Friday, March 23, 2012

The Great Journey Across the Brooklyn Bridge

There comes a time in every New Yorker’s life when they must embark upon a journey that will take them across not just streets but rivers and boroughs. I am speaking, of course, of the Great Journey Across the Brooklyn Bridge.

It will begin in downtown Manhattan’s financial district, across the East River and finish, perhaps not surprisingly, in Brooklyn.

Yes, your mother may call you while you are crossing the bridge and ask you a barrage of questions about your intentions of making said journey:

“Why are you crossing the Brooklyn Bridge? Is it safe? Are you coming from or going to Brooklyn? Why are you going to Brooklyn? How are you getting there? What’s to see in Brooklyn? Are you by yourself? Why are you by yourself? You couldn’t find anyone to go with you? How many people are there? Are there a lot? Are you taking pictures?”

But you will simply inhale for a count of three, exhale, and say, “It’s a thing people do. I am with hundreds of other people. This is not strange. I’ll talk to you later.” Because some journeys your meshuggennah mother just will not understand.

Designed by John Augustus Roebling and finished in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was at one time the largest suspension bridge in the world. It is primarily known for its two towers, which punctuate the center of the structure. The bridge has six lanes for vehicular traffic on its lower level and on its upper level a pedestrian walkway. Though it certainly does behoove the visitor to stay in the right lane of the pedestrian walkway for fear of being bumped in the behind by bicyclists who will then raise their heads in frustration toward the sky, miffed, and say to you in clipped tones, “Just be careful, this is the bike lane, okay?” And you will think to yourself, lighten the hell up, dude, it’s a gorgeous, crisp blue-sky day and the wind is in my hair and I’m just trying to take some pictures, but you will just shut your mouth and walk away because a gorgeous day is no time to start trouble with miffed bicyclists.

Moving on.

The wooden pedestrian walkway may be crowded by tourists on the weekend who, upon seeing you taking pictures with your non-point-and-shoot camera, will ask you to photograph them in front of the bridge. You will oblige, because you are a relatively nice person who is short on patience for tourists but long on appreciation for gorgeous days, the keeping of nice memories, and National Historic Landmarks.

One of the finer points of the bridge, you may notice, are the ways the suspension cables form a sort of web on the bridge, making everything inside or outside of the bridge, depending on how you look at it, appear caged. It’s not a frightening feeling, though. Just one of awe. You may get all existential on yourself and think something along the lines of ‘Oh dear, we are all just so small in this universe,’ or you may decide that all structures should have such a gorgeous arrangement of cables and quietly plan how to integrate them into your apartment décor.

No matter—rest assured, you are, in fact, appreciating the structure as you contemplate either of these suggestions and Roebling would be flattered. The structure was, after all, responsible for the death of its aforementioned creator—Joseph A. Roebling died after his toes were crushed during a bridge location survey. The toes necessitated amputation, which resulted in tetanus, which resulted in death. His son and daughter-in-law took over and finished the project after his passing. So appreciate away, and watch your toes.

Don’t forget the little details, though. Locks upon which visitors have scrawled their names will appear snapped onto the bridge’s cables, as will stickers, graffiti by rather enthusiastic Hungarian visitors who love New York, and small bits of fabric and ribbon tied around certain cable cruxes at the center of the bridge.

Take lots of pictures. Of the structure, of Joanna’s message that, yes, she was in fact here. Of families visiting loved ones. Of the sun casting a spray of light onto the East River. Of old, industrial signage that may have been left up for posterity or laziness. Of the Manhattan skyline becoming smaller and smaller in the distance.

At one point you will wonder where exactly in Brooklyn you will end up and you will want to text your Brooklyn friends because they could instantly tell you, but you should eschew this notion with a firm hand. This author firmly believes that part of the Great Journey Across the Brooklyn Bridge is discovering it on your own. Patience is key for this rather long stretch of wooden planks known as the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian walkway, but if you abide by its rules you will learn in short time your destination.

Even as you near the end of the bridge and come across upon a rather intricate highway system in front of you and think to yourself oh dear god what do I do now and/or what the hell have I gotten myself into, fear not, for the Bridge will protect you. Or there will just be a sign telling pedestrians where to go next. You should probably follow that and not run into traffic.

Photograph your arrival into Brooklyn. Depending on the route you take, you may either end up in DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights or, well, wherever in Brooklyn you choose to go, really.

Congratulations! You have completed your journey. Upon doing so, this author recommends a visit to DUMBO’s Brooklyn Bridge Park to sit on the steps overlooking the river between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge and watch people throw pebbles into the water. Sit, rest, contemplate life, maybe even eat a pink lady apple and continue on your way. Perhaps you choose to peek around in DUMBO for a while, perhaps you choose to get a café au lait in an empty café near the F train, perhaps you peruse the tiny independent shops as you head back to Manhattan. Know, though, that you have accomplished a great feat and, if your experience is a positive one, it may be one you’ll complete again and again.