There is nothing like wandering around a city to make a person sleep well – I sleep longer than I have in the past several months, waking up at 6:00 AM on Sunday morning. In-room coffee in the hotels are universally terrible so I walk downstairs to the breakfast room and grab two cups: one for me and another for Daegan who is still sleeping.
By the time I arrive, Sage arrives and we slip in to the same routine we have when I’m on the road for work. I have a chat window open and next to it a YouTube window. This morning we are watching one of our new favourites: 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. Sage counts down in the chat window “3, 2, 1 GO!” and we start the video at the same time, commenting as we go.
After 30 minutes I’ve finished one cup of coffee. The other coffee is getting cold. I rationalize to myself that Daegan wouldn’t want cold coffee anyway and so I start drinking his coffee as well.
30 minutes later as I finish his coffee, Daegan wakes up. He may be as addicted to coffee as I am but he still hops out of bed full of energy and within 10 minutes he’s showered and ready to go.
In previous trips one of our big challenges has been getting out the door. We might relax in the room for a couple of hours, sipping coffee, eventually going to eat, and getting out by 10-11. Today, though, we are fed, showered, and ready to go by 8:00 AM. Out the door we go, taking Joseph’s advice and heading west toward the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Other than that we have a general idea that we will head toward Manhattan. We know where the cardinal directions are and so we don’t consult a map.
Immediately to the west of us is the Gowanus Canal. This is one of the most polluted bodies of water in the United States with everything from toxic waste to pathogenic bacteria in it. This is not a place you want to fall in to. Still, from the distance and in the morning light it looks lovely.
We continue west, turning right sometimes when there’s a red light. We pass a few signs like these:
We even see a couple of stoop sales and before long we’re singing the chorus of this song to ourselves.
A couple of days before we left, we set up a Google Map to collaborate on. We put things on the map that we might want to see while we were there. We didn’t intend to see everything on the map, but we could use it both for ideas for where to go as well as what might be nearby when we’re in any given place in the city.
We have been here less than 24 hours and already we’re seeing familiar places. There’s Picasso mowing his lawn and the bookstore, and soon we are at the edge of the water in the park.
The paths are getting more and more full of people as it gets later in the day. Folks are out riding bikes, walking with kids and pets, and enjoying the sun. The weather is absolutely perfect: in the mid 20’s and sunny with a nice breeze off the water.
While we’d considered finding a subway or bus to get to Manhattan we can see now that we’re getting very close to the Brooklyn Bridge. It would be crazy not to walk across it. And so off we go off in search of how to get there.
Big bridges like that often have on-ramps that start well inland so we turn inland ourselves in a direction we think might be right. Along the way we pass a park.
I love the coincidence of finding this particular park on a walk. Older folks will know one of his most famous songs:
It’s a beautiful song but also bittersweet. If you haven’t heard it before, give it a listen – I chose one with lyrics so you’re able to understand.
To summarize: it starts with the story of a little boy being born who adored his dad and always wanted to spend time with him but his dad was so busy with work he couldn’t ever spend time. Idolizing his dad he still says “You know I’m gonna be like him…”. Of course as he gets older the dad wants to spend time with his now adult son who has no time for his dad and the dad realizes his son had grown up just like him – successful but also with no time to spare. I remember listening to this in the late 1970’s and thinking that this sounded a lot like my own father and how it sounded both sad but also a story of a natural rite of passage from boy to man. As unavoidable as one’s voice changing or a beard growing.
I smile as I see the sign because I always made family time a priority to the point of taking several years off when Daegan was born. Work was necessary but I always made time for him (and Sage, of course). Even when I would travel for business, we would play multi-player online games in chat, or even cook dinner together on the webcam, 500 miles apart. Now here I am with my adult son who has friends, work and things he loves to do back home but there he was finding time for me. Some might think of the time they signed the papers for their big new house, their promotion to Vice President, or driving their new BMW to their high school reunion as moments when they felt like a success. For me, more than any moment like that, this is a moment I feel like an amazing success and I don’t even need to have a prepared Oscar acceptance speech ready.
Daegan seems to have inherited my natural sense of direction because he points the way and soon we’re climbing the stairs up to the pedestrian and bicycle walkway on the bridge.
There are so many people walking in both directions. In some ways it feels post-apocalyptic. There we are all walking across a bridge to escape. But today it feels more festive. Along the way we see people selling souvenirs, drinks and snacks, and even artwork.
As we cross, I get a message from my friend Faizal, also from Brooklyn. We tried to connect on his last trip to Toronto – his parents live in the building next door – but we couldn’t pull it off. He’s seen our photos on Instagram and can tell what direction we’re headed. He invites us to meet him later in the day on Governor’s Island. We’ve got a few plans before that but tell him we’ll try to make it.
As we go downhill to get in to New York, Daegan stops to look at his shoe. He’d recently bought a used pair of shoes at the neighbourhood Salvation Army. At first he said it felt like there was gum on his shoe but before long it was clear it was worse than that. His sole had come almost completely unglued. Where before we had no solid plans for what to do once we got to Manhattan we just got one: Buy new shoes for Daegan. We consult Google Maps for the first time that day and find a shoe store. Instead of walking, we take the subway uptown and get it taken care of.
After walking all morning we are ready to eat lunch. We look around online to find something appealing and come across a Malaysian restaurant just a few blocks away in Chinatown. We walk down Bowery, through a neighbourhood that seems to sell only restaurant tables and chairs followed by one that sold restaurant lighting. Finally we start seeing more restaurants. Daegan points down a dark alley. There’s the restaurant, I almost missed it.
I’ve had a little bit of Malaysian food – one visit to a restaurant in Toronto and a second for delicious Malaysian noodles when Sage and I had our takeaway picnic last summer but am far from an expert. We order without really knowing what a few of the things are. Roti Canai sounds like it will have a roti with it but the ipoh rojak that Daegan selects doesn’t come with any clues other than the fact that it’s on the appetizer menu. We also order a chicken curry and some rice.
First comes the roti canai:
There is a crispy fried paratha on the plate, flaky and hot. Next to it is a small bowl of chicken curry in a peanut-based sauce. I’m glad that we each ordered one because it is really tasty
Then comes the ipoh rojak:
This one is more mysterious. I recognize cucumber and green mango, pineapple, and of course bean sprouts, peanuts, and sesame seeds. The sauce is a little trickier to identify. There’s a taste of dark soy, and something sour – maybe lime or vinegar? There’s a hint of fishy umami that might be fish sauce or shrimp paste. It’s good but not as good as the roti canai.
Then comes the main:
This is a big bowl of chicken, more sauce like the roti canai curry had, and then, underneath it is a pile of noodles. “Hmmm,” I think, “I probably shouldn’t have ordered rice with this if it already comes with noodles.”
As I eat a piece of chicken from it, our waiter comes rushing over.
“Did you order this?”
“Isn’t this the chicken curry?”
He grabs the bowl and says “No.” so gruffly that I apologize for the mistake before I realize what I’m doing.
Soon after the curry arrives. I cautiously dig in, waiting for him to swoop down and take our food again.
There is less gravy but still enough to spoon over rice so I am happy. This is similar in flavour to the first curry. We head out, completely stuffed. So stuffed, in fact, that we both are ready for a nap – or coffee.
Daegan seems to have an even better developed sense of direction than I have because with only his memory of looking at the map before we left the hotel, says “I think we’re near Caffe Roma” . I check Google Maps and indeed we are only a few blocks away. We head over to Little Italy.
A few of the streets are closed and people are out in the streets enjoying themselves.
There’s a lot happening on the streets – people are meeting, gelato is being sold, and music is being played.
Daegan knows this area well from his studying the map and tells me that we are also near the International Center of Photography Museum. This was a favourite of ours on our last visit and Daegan is really excited as the featured exhibit is of Henri Cartier-Bresson who talks about “The Decisive Moment” – a moment that, when captured by a photograph, presents the essence of the situation or event. They had an entire floor of his photographs from around the world. as well as some during World War II. I found this one the most striking there. It shows the moment when, just after the war, a person is being accused of being a Gestapo informer. The emotions are incredible. He also took many photos of Mahatma Gandhi including the last one ever taken of him. Later he would take a photo of Nehru announcing his assassination. I hadn’t seen his photos before but they are moving. He really does know how to capture moments filled with emotion of all sorts.
We finish up here and the timing is good, my friend has arrived on Governor’s Island. We head down that way ourselves. First, however, we must make a stop. After walking almost 15 kilometres our first day and that many again already, my feet are sore and blistered. I will be OK today but will need some first aid supplies to get through the rest of the trip.
A quick subway ride takes us to within a short walk of the ferry terminal we’d seen earlier in the day. Now we would be taking it ourselves. The trips are frequent so we are on a boat within 10 minutes of our arrival. We laugh as the pilot pulls out of our berth. While the Toronto ferries slowly pull away from the pier, this is not the case with our ferry. We zoom backward away from land and the pilot whips it around before hitting the gas again zooming toward the island. If we were in a car on land, there would be long strips of burned rubber.
Governor’s Island is a lot like Toronto’s islands. There are only official vehicles allowed there but bicycles are everywhere. This island used to be an Army base for a while, and then a Coast Guard base. Now there are a few things happening there.
Aside from general recreation like picnics and BBQ’s, the old military housing units are loaned out to artists to use as gallery spaces from time to time. They’re abandoned with paint peeling and floors scuffed, but are kept in good structural shape and free of graffiti.
Some buildings there are used for Fire Safety Training and Research. And next door to some of the houses used by the fire department, an urban farm has set up compost facilities where chickens roam.
In the same area they are working on a project partnering with restaurants to gather shells of the oysters they sell, bringing them to the island by the millions, and reseeding them with new oysters before putting them in the ocean to grow again.
We walk to the south part of the island where Daegan captures a picture-postcard view:
As Daegan takes this photo I see Faizal off in the distance walking toward us. We have a quick meeting with Faizal and his friends. They have a plan to head in one direction and at the same time we hear that the last ferries will be leaving the island in an hour or so. Not wanting to miss them we grab a bike share bike. We have to buy a 24 hour membership but it’s worth it to just have a bike ride. I scan my credit card and am given a PIN code I can use to unlock two bikes at the south part of the island. We take a ten minute ride to the east side of the island and lock the bikes in another bike station near the ferry. We’re just in time to catch the ferry back to Brooklyn.
When we get to land my feet are pretty sore and we are still quite a ways from the hotel. Fortunately, not far from the ferry dock on the Brooklyn side is another bike station. We grab two more bikes and ride down a fully separated bike path to a quiet bike lane that takes us back to the hotel. It takes us less than fifteen minutes. It would have taken 2-3 times that long had we taken a bus home and much longer still if we’d walked. Instead we had a lovely ride on a summer night.
We drop our gear off at the hotel and head right back out the door. We’ve walked nearly 25 kilometres (almost 16 miles) and had the time of our lives. But we’re tired. Tonight we won’t be going far for dinner. Instead we go across the street to a BBQ place we visited on our previous visit to NYC.
Dinner is delicious. The meat is tender and juicy and the sauce is delightfully spicy and vinegary. I am pretty sure that the only thing keeping us awake, though, was our hunger because as soon as we get back to the hotel room my intention to read a bit before bed disappears. We both go right to sleep