10 July 2010

Easin' On Down The Road To Hell (Gate)

I'm off to ride my bikeee....and then I'm gonna ease on down, ease on down the road.

OK, you ask, why have I just mangled theme songs from two classic movies.  Well, it has to do with this photo:

One of the few things I have in common with Diana Ross is that I've crossed this bridge.  One difference is that the bridge didn't look like that when she crossed it.    Instead, it looked like this:

This image, of course, comes from the movie version of The Wiz.  It's one of those things that worked much better on stage that it did on celluloid.   The best things about the movie, to me, were "Ease On Down The Road" and Michael Jackson's portrayal of the Scarecrow.  Diana Ross, oddly enough, didn't lend any of her otherworldly charisma to the character of Dorothy, much less portray the character convincingly.  It was a shame:  I've seen her do a much better job as an actress, not to mention as a singer.

In the end, the movie seemed like a shameless attempt to cash in on the popularity of Blaxploitation films that had been popular for a few years before it was made.  Instead, it helped to kill off the genre.

Anyway...You didn't come here to see me do a bad imitation of Siskel or Ebert--or Pauline Kael.  I'll tell you that the bridge in question links Ward's Island with East 103rd Street in Manhattan.  

It's one of the oddest and most interesting structures in New York City--or anywhere.  To my knowledge, it's the only bridge in New York that's dedicated entirely to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.  No motor vehicles are allowed.  It's also odd and interesting for another reason:

As you can see from this photo, which I borrowed from The Bowery Boys, the section between the two towers is lifted when a ship needs to pass underneath the bridge.  The bridge is kept in this position through the winter and is therefore closed to bicycles and pedestrians.

Ward's Island is also a strange place.  There's a big mental hospital on it and, technically, it's no longer an island:  It was connected by landfill to Randall's Island, which is known for its sports venues and as the stage for le Cirque du Soleil.

Ward's and Randall's have a number of paths, some of which are paved, that zig-zag with the shorelines of the East and Harlem Rivers.   They also contain fields used by youth soccer and baseball leagues, a training facility for the Fire Department and a wastewater treatment plant that, at times, fills the islands with the scent of cologne poured down a septic tank.  

The two islands also sit between Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx.  All are connected by the RFK Memorial (formerly known as the Triboro) Bridge, which is really a system of three different spans that all meet on Randall's Island.  

There's also a spot where, a little birdie tells me, more than a few New Yorkers were conceived:

It's underneath a bridge over which you've passed if you've taken the Acela (Amtrak Customers Expect Late Arrivals) between New York and Boston.  

Yes, it's the Hell Gate Bridge, which begins near Astoria Park, which is near my home. 

Might Charon himself be the pilot of the lead boat?

Going this way?:

See what happens when you stay up late nights reading The Inferno and drinking espresso?  Hmm....Imagine what would have happened if all those English public school kids grew up reading it instead of Pilgrim's Progress.  Maybe punk rock would have happened 300 years before Richard Hell (I just had to include him in this post!) and Sid Vicious.

Anyway...While we're still in Hell Gate, I want to show you something you definitely wouldn't have seen in a 1970's  Schwinn ad:

Ignaz Schwinn would be spinning (pun intended) in his grave!  This is more like what he would have had in mind:

No wonder 20-year olds weren't buying Schwinns in 1978.  (Trust me, I know:  I was one!)  

Some things never change, though.  In those days, everyone said the world was going to hell in a handbasket.  And our parents and teachers thought we were leading the way.  Really, though, we were just easin' on down the road:  We could, because the world was a simpler place.  Or so we think now.


  1. Sorry to disappoint you (and I know this is a little late) but that bridge that Dorothy (Diana Ross) and the Scarecrow ( the late, great Michael Jackson) eased onto after she helps him down from his post away from the crows, is not the pedestrian bridge you biked on. The actual bridge is in Queens at Corona Flushing Meadows Park. It is the foot bridge that goes over the Long Island Expressway. I've always wondered about that bridge. I knew that the multiple shots of the Chrysler Building was fake, but the bridge seemed so real. And it makes sense that the bridge is the kickoff to the start of the Yellow brick road leading to Oz. It stands a mere 50 yards or so from the Pavillion structure in the same park. That was used as Munchkinland when Dorothy lands on the Evil Witch and the show begins with song and dance among the Muchkins. You cannot Google map it. But I was just there today and the sight of it is so memorable. As if you would say "Hey, I've seen that bridge before." I took some shots of it with my camera and went home to compare it to the film shots - and yep, that's it - The Ampitheatre Bridge.

  2. I also have to add that the bridge that you did bike on is indeed in the film. It is used during the chase scene by the flying motorcycle monkeys. I know that bridge and pass it when driving on the FDR/Harlem River Drive

  3. Anon--Well, I guess I should be glad someone read the post four years after I wrote it. That might not make it eternal, or even a classic, but I'm happy. Thanks for pointing out the misinformation I inadvertently passed along. Have a Happy New Year!

  4. Not sure who will read this 9 years late, but to make another film connection, much of the 1973 Godspell was filmed under the Hellgate Bridge. It was the perfect spot with those high arches in series fading to the vanishing point. This location is just one among zillions that make that movie magical even today to watch.

  5. Joey--Well, I'm glad someone's reading my posts nearly a decade after I wrote them!

    I didn't know about Godspell being filmed there. Thanks for telling us about that!