Visions of New York

A walk in New York City is a passage between the world’s extreme possibilities – in between the horrors of Armageddon and the bliss of an urban paradise. You walk near-sighted, with blinders that hide these wild visions as you pad along between shadowing old buildings. There are craters dug out for new buildings lurking behind plywood screens. Construction cranes tower higher than the imagination or the highest fireworks can go.

On Monday night, the Big Dipper was invisible to me, at first, until our daughter Sarah pointed it out between high buildings on W. 49th Street as we stood around our son Daniel’s parked rental car, a family again for a few more minutes.WTC Earlier that day, Libby and I had explored the 9/11 Memorial – long sheets of water pouring down into the black square void that had been the North Tower’s footprint, a light rain leaving tear drops that ran down the inclined slab of engraved names. Then we went through the 9/11 Museum. I was thinking about the utter destruction of that wrenching day. A billboard in Times Square was flashing “Nothing can prepare you for what’s next!” with scenes from a new movie called “San Andreas.”

Yet all around us, new buildings continue to rise, powerful like the new World Trade Center that checked us thoroughly at Security before we rose in Artificial Intelligence elevators to the offices of Glamour. Or pencil-thin like the high-rises needing only one elevator shaft because they are residences, investments by billionaires from other nations. Tractor trailers continue to 9-11 namesrumble down the West Side into Lower Manhattan, doing the work that trains did in the 19th century at street level until so many pedestrians were killed, they raised the train tracks onto elevated steel girders. Those tracks were abandoned by the mid-20th century, and nearly demolished by the 1970s. But a few “new urbanists” sought to save the elevated line that still stood between W. 34th St. near the Hudson and curved southeast then south to the Village. Now, with the blessing of Mayor de Blasio, it has opened as the pedestrian High Line. Libby and I walked from our hotel down W. 34th Street, past the crowd waiting for the newest mode of public transportation at the Megabus curb, to the northern entrance of the High Line.

It was a lovely twilight hour, with breezes from the river, sailboats jagging randomly, valentine clouds, and all shapes and sizes and colors of peaceful people enjoying their stroll along the gardened path. There were couples dressed for fine dining and a play, hip-hop clusters, pregnant women, a Buddhist panhandler, professors and photographers. No matter what tragic disaster befell, and no matter “what’s next,” it seems that human life will overwhelm the loss with a thousand times more building up and with our irrepressible living. The City of God pushes through the abandoned old systems. The rusty rails become happy trails.Us

Another disaster: an Amtrak train like the one that brought us here two days earlier derails going 106 miles an hour around a curve northeast of Philadelphia. Eight passengers are killed, and hundreds injured. The Amtrak service that was to bring us home is shut down for the week. Scrambling to beat the rush out of New York, I was able to rent two SUVs from Newark Airport that brought us home by 7 p.m. Life goes on, and outgrows itself.

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About Doug Cumming

journalism professor at W&L
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