Monday, August 4, 2008

How not to get hot, Part II

It was a hot and sunny day. Ed, citing Pat’s Irish background, insisted that I put the canopy up, to shade her (them) from the 2 PM sun in July, the most intense sun of the day. I demurred, promising I would stay in the shade wherever possible. The problem was that my rain jacket and someone else’s canopy front were both packed into the canopy sleeve behind the back of the pedicab. I had nowhere to put either of them, and I certainly was not about to put my rain jacket on, in hot, brilliant sunshine. I’m also of Irish descent, so it was in my own best interest to keep to the shady side of the street.
The problem in staying shady was that the Sun was almost directly overhead. We were headed north and wouldn’t be in Central park until about 5:00. It was now 2:00. What to do? We turned to start the trip up Trinity Place, headed north. The building from Men In Black was pointed out for what it really is, an office having to do with the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Indeed, motor vehicles in the trench were speeding under it. North we went, in direct sun, there being nothing to our left (west) except the trench that leads to the tunnel. They saw the building where top American footballers like OJ Simpson have picked up their Heismann trophies. Passed the street named for government official, rich speculator, man-about-town and general ladies’ man and bon vivant Gouvernor Morris, Exchange Place, which I believe to be the narrowest street in Manhattan, at about 10 feet.
Then Richard Upjohn’s chocolate-colored Trinity Church, built of brownstone just when the stone was becoming popular. The third commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps was buried in the corner plot with the little US flag over it. No flag, but a pyramid stone for Alexander Hamilton, sitting Secretary of the Treasury when he deliberately lost a duel against Vice-President Aaron Burr, by shooting into the air and letting Burr shoot him. Burr aimed low. Hamilton was gut-shot, meaning that his intestines opened up, and he died in his own poisons, which took until early the next morning to kill him, one of the most painful ways to die. Burr left town for Ohio, and stayed away for years, fearing a murder indictment.
Hamilton was also a lawyer, with a practice on Broadway right where the Standard Oil building is now.
Imagine: a vice president of the United States, shooting a lawyer and getting away with it.
Ahead to the left lay a construction site with a perimeter fence covered in green netting: the site of the once and future World Trade Center. They were shown the remaining buildings about the periphery. First #7, rebuilt just over a year ago, with sky-blue windows that currently reflect nothing, the Twin Towers being gone. But someday in the not-distant future those walls will reflect the Freedom Tower.
Moving north, and looking back to the southwest is the rapidly-diminishing
We cruised forward, northward, and I told them of Century 21, considered the finest discount store in NYC, which opened up five months to the day after The Attacks of September Eleven. Every store, every building in the perimeter of the blast had lost windows. The Millenium Hilton had lost every pane in its curtain wall, cascading the contents of room after room into the first floor and basement. An airline radio was found in the jumbled debris of those seven floors, afterward. The government then arrested an Egyptian hotel guest and took him to Guantanamo, where he eventually confessed to having that radio and being an accomplice to the two fellow Egyptians and 17 Saudis who attacked us. Afterward, an airline pilot who had also been staying at the Hilton called them and asked if they ever found his airline radio, which he said had been lost in the rubble. This led to one of the most embarrassing spots the Bush administration had put itself into. I don’t recall ever hearing an apology for their colossal error of judgment, and I told as much to my customers Pat and Ed. What do you suppose our government put that poor guy through, in order to get that fake confession?
Across the open space to the left stood the non-matching tower tops of the World Financial Center. One domed, one pyramidic, and one the shape I don’t know what to call it: the top was smaller than the base, like a pyramid sliced horizontally in half, and the top removed. A trapezoid?
They had lost their windows to the sixth and seventh floor as well. Virtually every edifice directly across the street from the WTC had lost windows. All but one: Saint Paul’s Chapel. St. Paul was run by Trinity, a third of a mile to the south. It opened in 1767 and served as the church of Trinity Parish when the larger structure burned in the Great Fire of August 1776. In fact, when Washington was inaugurated in 1789, he and his entourage marched (he rode) up Broadway to St. Paul’s, where Washington prayed for the future of our nation. Our nation has done very well. Looks as though prayer works.
Saint Paul’s is set back from the immediate perimeter of the WTC by a tree-covered graveyard. Those trees mitigated the sheer force of flying debris and wind, into the trees themselves. The Chapel escaped without a scratch. Though when the leaves fell that November, one could easily look up and see things that had come to rest in those trees: a bicycle, some Venetian blinds, pieces of sheet metal and whatnot. Things that had been in parts of the Twin Towers way high up, and come crashing down, to be entrapped by the up-reaching tree limbs. The trees truly saved the Chapel of Saint Paul.
When people were allowed back to the scene a week after The Attacks, some of the more religious of our people marveled that St. Paul’s was virtually unscathed; that it had only lost the uprooted tree in the blast. They took this to be a sign of God’s providence, and they took the girders that came down shaped like crosses as another great sign from The Lord that He was present and spared the chapel out of his grace and love. Some went so far as to use the cross-shaped girders to “prove” that God is the Christian God, and not the Muslim one.
These people who make religious (non)sense out of anything they see have been totally ignoring the fact that another church, that of Saint Nicholas, was totally and completely obliterated when the South Tower fell on it. I am largely skeptical of religion because of people who ignore one truth while touting another.
If you want to see a cross-shaped girder, one is set into the sidewalk on Church Street, just west of Saint Peter’s Church, the oldest Catholic church in the city, which dates from 1804. This church had a role in The Attacks as well. Father Mychal judge, the chaplain of the FDNY was the first known victim of the fall of the towers. Firemen brought his still body to Saint Peter’s and laid him respectfully on the altar.
So we rolled along, and my people heard all these sad stories of what New York was like on that terrible day.
They asked, “Where were you when it happened?”
“I was home watching it on TV like everyone else. I lived in Brooklyn about five miles away. By noon, the stench of the fire had wafted over to my neighborhood, and it stayed there all day. I went shopping for long-term staples, not knowing if this was only the first wave of a series of attacks. I thought I should be ready, just in case. I got back to the house by about 3 PM, and little white pieces of paper, scorched around the edges, were beginning to flutter down over the neighborhood.“ Later we learned that papers had even come down on Coney Island beach, a good 12 - 13 miles from the WTC. I saved one of the papers that fell on my block. It’s part of a prospectus for Deloitte & Touche.
BTW I also saved a baggie of September 11th dust from the corner of Cedar and William Street that I collected a week after the event. It would be interesting to test it and see if the EPA was lying when they said there was nothing harmful in all that dust.
On we went, taking a right just past St. Paul’s, to Nassau Street, then going he wrong way in the bike lane to Centre. I told them the story of the corrupt Democrat government of NYC in the 1860s, and the clean-up role of The Tribune’s Horace Greeley, whose statue was just east of City hall, gazing across Centre Street at the Brooklyn Bridge. We took another right on Worth Street and headed uphill, for Chinatown.
As we entered Chinatown, I took pat & Ed to what I believe is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Western Hemisphere, that of Sheareth Israel. It is peppered with 17th-c. gravestones written in Spanish and Portuguese. Talk about your religious bigots: These Ladino Jews were forced to come to the open-minded Dutch colony on Manhattan because of the Spanish Inquisition. Jews captured by the Inquisition were typically given their choice of three options:
1. Leave forever.
2. Convert to Roman Catholicism.
3. Be hanged.
So they had come to Nieuw Amsterdam, which didn’t give an Amster-dam about their religion. Their descendants are here to this day, safe and sound.
The Chinatown corner housing the little graveyard is really a microcosm of the American-immigrant experience. Within sight of the gravestones are a gun shop frequented by members of nearby NYPD HQ, a Methodist church where a Cuban Catholic priest got the Irish immigrants to found the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Baptist church for sailors, a Catholic grade school, housing projects and a Mahayana Buddhist temple.
We turned the pedicab past a memorial to the Chinese nationalist who tried to prevent the Americans, French and British from selling opium to his countrymen, and went into the warren of little Chinatown streets.
Finally, some shade. It had been an hour of direct sunlight. We went left up Mulberry Street with the Chinese funeral homes on the right and Columbus park on the left, and I told the story of attending the Chinese funeral of my Chinese uncle-by-a-previous marriage. Upstate brothers-in-law had asked if I could represent the family there.
Technically I was doubly not part of the family, since their sister and I had divorced a couple of years before, and since she had died the previous month. The brothers-in-law had used up all their free days caring for their dying sister, though, and had no time to spare for a 7-hour drive to NYC from Rochester NY, and back up. It was February, the off season for tourism, and I had nothing better to do with my time. So I went to the Ng Fook Funeral Home and listened as family members talked about the times they had had with Uncle Lou. Sat with his kids as they rolled up paper shopping-bags full of gilded paper squares for the incense fire on the altar. Photos by the hearse, and of the photo on TOP of the hearse, a photo of uncle Lou, owner of the Cathay Pagoda Restaurant in Rochester, where my late father-in-law had been chef.
The park to the left was built in 1895 to relieve the Five Points neighborhood of a good third of its population. How? By razing their tenement homes, and giving them no homes to go to afterward, which made the problem of overcrowded tenements even worse! Interestingly, I pointed out, with the destruction of three blocks of tenements, one could look from the five corners (for which it was called Five Points) northward and see The Tombs, the city lockup. The fact that The Tombs was built right next to the worst neighborhood in town was probably no mistake!
There’s a quote in the 1895 book “How The Other Half Lives” by a Chinese immigrant living in Five Points in that year. He said to the author, who was himself a Danish immigrant, “Dem Irish very, very bad!” Perhaps a good quote from one ethnic outsider to another, as retold by one Irish-American to another. And, for all Pat O’Brien and Stan O’Connor know, our ancestors may have rubbed filthy elbows, down in Five Points. Or perhaps they bent their elbows.
Anyway, we went uphill on The Bowery to the Manhattan Bridge and Daniel Chester French’s marble archway, “Gateway To Brooklyn” which incongruously is graced by a bas-relief of Indians on horseback hunting buffalo. Then we coasted downhill on Canal, for what I hoped was our last foray under the direct sun. I thought of taking them up Elizabeth to Bleecker, then up into the East Village.
But NO, I thought! Why not go two blocks farther west, then up Mulberry so they could roll past the restaurants and Catholic Church of Little Italy? So that’s what I did, and was dismayed by.
Street fair. Of course. I forgot that Little Italy in the summer is one three-month-long street fair, centered on Mulberry Street. Shit.
So on west and downhill we went on Canal, with me apologizing and sweating and trying to think for a northbound street that would be out of the sunshine. I was getting winded. Thank God for this downhill. We finally turned up Centre again. I could have skirted all of Chinatown and just talked about it, and stayed in the shade. But no, I had to be the good tour guide. Heavy sigh. At least we were out of the sun now, until we got to Cleveland Place. Then two blocks of wide esplanade, staying on the right. And then we were able to go to the bike lane which, like all bike lanes on one-way streets, is on the left side.
I showed them Lauren Hutton’s building. At the time, I described that I’d once been to the home of a famous model from the 1970s, but I could not for the life of me remember her name at the time. Unknown why “Lauren Hutton” comes into my head now, with no problem. Maybe it was the heat. The customers still don’t know to whom I was referring.
Pat and Ed saw the new blue condos at Astor Place, shaped like stacked pianos because Schirmer Music Company had been the previous longtime presence on the lot. They saw the colonnaded music hall where immigrant backers of one Shakespearean actor rioted against nativist fans of another, right out there on Lafayette Street. They saw the nearby theater of Blue Man Group, and we discussed differences between the NYC show and the Chicago show.
We continued north through Astor Place, and I told them of a date I’d had several years ago. The girl had wanted me to meet her “In the Starbucks on Astor Place.” Turns out there were two Starbucks, a fact that neither of us were aware of as we made exasperated cell-phone calls to each other, one in each Starbucks.
Came up to the Wanamaker Building. I asked if they were familiar with Kmart? They were. …Why?
“Here is the Wanamaker Building ahead of us. John Wanamaker ran the biggest store in the world until Macy’s eclipsed it in 1902. Think of the square-footage of your typical Kmart. A Kmart is now in the basement and the first floor of the building. Imagine about eight Kmarts, and you have the size of the original Wanamaker’s!” My customers were suitably impressed.
I pedicabbed them up Fourth Avenue, now paralleling Broadway. Blew the horn at pedestrians who stood in my bike lane, texting. The peds all yelled at me for my impudence and bad manners. I shouted back, “Should I go on the sidewalk, or should you?”
Earlier on Lafayette & Bond, I called ahead at a cluster of people who stood in the bike lane ahead chatting as if they were the sidewalk. As I passed, the oldest guy there said to the passengers, “You’re riding in a death-trap!” (Thank you, David Letterman!) And to me, “Why don’t you get a helmet, asshole!?”
At this, I turned and started arguing with him. He walked away, insulting me over his shoulder while fleeing, unwilling to admit that he’d been standing in my way, and inferring that I was automatically a bad driver because I drove a pedicab. Yes, and in the bike lane …where he had stood, ignoring those who needed the bike lane for their safety, the hypocrite idiot. Why couldn’t they have stood on the sidewalk where they belong? And why couldn’t these hipster texters at Astor and LaFayette? I had to yell to get their attention, so they yelled back after stepping back onto the curb that they should have been on all along.
I’m not trying to take THEIR space. They are taking MINE and I need it. Will they ever learn, or do we have make it illegal to stand in the bike lane? Or will I have to someday make a snap decision between the safety of my passengers and the safety of a cell-phony typing in the street?
Off the stump. Back to the tour. I was planning to take the people up to 14th Street and show them Union Square, but that would have meant more sunshine. We’d just passed a thermometer that read 94. So instead, we turned down Broadway from 14th, and went into Greenwich Village, doing a little of my Greenwich Village Comprehensive Tour. They got to see the teddy bear in the window of the townhouse that student activists had (accidentally) blown up, followed by the second cemetery of the first Jews in the western hemisphere.
Then the site of The Grapevine, a civil-war-era coffee shop known for the passing of Union and Confederate information, and the origin of the phrase, “…heard it through The Grapevine.”
Finally, north on semi-flat and shady Sixth Avenue, with a bike lane from here, clear to 42nd Street. We passed the Victorian style library branch, and I took them aside to view Patchin Place, where Theodore Dreiser and e.e. cummings lived (not together). They heard the story of the granting of civil rights for NY State women in 1871 as a result of the Ladies’ Mile shopping district’s campaign for the street safety of female shoppers. This library was built in 1872 to be the first women’s jail. It was converted to a library in 1930.
So on, up through the townhouses and stores of The Village. Crossing 14th Street and into Chelsea, first developed by its landowner Clement Clarke Moore. Google him right now; you may get a kick out of it.
Now we were on the more speedy route. The plan had been to start at The Battery, come north five miles to Central Park, tour around the park for an hour, and drop them off at their midtown hotel. We had crisscrossed lower Manhattan as far as the Village, and now would go straight up 6th to the park, a straight shot. BTW if you’re not a New Yorker and are looking at the map of the city, what I call Sixth Ave is what the outside world (and the USPS) calls “Avenue Of The Americas.”
Okay, that’s just over seven pages at 12-point. That’s more than enough for now. I’ll finish this tour report on the next post.
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