A wonder to perceive

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A small power boat in Mecox Bay. 7:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Friday, August 19, 2022. Lovely weather in New York right now, as I write this at the end of yesterday, with temps in the low 80s, low humidity, overcast or very sunny, it’s been perfect Summer days this week.

New York feels especially quiet right now, and as we enter the weekend – when many who can, leave town – you get the feeling that the last two weeks of this month are the getaway weeks for those lucky enough.

Having experienced summers both inside and outside of town, the city’s quite a fascinating study any day, but when it “empties out,” there’s room to look around and even see the sunsets and the sunrises; a wonder to perceive.

Saturday, during my regular stroll (dogwalking) down by the river. I love to watch the boats on the river, as you may have gathered if you’ve read the NYSD before. However, I was surprised by all the activity going on in the brief time that I was there (with camera in hand).

I love these big barges carrying construction equipment. I have no idea what kind of project the crane was heading for, be it in the harbor or on land although I was surprised to see it at work on a weekend, let alone a holiday weekend.

Following right behind it was this sleek cabin cruiser with the navy blue hull moving downriver (and soon to pass the crane barge).

And moving up river at the same moment (you can see it in the upper right hand corner of the crane barge photo) is this private touring boat, Manhattan of the Classic Harbor Line. I have no idea what the CHL is but it looks to be a more intimate version of the Circle Line as the passengers are obviously taking in the view of the island.

But following right behind by less than a mile (that piece of cable span above the buildings is the Williamsburg Bridge connecting Manhattan to that part of Brooklyn) is an eclectic fleet including what in the center looks like another kind of touring boat, followed – on the right – by a Circle Line boat. I don’t know the rules for traveling on the river but it appears that aside from the smaller cruisers moving through the channel – and the jet skis – everyone moves at a reasonably cautious speed.

Then, across the channel, cruising very close to the Queens shoreline was this odd-looking cruiser that looks like a souped up former military tub/cabin cruiser. For all I know it has some useful purpose to its owner (other than cruising down the river).

Here’s a little closer shot as it moves downriver taking the channel on the eastern side of Roosevelt Island. It is an interesting Rube Goldbergian-looking boat, almost like the owner designed it and made it himself. Or did it over. Something. The East River, if you didn’t know, isn’t really a river but rather a tidal strait that connects New York Harbor with the Harlem River to the northwest and easternmost part of Long Island Sound. Many people have expressed their uncertainty as to which way the “river” flows, not realizing that it flows with the tide – in and out.

Here’s a shot of the end of East 83rd Street at the river’s edge, looking west. You can get a bit of a sense of the “hilly-ness” of this part of Manhattan. In the late 18th century, this part of Manhattan was countryside, very hilly and thick with forests (which were eventually entirely decimated for the wood for fuel and buildings). The wealthier city-dwellers built houses in this area as summer getaways away from the city’s smells (and there were a lot of them) and luxuriating in the fresh breezes off the river. Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s house, was one such house.

Quite a bit of the land in this area was part of the Astor family’s real estate holdings. At the end of his life, it has been recorded, the first Astor – John Jacob I – was asked if he had any regrets. He is said to have replied: “Yes, that I didn’t buy more land.” It was his great-great grandson Vincent Astor who developed some of those holdings that you are looking at in this picture and renamed what was originally Avenue B (uptown) East End Avenue (York Avenue – named for the legendary Sergeant Alvin York, the most decorated American soldier of World War I – was Avenue A).

Now having passed under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge (extending over Roosevelt Island), we can see that the grey tourist cruiser has taken the lead heading north.

We can see her more clearly here. She’s called the Grand Caribe. I’ve never seen this boat before, which doesn’t mean she hasn’t traveled on the East River before, but surely not very often.

Meanwhile, coming from the northwestern channel (Harlem River) moving downriver are these two – with the catamaran bobbing in the wake of the fishing cruiser.

If this were a race, you can see who the winner would be. That’s the entrance from the FDR Drive to the Robert F. Kennedy Triboro Bridge and Randall’s Island in the background.

There she is, really moving, evidently heading south out into the Atlantic for some serious fishing.

The channel’s all hers from this POV. Private Placement out of Mamaroneck.

And here’s the Grand Caribe looking grand …

Some closeups …

“The Grande Caribe carries 84 passengers everywhere from Belize to Baltimore …”

Then suddenly coming into the picture, moving at a greater speed, the Seastreak Wall Street – a popular high-speed commuter service between Manhattan and the Jersey Shore.

Right by the northern tip of Roosevelt Island, heading south, the Alexander Hamilton of the NY Waterway, passes the Grand Caribe.

With the Seastreak Wall Street catching up.

And overtaking the Grand Caribe right by the Astoria shoreline.

Watching Seastreak approach the oil tanker heading into the East River channel from my purview, it looked hairy for a minute there although you can see in this photo that Seastreak was moving deftly and quickly out toward Long Island Sound.

With the Grand Caribe well behind, evidently moving in the same direction.

Slipping by all of them, heading south almost unnoticed at its put-put sailboat motor speed, the About Time from Hilton Head, South Carolina.

After watching the boats, with the garage nearby, with dawgs back in the apartment, I took the mini out for a ride with the top down for my weekly Zabar’s Run …

Here, I’m waiting for the light at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue to take the transverse to the West Side. When the park was designed in the mid-19th century, they used Regent’s Park in London as a model and built the transverses so that New Yorkers could cross the park in their carriages at night (in the dark) without running into the more dangerous (criminal) elements who might be lurking, which is what was the case in Regent’s Park in London in the mid-19th century. A century and a half later, New Yorkers jog, bicycle and roller blade along the inner park roads without a thought about such matters. The people you see crossing the street moving right are heading for the Metropolitan Museum just two blocks north.

Waiting at the light on 80th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, having made my Zabar’s visit, with the top down, I was looking up at the sky for signs of a predicted thunderstorm, and noticed the roof of this building. This is an old block – you can tell by the architecture – a century ago they were building apartment buildings that were often walk-ups of five to six stories. You can see by the window frames and brickwork of both buildings that they were all built together. And with probably identical interiors – three and four room apartments, two or four to a floor.

The lighter building, however, has been spiffed up, maybe refurbished entirely, and as you can see, the “penthouse” (this building was not originally built with a penthouse) is a contemporary addition. The architect has given the face a post-modern finale with this apartment (which no doubt rents for several thousand a month if it’s not already owned – with a value probably in the low seven figures). You see a lot of this kind of architectural improvisation around town and I’m always fascinated and amused by it. It celebrates the old by ringing in the new. It’s harmony in metropolitan life rather than the shock of the new. It’s innovative and adventurous too. Whatever the apartment layout and size, it’s in a prime neighborhood of New York today. Broadway is just a block away, restaurants and boutiques abound; the Museum of Natural History is around the corner, the Park is a block away. The resident of that penthouse has all that big sky to look out under to ponder life here on this planet. Probably a couple of working fireplaces inside there too, to further enhance such meditation.

More fixation with the approaching stormclouds, waiting for the light at 81st and Amsterdam.

Back on the East Side on 79th and Park looking south to the MetLife building. It’s beginning to spritz but doesn’t feel stormy yet. In the distance, twenty-three blocks south is the new apartment tower going up on 56th and Park – you can see the crane at the current top (I think it’s going higher). The building is going to be as tall or taller than the Empire State. That may be hyperbole, but it is going to be, already is without being finished, very tall. Amazing sight, although I think I’d much rather have the 6th floor penthouse on top of a century-old building on Amsterdam and 80th. At least if you lost power (and we have in New York at times), you can physically take the stairs.

Back on dry land once again … from the terrace on East End, looking south at the sky. My camera can’t register the darkness of the clouds for some reason. But it is a light-ish dark, a kind of coolly ominous light, as if to warn us.

Still light, the rain brings out the umbrellas on the corner of East End and Gracie Square. People are coming from Carl Schurz Park.

And then three minutes later, a loud window-shaking thunderclap, lightning and sudden torrential rain with winds. You can see it blowing the rainfall along the roadway.

Looking to the south again, the torrent is so thick it looks like fog. It rained for about fifteen minutes, tapered off, rained a little more an hour later and finally tapered off with only an occasional spritz over the next few hours, and temperatures dropping to something cooler.

A beautiful, perfect, weekend in the city.

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