New York mega drift 13th September
Day one in New York, having arrived on a night flight at 10pm the night before, Astrid woke at around 3am, thinking it was morning. We tried to stay quiet in the small office space of our friend’s one-bed apartment so as not to disturb her (she had to work the next day) but we were ready to go out for an initial wander pretty early. We were staying in Greenpoint – the northernmost part of Brooklyn – and I had in mind to try to walk to the gallery in Queens. That did not happen.
From the end of the street I could see the Manhattan skyline, and decided to walk towards it, to find the river edge and follow it a little. We arrived at the East River at a small park with a jetty out into the water. It was overcast but very warm – the tail end of hurricane Florence had hit the day before. The tips of the skyscrapers on the other side were stuck in the clouds. This first bit of walking was easy – the pavements were wide, and reasonably smooth, drop-kerbs abounded, and the riverside park had access ramps alongside steps. Trying to follow the river was harder. Not just for me with a pram, but for everyone. The waters edge was closed off for new developments of luxury flats – building work towering above the light industrial and warehouse spaces along the riverside. Zigzagging back and forth for a block or two we came to another jetty – this one a ferry stop – and with a ferry pulling in I made an impulse decision to get on.
The ferry stopped at several points along the Brooklyn shore, and I stood outside at the back watching the wake and the two sides of the river behind me. After a while one of the ferry’s crew came out to say he thought I shouldn’t stand there – that fumes from the engine were blowing back across the platform I was standing on – and he was worried about the baby. Inside Astrid soon fell asleep, the vibrations running through the pram and the white noise of the engines lulled her, but made me start to feel a little sick. So we got off at the next stop: Wall Street, lower Manhattan.
Lower Manhattan was busier, and the sidewalks narrower, but I still felt like I could move pretty easily. We hit the occasional bump down and up crossing roads -there are drop kerbs but they’re a little narrow and quite steeply slanted. We stop for a while in a small playground. At the foot of a huge block that looks like apartments, right on the edge of the skyscraper grid. It feels dwarfed, but is full of babies and toddlers and mostly nannies and childminders (I think). Everyone is friendly and chats and coos at Astrid. To the north we can see the rise of the street going up to the Brooklyn Bridge, and I decide to see if we can walk back across the river, completing our loop.
This is my first experience of real impediments. The bridge is so crowded with tourists crossing it that it’s very tricky to move. It’s also impossible to record with a photograph as people jostle and try to overtake one another, walking out into the bike path and then getting yelled at as bikes have to swerve out of the way. Near the middle it eases a little (I guess some people walk half way and then back again – quick photo opp) but the slatted board surface jolts and jars. I am happy to reach the other side. In my excitement I probably exit too early, and end up carrying the pram down two flights of stairs to reach the road. I imagine there was a ramp leading all the way off, but I missed it. People do offer to help, but once I’m carrying it’s harder to let go and share the load than it is to keep going.
Downtown Brooklyn is tougher. We soon get stuck on a pavement that goes nowhere, and have to cross through parked cars. We reach steep edges with no drop kerbs, and the cracks in the sidewalk catch at our wheels. After a frustrating half hour of trying to get my bearings, avoiding the huge roads that lead up to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, I admit exhaustion and decide to take the subway back to Greenpoint. Jetlag has clearly set in as I manage to walk in circles, failing to find the G-train station that I need. I could take two trains and change, but I’m dreading having to carry the pram up and down into the station, and then up and down to change trains, and then up and up to get out. Finally I get on the right track, walk to the G station, and get onto the subway. I feel weirdly charged with strength, carrying the pram up and down by gripping it across the frame, barely pausing as I push, glide, lift, carry.
By the time I get back to Greenpoint I’m really tired, but I have to carry the pram up the steps to the front door of my friend’s apartment, and then up the stairs inside as well. This last effort feels like the tipping point. Away from the street life of the city – the excitement of being somewhere new and the visual presence of New York it is harder to find strength. I imagine that this would be my impediment if I lived here – not the walking around the city but the getting out of the house.