Thursday, June 9, 2011

New York: Bridge & Tunnel Crowd

It's not flattering to be called bridge & tunnel in New York. You're the other, not of Manhattan, the sophisticated center of the world—or so some Manhattanites like to think. But the city reaches beyond the Upper East Side. It's East Harlem's El Barrio and the Bronx's resurgent Arthur Avenue, once the center of Italian life and culture in the borough. It's Citipark, the Queens home of the Mets, and Yankees Stadium, the born-again home of the love-'em-or-hate-'em Bronx Bombers. It's Flushing Meadow and Prospect Parks. It's the Bronx Zoo and Coney Island. It's the Staten Island Ferry and water taxis. It's all the small neighborhoods that witness lives large and small in more than 80 languages.
In short, it's home.

I was thinking about that as I gazed at the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend, waiting to beginning celebrating my friend's S.'s big birthday. How many folks were walking, running, biking and driving over the East River, making their way to spouses, kids, friends, siblings, neighbors.

It's one of the world's most storied bridges, and rightly so. A feat of engineering by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling, it was completed—after Mr. Roebling succumbed to an infection just two years into the project—by his American-born son, Washington, with the able assistance of his wife, Emily Warren, after he himself fell ill with decompression sickness (or "caisson's disease," as it was known then). The bridge took 13 years to build. When it opened in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world and the first steel-wire suspension bridge. Confidence in the bridge's soundness was cemented when, a year after its opening, P.T. Barnum paraded his elephants across the span to promote his circus's coming to town.
Today, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of three connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn, once a separate, thriving city and now and forever connected to its sister rival.
But none of the facts about the bridge echoed in my head. All I could see was the bridge in the gloaming, before the lights emblazoned the structure and nighttime overtook the piers. The light was amazing, the span's beauty breathtaking. Behind it regally stood the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, dutifully standing firm as thousands crossed their steel paths. And I wanted to be among them, the bridge & tunnel crowd, doing the very New York-est of things.


  1. Oh...I love this post! There is something amazing and surreal about bridges... I am constantly in awe of them. Thank you for the great post!

  2. Beautiful! It really is amazing that most people who see and use the bridge every day have no idea of its amazing history. In the end it was actually Emily, who was a powerhouse and a forward thinking woman of her time that really made it all happen. I think that is so well suited for a city like NYC that really has lots of it success rooted in women leaders.