Sunday, August 18, 2013

Plan B

"Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."
~ Allen Saunders

Saturday, August 17th was the final day of this year's Summer Streets, a program the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) has run for the past few years. Over three weekends each August, the DOT closes certain streets to cars and lets pedestrians and bike riders roam free.

For one of the early Summer Streets, the DOT set up giant dumpsters filled with water in a few places, allowing people to put a literal spin on dumpster-diving. This year the program extended from the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge at Foley Square and up Lafayette Street and Park Avenue to 72nd street and included everything from art to a zip line and a rock climbing wall.

One of the top attractions of 2013 was the Voice Tunnel, an installation by Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. The Voice Tunnel was installed in the underground roadway that allows cars to travel beneath Park Avenue between 32nd and 41st Streets. I'd been meaning to see it, and today was the last chance.

I made my way down to the entrance 32nd Street. At first I tried walking in the street, but found dodging the teeming masses of bike riders too aggravating and ended up on the sidewalk. More and more people are taking to bikes in this city. In theory, it's great; in practice, mobs of rude boneheads on bikes are making walking less and less fun.

When I got to the tunnel entrance I discovered that everybody else in the city was already there. The line was so long that they closed the entrance more than two hours early to allow the already assembled crowd to pass through by 1:00 p.m., when the street would reopen to cars. Here is a short video of what I did not get to see in the Voice Tunnel.

On to plan B, devised when I walked out onto the street and realized the elevated roadway that runs around Grand Central Terminal was also closed to cars. Until today, I'd only ever been through there in a cab. Now I had the chance to find out how things look from the pedestrian vantage point.

Cornelius Vanderbilt
The first sight to see was Cornelius Vanderbilt, forever memorialized in his extravagant overcoat. Vanderbilt founded the New York Central Railroad; built Grand Central Depot, the predecessor to Grand Central Terminal; and was the patriarch of the family that owned the property Grand Central stands on.

I also had a closer-than-normal view of the sculpture titled "The Glory of Commerce" by French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan. That's Hercules on the left, Minerva on the right and Mercury in the middle. Learn more about it in this post on the Untapped Cities website.


This is one of four employee entrances that stand, two per side, on the elevated roadway.  A little note is posted on all four doors saying employee I.D. is required.

This is another employee door – better lit and possibly cleaned up a bit, but with the same note.

Old, ornate lanterns line the part of the roadway that runs under the Helmsley building.

This is the Yale Club - not my photo, one I found on Wikimedia Commons. The club is across Vanderbilt Avenue from Grand Central, and as I looked at it I thought about Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale. There's a plaque on the corner of the club saying Nathan Hale was hung here. But that's arguable — read this post in Ephemeral New York for an alternative claim.

It was a beautiful day, as this view looking West on 42nd Street makes clear.

The "Vanderbilt eagle" is a familiar site to anyone who walks along East 42nd Street. (This is another Wikimedia Commons photo, by the way.) What I discovered today is, the eagle's wings are supported by a beam and bolts.

And that is how I spent my Saturday morning. What did you do?

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another..."
J. M. Barrie


  1. A wonderful Hushian view of the details that make up the glory of New York. Thank you for this, Michele! We spent our Saturday morning and afternoon on Governor's Island, maneuvering unwieldy rental bikes down the leafy lanes, and enjoying the antique French rides and games at the "FĂȘte Paradiso." New York is just a riot of options, isn't it?

    1. It surely is - so many things to do. I love Governor's Island but haven't been there since shortly after they opened it to the public. We walked everywhere, and on a hot day it eventually made us leave some sights unseen. I'm thinking even an unwieldy bike might be a better option.

  2. Good afternoon, Michele. There are a few blogs I'm delighted to see in my email. Yours is one of them. Borrowing Susan Champlin's phrase, I'm fond of the "Hushian view."

    My telephone was stolen on Friday afternoon at a salon in San Francisco. It was my first day out post-surgery and post-surgery surgical-adhesive reaction. Without being aware of the process, I was finally letting my mind, heart, muscles relax after the benign biopsy results, absentmindedly set my phone down on a counter, and someone spirited it away.

    Being an accidental techie in techie Northern California (or, as my techie cohort likes to call me, an "artsy-fartsy" techie), I've had a cell phone since the early 1990s. It was a gift. (A Nokia? The first one that I remember was the beautiful 1996 Motorola StarTAC.) I never used them much until I got a smart phone and entered a magical world where I could look up anything at anytime from anywhere, and I have never lost one. This loss hit me surprisingly hard. I suspect it was the surgery rather than the phone, but the loss of the phone, an expensive birthday gift from a friend who wished to replace my very old phone, which I had become wedded to despite its increasing incompatibility with its latest software releases, represented a significant financial hit.

    As a result, I spent my Saturday ascertaining that the data on my locked phone could not be accessed, examining the costs of a new telephone, and then driving to the Palo Alto AT&T store near where the late Steve Jobs lived, and that has been my AT&T store forever, or really since AT&T bought PacBell. (I am a brand-loyalty person stranded in a world of entrenched symbiotic disloyalty between product-producers and product-consumers.) Things began badly, but I was saved by an intelligent, compassionate salesperson to whom I exasperatedly expressed my unhappiness with AT&T's intentionally Kafkaesque business model. The young manager, dressed sweetly in a business suit (there are few business suit sightings anywhere in the vicinity of the corner of Page Mill and El Camino, near the venture capitalists and Stanford University in Silicon Valley) became involved, and I left with a new phone, acquired with a clever deal that he created for me, and after a long conversation with him and my salesperson about his MBA school applications to Stanford and Cal, and their fears, dream, goals. I asked for the name of the AT&T manager of these two people so I could send a note of thanks and admiration and was on my way.

    It had been a bad day, and a bad experience (and I do understand how relative that term is, and how lucky I am, but I've been mired in a run of bad experiences that is making the effort of rising above increasingly heavy lifting) that became an extraordinarily positive one.

    I thought of the small fact that years ago, shortly after college, when I first saw the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, to which I came late, I wanted to remember the line, "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," so I picked up the nearest envelope and pen and happened to write those words on the envelope containing my birth certificate. I still have my birth certificate in that same envelope, so whenever I pull it from my files, I read those words. When Blanche utters them, they contain layers of tragic meaning, but transferred onto my envelope they have taken on both an ironic, and a more literal, positive feel. I thought of that today.

    And that is how I spent my Saturday. Thank you for asking. xo

    1. Oh dear. Katherine, I do not like the sound of your day at all. Not one single bit. Except for the end, of course, which seems to have turned out as well as it could, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

      It's not right that you should be going through this after what you've been going through this week with the surgery and the allergic reaction. Sometimes life stinks.

      I too have remembered Blanche's line since the moment I first heard it. It has always had that poignant sting for me, but your association might just change that. How excellent that it's risen above and become...meta. :-)

      I admire your loyalty to AT&T. I am loyal to some brands, but not that one. It goes back to the days before Bell was broken up and New York Telephone was our utility. They were the worst people on earth. They tortured me by disconnecting my phone every Friday for months. Sometimes they said I hadn't paid my bill (I had). A couple of times they said I'd sent them a letter saying they should turn it off (!!). Eventually they drove me so nuts that I threatened to pull my big, heavy, black phone-with-a-dial out of the wall and throw it at the first person I saw in their office, which wasn't far away. At that point they stopped turning off my phone, stopped sending me phone bills and sent a man to calm me down. But by then, I was their enemy.

      I sincerely hope your Sunday is better than your Saturday! Take care, thank you for commenting and keep in touch.

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