estuary-going craft for the daily commute, the East River hasn’t had a ferry for generations.  One had to afford an expensive booze cruse if one desired to see the twin cities of Brooklyn and Manhattan from the rip tides and undertows of the fabled East River.  Today the average person can ride this for about $4 each direction, less than a coffee and ham and cheese crescent roll at rather hipster cafes.

My first ride on the river was a bright and hopeful Monday morning on my way to work. While I then lived further out in the still underdeveloped but no longer wild Bushwick, I was close enough to justify transferring from subway to boat as my workplace was a few blocks from the dock.  I was able to excuse myself from the L Train – a packed and ill tempered thin ribbon of a subway that connects the Eastern suburbs of Manhattan to the center of the known universe The Union Square of The City. Excuse me hipster 197th I need to get out at Bedford not in – that last exit in Brooklyn today packed with luxury condos and those blithe and friendly people who spend not daddy’s money on you. Pardon me lady in the not much clothes… I birthed myself from the doors of the subway and shoved gentile but firmly against the lemmings brushing against various tattoos and being almost caught in a few nipple rings or gauges.

Outside I strode to freedom and yet against the coming pedestrian traffic none of whom seemed to know about this new boat.  On on to waters edge pressing ever harder hoping to make that first boat so would not be late to work. I was but moments early and I could see the craft approach. It docked. And we small brave few boarded since this was the trial week and fare was waved for all.  It was very exciting… for a Monday commute.

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I was a up the stairs and outside in the glorious sun. The cool breeze flowed from the distant ocean to push against my brow and I thought of all those packed commuters, makeup dripping, sweat stains appearing in the folds of expensive but iron tee shirts and pressed suits, and hung on to the rail and let Gotham wash over me.  I was abroad a boat. In the river. And it was a marvelous way to travel. We made port at South Williamsburg then crossed down under the  Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges to where I disembarked and provided made my way to work where I felt positive and happy for about five minutes before my colleagues were able to carefully tease the misery and sadness back out of me and put it on display in carefully arranged front of my face.  I survived another day at my employ, I believe I dug a hole and then filled it in again, and was able to once again break free, not have to take the deep and sweaty F train to transfer to the L train to then fight my way home.

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I was able to again board a boat.  A mighty ferry that strode down the middle of the river, the setting of the sun exploding behind the skyline and the bridges rose up as monuments and I was able to see under them, to feel their shadow and ride the churning waves back to Williamsburg and onward to my then and temporary home.  Disembarking I thought of all my ancestors who had lived in Gotham.  Who came to and fro on boats and ventured far away on ships and who even had claimed to have swam in the East River.  I stopped off to take advantage of a happy hour, since I was indeed happy.

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This routine continued for the free trial period.  My rushing from bed to get to the boat to get to work on time.  My rushing from my desk to catch the last boat up river and then… of course… to catch the last Rum Punch of Happy Hour.  When they instituted the fees, I made this a special event rather than a daily occurrence but then I thought shit, I can save $40 from not doing something else.  However, neither did I save $40 elsewhere nor did I stop commuting for the blessed summer past at and I am glad that I did not stop taking that boat since my job, my housing situation, and my life then changed and I am no longer as close to the boat as I wish, but from time to time I still can catch a ride although this time, I ride as a visitor and no longer a commuter

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Editor’s Note:  Imperfections are an indication of authenticity.

Mass Transportation Administration and its Discontents

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Boston, Paris, London of course. Who would have though Bucharest too. I believe I rode the ring in Moscow. St Petersburg/Leningrad/Petrograd. Prague yes, long before it was cool and Budapest before they cleaned the bullet holes and sand patched the holes from the uprising in ’57. Madrid and Vienna maybe, perhaps I am making this up in my mind. Washington D.C. I know I have wandered the vaults and transferred more than a few times on business trips and handshake tours. Perhaps a humble brag but it is to say that I have ridden the rails on quite a few subterranean systems of various ages and states of repair, design, philosophy, and economic structure.

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None of these systems so festering I propose as that system the oozes and goos in the underground pits and pathways of night beneath the asphalt and tarmac of Gothem.

A familiar whipping boy for many a massed set of New Yorkers, the rail system is something we have all learned to understand and accept in our own ways and can agree we all hate. While the news reports this or that official they have arrested for collared crimes of all hue, a number of criminals in the world of sport so rounded up make headlines, they have yet to haul the guillotine out of the Whitney Museum or MoMa or wherever a working copy or original is stored and come for the heads of those powers so in charge of this Eldridge and frothed system of pee, gum, and electrified rails as the MTA.

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Due to an acute case of Toxoplasmosis my memory is faltering and my internet connection non extant underground as I write this so I may not review my opus magnum such as his blog may be, so, Dear Reader, I may have covered this but…

For those of you not acquainted with the transport system we have dug ourselves in this fare city, it is indeed extensive. It runs about here and there except for Queens where all service runs on a single set of tracks. While today supposedly held in the sacred commonweal, it is an amalgamation of various Free Market endeavors all running helter-skelter and in competition that finally had to be scrapped when moving a multitude of sweating and viscous masses became more important to the overall economy of The City. The human wind needed to be pumped to and fro from places of employ to those of recreation, procreation, and hibernation that a massive transportation authority had to be established and all manner of detail coordinated. That, and I believe the IRT went bankrupt and needed a bailout. How times have/n’t changed.

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The system has had it’s ups and downs but one thing is constant. The corruption. Graft, mismanagement, a rank and file of upper management that are headquartered at the most suburban ends of the city and whom commute by SUV from further burbs. The hatred of any system that appears to be in the public trust by those officials housed at the state capital, and the Unions and there high paid bossed and OxyContin culture of sand hogs and brakemen who lumber at the speed of regulated benefits (would that we should have these too).

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Our system of millions of riders a day paying such-and-such per fare and so-and-so in taxes should by this hour have a system of clean and effective trains and the fastest rail system in the world linking the scant, in the long view of the universe, mere 462 miles squared of Gothem from end to end and all islands accounted for.  However, we know better as dwellers of a Great American City.  We know to expect nothing better.  No marble walls and chandlers of Moscow, no rushing efficiency of Tokyo, no grand and storied lines of Paris.  The only thing we have to keep us warm is the safe and loving glow that we know we are many things wrong… but we are not Boston and its decrepit system more a left over of a World’s Fair and troglodyte trolley system…

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This constant fight for reform is better covered in greater detail as while this blogger is as aware of others, that grind of each day maintains my status as a lowly straphanger paying whatever fare is foisted upon the Sheeple.
In the winter these tunnels are cold and icy. In summer they compost the effluvia of mankind and smells of all kinds of methodically placed strange bits of unknown substances.

There is a pulsing madness and every year more people are packed in and the trains seem to run slower and slower and once short distances take longer and longer.

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Rush hour in the morning is a horrific dance of bodies and forced touching – appropriate or not wanted or no. On and off is blocked by door dogs. Large people one to the side of each door. Pole dancers, the people who lean on the poles so others must touch them to hold on to the train. The seats are divided up based on proportions of a generation ago so in between contemporary riders there exists a no mans land, a small gap called Thighland where it seems one may sit but there’s just not enough room between the legs of others. The list goes on.  Stair stoppers, sick passengers, Showtime, the Police, the bands, the beggars, That Girl, That Guy…  The complains are known all too well. However, those of us who work or live in this city must get used to this condition since, in the many years I have known the city, it will neither improve not vanish under some alternative.

In a matter of hours I will again descend, like Orpheus, into The Gloom.  I will push gently.  Pull slowly.  And try not to rub parts and regions we are not supposed to rub, even by accident.  And make it, either on time or not, to work.

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Editor’s note: Many errors are from the writer not attending school on a regular basis but others are from mother fabrics autocorrect.

Storytown

photo 3Life is a monotonous death epic and happens only once.  Perhaps that’s why we seek out amusements, such as amusement parks. That train ride from birth to death, for which the French writer Fean Cocteau said only opium could allow us to stop off  at a station and take a look about may, for us unable to source opium and afford both the classical education that allows one to fully benefit as well as the funds needed to treat any potential addiction, lead us to find other ways to spin about.
And to amusement parks we go to be spun, hurled, tossed about and sickened on Cotton candy. From steeple park to Coney Island the thrills and spills have been in western society for generations and certainly part of the American Century and roller coaster rise and ebb of the middle class.  And we get to go on the rides again, and again, and again.

No more then an excuse to be dropped, watered, and mushed by gravity with members of the opposite sex and social strangers of all classes and creeds whether circus or carnival the fun park allowed for a break in routine.  In time there arose a need for more structure to the strange experience.  Having these pleasure palaces no longer sufficed for the masses.  There needed to be an artistic device, some kind of nonsensical narrative to make this experience seem to make logic where none was needed nor present.  There came the theme park, and everything fell into place.  With a theme, there was a reason behind being ejected to a height at some velocity or dropped up and down along a track.  You were doing it was because a mouse or a bunny or a cowboy made it so.
Of course the mouseland is the most famous if all parks that take on a theme and its history has been well documented and promoted by a multinational corporation.  However, my own lived experience, my first memory of a theme park started at a certain set of amusement rides and attractions that sat next to the then undeveloped highway called the North Way.  After stretches of wilderness and trees of a sudden there was a break in the forest.  It was Storytown.  Storytown took the connective tissue of nursery rhymes and children’s stories, long before that became an industry.  The history of this park can be best found here and a blog post in better taste than this one is here.  To me, the importance is that this space has both remained the same, and changed drastically in the decades since we children first went.

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It was a great escape to go to Storytown, a funpark located at the foothills of the Adirondack mountains just a few miles outside of the Village of Lake George on the banks of the lake of the same name. In retrospect it was certainly the definition if not the epitome of Upstate Roadside America (Howe Caves aside). Little fiberglass monuments to certain copyright free characters, rides that even back then belonged in museums rather than out in the open sun, and shows involving all manner of antics of Cinderellas, Can Can dancers, and bandits. My favorite parts were the ghost town and Jungle-land.
Jungle Land was, like many amusements at this park, a walk through exploration like the Alice in wonderland walk through (that still stands in all it’s fiberglass majesty and total plywood crappy epicness).  Jungle Land had a sound track of drums and natives and all manner of by today’s standards, racist overtones… Except for the cartoonish African natives boiling a stereotypical European/British Man wearing a Pith helmet in a pot… That was just racist. But what did we kids know?  There were also hydraulic animals that emerged from the water, flapped their ears, or make some surprising movement. No more so than the king of hydraulic beasts, the worn ape on the top of the entrance hut that beat his chest and dared us to enter the land of the jungle.

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“Omanamanum ceekalaka Ubuntu chilly wanna” the deep recorded voice would boom over groggy and buzing speakers as the drums sounded in the fake distance, “ba dunk ba dunk ba dunk ba da dunk.”  Clearly this was the best attraction. “Cheeky waka chumbawumba white man come!” and we would wander through the bugs and grass on narrow walkways and swaying bridges.  “ba dunk ba dunk ba dunk ba da dunk.” All this was made better by the setting was a swamp. Not a carefully created swamp but a, shitwhatarewegoingtoputhere” swamp someone thought – hey, Jungle Land(tm)!(tm)
The second attraction for my un-socially-responsive self was Ghost Town. Ghost Town was originally built a few years after the park opened in 1954 and it still maintained well into the bitter climax of my childhood those old fashioned views on what would be fun for kids from the Wild Wild West.
First there were the rides. Not one if them had been updated since at least 1964. But, like Jungle Land, for the child mind – wanting new experience yet equally wanting something familiar, to be unchanging and reassuring, this seemed to fulfill both opposing forces.
Chaos occurred twice a day. Noon and 3 o’clock high the cowboy bandits would jump on the stage and take the money bags from the saloon and all would become a huge cap gun shoot em up that then involved the sheriff. The sheriff would come on stage and ask the children to all follow him, to put their hands into a gun form (something children at school go to jail for today) and help him shoot the bad guys and put em in Boot Hill. There was even a Boot Hill mock grave yard. We kids were then deputized with little yellow badges. A shared activity among strangers, mock gun play, the icy if not mocking grave, all topics that in today’s Ghost Town have been replaced as the saloon has been closed, the boots on the hill removed, and the old home made rides removed and replaced them with new shinny rides. The same rides we see in other parks now that this one is under the same chain that spans the majority of the northern lands.
Today the park is familiar and yet has changed into just another facsimile of so many other places.  I’m there to chaperone the next generation as they cavort and play away their youth.  They don’t see all that has changed and I will not see everything that is to come.  They do not have roadside America but enjoy a larger, flashier, zoomier set of rides bereft of all those floor shows and home spun madness of a family business and little roadside in the sandy woods. That is ok since the rides still serve their purpose. To spin us all about and let us be removed, even for a moment, from that direct line we must all in lockstep follow.

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Editor’s Note: Imperfections are an indication of authenticity.

My Life With The Dave (Mi Vida con el Dave)

photo(1)Back in the bad old days of Gotham when our family unit would travel into The City every few days for reasons that fall outside the scope of this blog, the block that had the Ed Sullivan Theater had become one of crime, weirdos, and the walking dead.

Back then the city was the dirty hand down the filthy pants.  The yelling bum and broken stream pipe in the middle of pulsating desire.  The old Ed Sullivan Theater that once housed the famous ABCBNBCS show of the same name, had become a warehouse to store barrels of storyboard glue, methylamine, or boxes of discarded Laugh-In or Hee Haw jokes. From time to time there was some paper saying there was a casting call or 4 PM sharp they’d be taping some idiotic programe I had never heard of or was too young to watch.

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I wanted to get into that theater back then but minors were not let into tapings and one had to be far more functional to obtain tickets to a show than one needs to be today.  So many other moving gears to the process that  I don’t think the adults in my life could handle such complex of a task.  And, I didn’t really want to be in there for the show, I just wanted to explore up in the rafters and look for things in what I imagined was a huge haunted building full of old interesting things.  I had been told enough history to know some great people had passed through those and other doors and that the block itself was the center of so many worlds.
At one point the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Debbie Harry, Salvador Dali, Donna Summer, The Village People, Sam Lanin, Ella Fitzgerald, and any number of other stars had walked that very block ducking in or out of a stage door, in or out of a velvet rope.
Those days were dead as the smell of that certain corner by the parking lot.  Pee baking in the sun and gum stuck to our shoes was our time to live.  Our celebration of life.  We knew, even as kids, we had missed out and were born in the wrong time. It was like everything was coming to and end and we were there to catch it all.

Our parent parked the car in the same cranky cement parking lot. Some city owned and rotting structure hastily tossed up in the mid 1960s when Hells Kitchen was really starting to burn. The old days of the Westies or whatever Irish gangs were killing one another back then had mellowed to just a boring funk. The parking lot was dark and noisy and frightening but not as much as the area around.  There were two ways out after you went down the stairs.
If we left out the back way we got to see the backdoor to Studio 54. I’m not sure if this was still a club but it was a venue of some kind and I always peeked into the dark cave to see the roadies doing roadie stuff as we passed by. On the right was Roseland. Once a ballroom my grandparent’s had frequented, it had become a music hall. At times some rough looming kids, perhaps just a few years older than I, would be camped out waiting for the doors to open in the days to come.  The marquee always had some bands we kids had never heard of since, strangely, music was more-or-less banned in our house.
Then we’d make it down the avenue, past the stage door to the Ed Sullivan and to relative safety where we would quick walk to our destination.

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If we left out the front of the parking lot, there was a pizza place across the street (on the corner of 8th Avenue) and to the right the entryway to Studio 54.  After that perhaps some ill conceived businesses that my kid brain forgot, but then a gay porno theater called the New David, which I remember had a statue of the classical David and never a human presence.  I seem to think that there was some dude at the ticket window… but maybe I am projecting that into my memory space.

After that, things got ugly.
The welfare hotel was planted along the way.  This place was special even among the city’s pantheon of flops, squats, and pallets. It was a halfway house or some dumping ground for people fresh out of the joint. Always drunk and yelling someone would be half naked and sweating or nodding or both. There was always yelling, sometimes screaming, often just drunken laughing and several times the police were called.

If we made it past that hotel, and somehow we always did, we’d get to the avenue and there was the sign proclaiming Ed Sullivan Theater (was Kate & Allie filmed there or Full House or something?) and as we’d pass by I’d crane my neck to see if perhaps today they left those old doors open and I could catch a look see at whatever was within.
I never did see inside.

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The block was known to me over the years. Our carpark was a familiar sight.  Across the street on 8th Avenue the Red Apple supermarket where, if we had extra money, we’d get cookies and inexplicably orange juice so that as we crawled along the West Side Highway traffic baking in the commuter sun in our un-air conditioned car everything could be perfectly sticky and juicy.  The bums and bags of trash.
That old pizza place on the corner where on rare occasion we would get a slice was another landmark. Pizza was expensive back then for the time.  Further on up 8th Avenue where things got really weird, a one story McDonald’s had rocketed up from some part of suburbia and landed in the middle of the city.  Next to that.  A vacant lot hemmed in by barbed-wire. We rarely had the funds to go in to McDonald’s but when we did it was always exciting and still a middle class establishment. The police station was across the avenue and was frequently pointed out as in, if anything happens, run to the precinct. Red Apple Tours also operated out of the carpark although we never went on the tour.  Our parent didn’t want to see the city and had no interest in exploring the then rotting piles and neighborhoods that had become too real, too gritty, and too authentic, even for the people who lived there and even if we were safe inside a tour bus.
The other side of the street from the car park walking to Broadway was a string of abandoned or half-empty buildings and a Welfare office of some kind.  One of those offices build after the War.  The junkies, the dope heads, the talkers, the moochers, and parasites that Ronald Reagan had worried us sick about congregated across the street.  On that corner of Broadway was a green grocery store.  It was a dismal block with everything that was wrong with Gotham in one convenient spot.  We would often walk up on the side with the porno theater, cross before the welfare hotel, and continue on our way.

photo(6)Then, David Letterman moved in.  All of a sudden the falling apart theater was transformed.  New Neon, the old marquee with the falling down letters that I think read “SEND HELP” now was changed to read “Late Night With David Letterman.”  The doors were shined up.  There was buzz.  The welfare hotel was replaced with some strange hotel for foreign tourists who didn’t know any better or loved American poverty since the Eurozone had banned it long ago.  This was the beginning of the gentrification of that block.  In time the shops across the street from the car park were replaced with a few new businesses that made sense.  There was a bagel shop that opened up once the welfare shop closed down.  The old tourist souvenir shop went out of business and reopened with new merchandise that looked all the world like the old merchandise. Things were happening.  Then, things started happening too quickly.
We did not go in to the city as much and then not at all.  I ventured in from time-to-time on my own and saw how David Letterman had impacted the neighborhood.  But I was rarely in the city for a number of reasons up to and including I lived a hundred miles away.  When I moved full-time in to the city I got a job at a lunch spot right on that block.  I only worked there a few weeks before being transferred to a sister spot down on 43rd street by the then withering Porno District where the remaining losers, rejects, amputees, and PTSD survivors of the Sexual Revolution would still gather.  I never had time to see David Letterman live.  And in time my life was more centered downtown and I gave Midtown a wide berth.  For a short time an arts organization I worked with had a gallery space there, but I still didn’t make time to see Letterman.

photo(4)In time the Welfare Office was replaced with luxury condos.  The pizza place in the ancient building was pulled down to make way for the next act.  The green grocery shop was leveled.  The car park was torn down and the site and everything turned in to luxury condos or chain restaurants.  I don’t know what happened to the New David theater, but first it was gone, then the entire building. The hotel changed hands and became even fancier.  The Roseland Ballroom was closed to be demolished.  The punks scattering for cover wherever they could.
And now David Letterman has retired.
The block that had once been a hub of entertainment has returned, if not to ever become the center of Jazz, place of a “really good show” or dance revolution, a place of entertainment, high end eateries, and luxuary condos.  The city there will grow on and the marquees will once again change.
I happened to be in the area the night of Letterman’s final show.  There was a small crowd of expectant fans by the stage door.  Camped out front were all third and forth tier reporters from all the major and some minor networks.  For a building so currently packed with stars and so steeped in history, for this monumental event, it was strange that there were not throngs in thongs being held back by police barriers.  A tribe of high school kids, tourists that had managed to escape their chaperones, pushed past… not one of them stopped.  Not even for a selfie.

photo(5)Editor’s Note: I think that shitty electronics store may have always been there.

Train Damage

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The Great American Railroad was already a museum piece when I was a kiddo. Thousands of miles of track had been decommissioned or lay fallow some with their rolling stock just left there to compost. So many rail lines went out of commission as a child as fast or faster than the factories were closing down. It was like growing up in some large ruined kingdom. No wonder I’m given to melancholy and collect rusty things.
Train stations were shut and falling apart or being torn limb from limb by vandals angry that a beautiful thing or strong building existed without their permission.  To many no Victorian edifice was complete without “Sane Smith” sprawled across it in crayon or blood or silly string.

photo (45)I remember taking the train as a young teen but I don’t think that other than being on some historic rail car at some history museum that we traveled by rail. My parent not being a social animal avoided as much human contact as possible and with no money, there is little opportunity to travel.
In time, I’ve managed to change that and have traveled on almost every major extant passenger line in much of the world.  Certainly not all nor am I a “train buff” but in other continents but the Americas rail travel is effective and connects major areas. From the high speed train connecting London to Cambridge to a failing and decrepit spur – all that was left after a landslide took away the track further into the jungle – that connected Cuzco to Agua Callentes, home of Machu Pichu.
The trains of India were broken and battered sleepers left over from the Raj but otherwise cross crossed the nation and of course the Trans Siberian was a line of clunking Soviet era cars where the samovar was still heated with coal chunks from a burlap bag.

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The old rail system of Morocco was even worse. Packed together in the night, large women and bags and everyone smoking and choking.
The Rumania I knew had seats so dirty they looked like leather but were indeed cloth. I was glad when I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, to hop a ride in the Orient Express and take it all the way to Paris in the last days where you had to still show a passport to cross the various frontiers. Most of the time I spent in the dinning car that still used linen on the tables and small vases of flowers strapped to each one to give some elegance even if this was but a shade of what opulence had once been.
The United States has a rail system too. And it is as ancient as those old systems I have used as a traveler in countries from 1-3rd world if not a little cleaner in the sense that the toilets don’t flush into the tracks and there is certainly no smoking… rail stops don’t involve feeding the monkeys or packs of stray dogs either but you cannot buy dried fish or garden vegetables.

photo (39)The American System does, however, seem to move slower and slower each year as I assume funding is cut, legacy costs from ineffective unions rise, as does the demand for speed and more technology and a shrinking middle class.
Amtrak is a splendid beast of a company. Born from the same perverted parentage as Franie Mack and Mae, the mortgage behemoths that almost tanked the nation’s economy, Amtrak must rely on congress to guide it’s development, investment, and whether you get a pillow in coach or a flower on your table in the dining car. The same congress that couldn’t take a shit in a warm pool, as my grandmother would have said is in charge of our rolling stock and an option of travel touted by environmentalists and national security pundits alike.

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However, Congressional members are convinced that rail travel will turn us into communists as I suppose car companies, tyre companies, insurance, asphalt, guardrail, yellow paint, sign and sign post, gas stations, car mechanics, DMV fee collectors, sales tax and gas tax collectors, gas pump manufacturers and convicts sent to pick up trash on the side if the road all have a special interest to ensure rail travel is not an option in this Great Nation.
We will never do anything truly efficient as ultimately it’s against our new and perverted form of capitalism where we subsidize gas and oil companies and then listen as the Freemarketeers yodel about open market forces and the withering away of antiquated systems.

photo (40)And so it is no surprise then when my train is 40 minutes late on a 2 hour ride to go about 100 miles away from Gotham.  I think it took me about 60 minutes from London to Cambridge and from London to Paris, maybe a little over 2 hours. I crossed Russia twice in a return trip from Moscow to Vladivostok and back via Beijing with 7 days out and 7 days back and that was using Soviet technology.  Going up the California coast we were stranded in the middle of nowhere because of train traffic for 4 or more hours. Just a trainload of people stuck as if their toy had broken sweltering away in the heat.
It is also no surprise that our passenger and freight trains crash, explode, and derail in alarming numbers.
The Peoples Republic of China builds ever more and faster rails as do all the other countries. I can only imagine what the Trans Siberian rail looks like today XX years later (perhaps the same actually – the Russians can never get their shit together either). Yet we halt production and commerce and the development that rail travel could bring along with so many ancillary – and democratic – benefits.

I will continue to ride the rails when I can for business, personal commuting, and pleasure, but I don’t have much faith that our nation will be but left behind in this technology as we are today in so many others.

photo (43)Editor’s Note: Imperfections are an indication of authenticity.

Pad van de duivel (Path of The Devil)

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The Devil’s Path is so named for Charles Devonshire Deval who cut the trail in 1929 through the highest peeks in the Catskill Mountains. While not substantiated as true by scopes, I like to believe it. The path is know as one of the 6 most dangerous in the United States and through some amount of hyperbola makes the top 20 in the world.
This blogger chose the path easterly to westerly since it was the access point from the old Overlook Road and met with a potential escape route at Mink Hollow.

This writer would love to boat and brag about finishing a section of the deadliest trail and recount scrapes with near death, however, if one grew up in or around the famed Catskill Mountains, one does not fear the terrain since it is familiar yet one has a healthy respect since a cliff is a cliff and down is down and from many a point on the trail one can fall quite a ways and land on some nasty rocks along the way and then below.

photo 2 The Catskills are quite the mountains of madness. They are deceptive and tricky. Appearing as gentle bumps from a distance they are full of cloves, slides, chutes, chasms, chimneys, caves, and cliffs. It is no wonder that so many neophytes choose the Catskills as their Final Destination. Many fall off Katerskill Falls – so many that the state is to build a walkway with guardrails and steps to reduce the fatalities to an acceptable level and cheat Darwin out of His dues.
Some tumble down Hunter Mountain. Overlook claims a few from time to time. The swimming holes are popular places to hit your head on a stone and drown as are the abandoned quarries filled with crystal clear water so that, unlike most waters of the blessed northeast, you can see to the bottom. A good many others select the Devil’s Path upon with to perish but the numbers are lower since one has to work hard to get on the trail and it’s not just a short jaunt from a car park as are some of the more popular areas.

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From the east the trail starts out gentle for the first 20 or 30 yards. Then it stops with the foreplay and goes right in for the… Aftplay. I carried too much gear for reasons that are embarrassing to explain other than my planning was long but time to pack short and while not an armature hiker I am not an expert. I have grown up in the region and as a backyard have blundered into the woods with only a bottle of Snapple and wearing old loafers because perhaps I was too comfortable. Being raised among the rocks and fens I am able to navigate perhaps better than others and am not afraid to go barefoot if need be or crawl on all fours through mud and brush – which is something flatlanders do not seem inclined to even though they transport themselves in 4 wheel drive and believe they are descended of apes.

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Indian Head is a hell mountain. Several pages torn from Lord of The Rings and jammed into a broken spine library copy of Wuthering Heights.  The story of doomed love interrupted by a pointless adventure with orks.
Panting and heaving and discarding every food product I didn’t need, I managed to scramble up a little, collapse, scramble some more, collapse, and repeat. I had traversed 3.5 miles in about an hour on stable and normal earth but now was moving at a rate of about a mile an hour.  The top of the mountain never arrived.  It seemed that each time it appeared to be the summit that again there would be a minor climb.  There was but a few places with a view but when there was one it was indeed a reward for having exerted and toiled away close to mud and rocks for so many hours.  Getting down was just as fun.

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At the bottom I appreciated that the elevation lost in decent wasn’t so great so at least the next mountain, Twin, would not be as long a haul.  At the crossroad I hesitated.  I looked at my time piece since I had a later than expected start and the sun was well, well, beyond zenith.  I looked at the sign post that informed me that my intending stopping point, Mink Hollow Lean To was but a few miles away, however, I had at most covered about three miles in so many hours.  The sign tempted me with its pointing little arrow, the yellow trail badge, the mile to the trailhead parking lot.  This was an out.  An escape route.  However, I had my mind made up.  This was my opportunity, it was my chance, and it was on my calendar and the older I get the more things must be planned well in advance and arranged and rearranged to fit between so may moving wheels of life.

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I got up, strapped on my pack, which had strangely gotten even heavier than before, and move on to the next mountain.  About 50 yard up the trail I was again on my back panting.  After my heart rate returned to normal, I donned my kip pack – considered tossing away hundreds of dollars of gear – and hikes up ever up perhaps another 100 vertical feet before repeating my now well-practiced ritual of finding a way to lay down without falling down the mountain, removing my pack, taking off my shirt and hat, and panting until my heart no longer felt like it would explode.  About half way up the mountain I was taken aback by a long assent that would require a scramble and I sat dejected and the situation descended upon me as if coming too out of a dream and realizing that indeed the danger of the nightmare was real.  I was halfway up a mountain and starting to feel not tired but fatigue and that with daylight fast marching towards the night and my water quickly being spent, I was out there in the open expanse suddenly struck by a claustrophobia as if I was being smothered by all this experience, all this alone, all this hike… The think worm of fear started to creep into me and it was allI could do to shake it, install my pack on my back and climb on and on.

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I finally reached the summit or an area flat enough to be an actual enjoyable walk.  The view peaked out from the trees and I emerged from my fear to a euphoria, perhaps the onset of madness or dehydration and I suddenly had energy to march through the pathway that cut between the boreal forest.  There is a point on Twin where the view is of the Catskills beyond, those further fields and hilltops striking into the distance.  A stunning view even with the slowly enveloping shroud of humidity that lends a blue gray to those distant mountains and prevents all but the very best quality cameras from capturing the depth and any sense of perspective.

The way down Twin is a series of broken stones jumbled up by ice gods and tossed about by various forces too frightening to contemplate in polite company or without one hand on a sacred object.  Nevertheless, this section seemed challenging in an enjoyable way.  In all, for some reason, I was sad to leave Twin Mountain, having enjoyed most of the mountain.

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The last old god in front of me was Sugarloaf.  The candy coated name hides the interior that is anything but sweet.  A stumble bumble tumble up, on higher and higher, I kept checking to Twin to see how far I was up, to assume my elevation and in hope that I would summit before the sun started to set.  I plotted my goals in small increments looking only a few feet ahead.  Which was good because whatever insanity had given me a burst of energy had now worn off and was my weak flabby self yet again.  Worse, my water bottle sprung a leak and I was out of water.  There was no need to panic, but I was getting concerned.  I looked to the illegal camping spots and was tempted to stay the night and remove myself when I had some time to rest, but a thin cover of mist, the deepening cloud cover told me that in the dark, all alone, in the night, the rains were coming and perhaps a few lightning strikes.  And the bears… There was still bears in these woods.  So I continued on.  Sugarloaf never seemed to end.  I kept pushing knowing that I could slacken my pace when I made it to the decent.

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While I had read a topographical map prior to leaving my house, I had not taken more than a copy in fuzzy picture form on my iThingamajigy.  I was still shocked at the elevation drop to the hollow.  Perhaps not shocked….  revolted.  My legs were starting to quiver and I stumbled several times.  The light grew flat and it was getting difficult to see the contours of the rocks upon which I stuck my metal poles and placed by shoes.  But, there was no way to remain on this side of the mountain for night so I moved on and on each step my mouth that much dryer and my strength vanishing slowly as the sun set in a dismal and anticlimactic plotz, a pile of unimaginative colours not worth my toiling hours in order to capture this view.  Murky blues and rancid orange-yellow.  Nothing worth Instagram… which is a sad way of seeing the world, but this is the way we are trained to think.

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In time, and with many boring steps and shuffles and prods and slips I made it to the camping area, just in time for the curtain of thick black dropped as a blanket over the forest.  It was late by camper standards and already the lights in tents were winking out and I was left stumbling like some solder of a failed platoon searching for one thing… water.  I saw a sign that exclaimed “Spring” and into the night I went tossing off my pack and staggering with a little headlamp until I came to the water and drank right from the stream not caring if it was infected with rabies or poopsick.  After a little more stumbling lost in the dark, I managed to regain my senses find my camp and toss together my hammock and fell into a deep and tremoring sleep and to dream of anything but mountain.

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Editor’s Note: Imperfections are an indication of authenticity.