Friday, June 24, 2011

Driving to New York City...Part Three: Destination and Return

The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is no picnic.

Tunnels, by definition, are, well...tunnels.

Long dark tubes surrounded by water, just waiting to spring a leak and ultimately sweep me out to sea or where I await the inevitable ball of fire that is heading right at me as I sing along to Billy Joel's Greatest hits, Volume III.

This is why, the proverbial "light at the end of" is so nice. It's especially so when it's Brooklyn light. Because that's home.

Plus I'm out of the tunnel.

After navigating through suburbia, whooshing around the island of Manhattan on it's western edge and taking my chances under the east River, I emerge onto an elevated, congested stretch of road called the Gowanus Expressway.
An enduring landmark

From this altitude, Brooklyn lies before me. There's the Williamsburg Bank Building with its landmark clock, the giant "Bruno Truck Sales" sign that has been there forever, the old factories--now mostly empty and the various familiar church spires and painted-on-the-bricks signs.

But I am headed to my old neighborhood so I keep my eyes on the road with only an occasional glance towards the water or the streets below. Unlike Manhattan, these buildings seem to be huddling together, leaning against each other for support. 

You can see straight down the residential streets leading from the water into the congested neighborhoods. Even though those streets seem quiet, you know they lead to the beating heart of the city's most populous borough.

Here drivers look neither bored nor awed. They simply, for the most part, look a little crazy. Brooklyn drivers couldn't care less about the majesty of the Hudson or the architecture or anything....except getting where they're going. And getting there fast.

Vans with signs that announce the electricians, stonemasons, plumbers and carpenters seated within, hurtle by as I grip the wheel, eyes straight ahead.

There's no room for error as bread trucks with no side doors pass me with only a few inches to spare. Police cars hurry along, oblivious to the speeds, lack of seat belts or drivers yammering into their phones. It's all about getting home, to the job, to the scene of the crime or to the Vegas Diner for a Greek salad.

Once off the highway, the neighborhoods change quickly. Taking a detour to see my old stomping ground of Boro Park,the traffic is so noisy, aggressive and insane that I regret my decision. It's here I worry about getting hit because the streets are, literally, a free-for-all. No European city could be crazier.

It's here I'm reminded of how homogenous my current neighborhood is as opposed to the myriad of ethnicities, religions and languages sitting behind the wheel of every car, standing on every street corner and gazing out of every apartment house window.

I make my way to the peace of Shore Road which runs parallel to, and is best buddies with, the Belt Parkway--my route home at the end of my visit. 
Beauty ain't cheap: $13 toll

The Belt is yet another highway in New York City with buildings on one side and water on the other. Here, the water is the glittering narrows spanned by the Verrazano Bridge, the most beautiful suspension bridge ever built.

Tankers, container vessels and passenger ships glide by throughout the day. In he distance, the yellow of the Staten island Ferry can be seen as it makes its way between the St. George Terminal and the tip of lower Manhattan.

Despite the calm of this atypically quiet section of the city, Brooklyn breathes can feel it's pulse everywhere. Especially on the highways that lead you in, out and through its busy streets.

At the end of my visit, after hugs, kisses and "see you soons, " I am back on the road.

Back looking at buildings and water and digging for the Easy Pass I'd put in my bag so in case the car got stolen, they wouldn't get that, dammit.

I'm back to weep at the missing Twin Towers, back to sneer at the svelte runners, back to trying to look bored because this time, it's the city melting away in my rear view mirror.

Catch you later, NYC. Miss me, 'cause I miss you.
Yes, of course, I let cats drive my car.

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