28 February 2016

Today, After Sunset

Time was when urban parks were places where old people sat on benches and, perhaps, fed squirrels or pigeons or watched grandchildren run, jump, climb and swing.  

At least, my earliest memories of a park--specifically, Sunset Park in Brooklyn--are like that.  Yes, my grandparents were the "old" people on the benches, though I now realize that my grandmother, then, was younger than I am now.  Sometimes I was one of the grandchildren in the scene I described; other times, I was sitting between my grandmother and grandfather, or in the lap of one of them.

Sunset Park covers a hill that rises from the surrounding neighborhood that shares its name.  Standing in that park, even on the murkiest of days, we had a better-than-postcard panaromic view of the steel and cobalt water, the gray tanks and white ship hulls that--as I could not know at the time--would soon start turning to rust, and the stone loft buildings and concrete piers where some of my relatives worked. Neither they, it seemed, nor I nor anyone else could see the gray bubbles dissolving or the cracks between them, whether they were bathed in sun or swept by shadows.

It occured to me today, as I rode along the Brooklyn waterfront, that if I had followed one of those shadows, one of those rays of the sun or the wing of one of the pigeons that often alighted from the park, I would have ended up at the water, in a spot not far from this:

The park, between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, brackets a neighborhood called DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).  Nobody called it that when my grandparents and I spent afternoons in Sunset Park; in fact, nobody (at least in my milieu) ever imagined spending time there except to work.  People didn't live, or even make art, in lofts back then--even if those lofts had the best views of the harbor and the Manhattan skyline.

In fact, the waterfront itself was a place to which someone went only if he worked there.  And, yes, almost anyone who worked there--including the relatives I mentioned--was male.  A woman by the waterfront was questionable or worse according to all of those unwritten, unspoken rules we learned; no responsible adult brought a child--his or her own, or anyone else's--to the river, to the harbor, to the bay.

Back then, you looked at the waters of New York Bay and the Hudson River only from a place like Sunset Park, high on a hill.   You certainly didn't ride a bike to, or along, the waterfront.  Actually, if you were an adult--especially an older one who sat on park benches and fed pigeons and squirrels--you probably didn't ride a bike.

Today I rode along the river and the bay, under the bridges and past piers that stand, and have long since been swept away.  I would not change anything about the ride or the park or the waterfront, any more than I would change the park where I spent those afternoons with my grandparents.  The funny thing is that, even at my rather advanced age, the hill doesn't seem as steep as it did then.  And the water--like the park--seems so much closer.


  1. It usually comes as a bit of a jolt when you realise that now you are the age of your parents at some time in the past that you remember. And your focus changes. But then there comes a time when you are the age of your grandparents back then. I greeted this with a little smile. Time stands still.

    They looked so OLD back then! Part of it was our perspective as young people. But those generations aged faster maybe. They went through the great depression and World War II. They were, many of them, traumaticised when we knew them. At this point, about 15 years ahead of you, I have outlived one of my grandfathers. Life is like a fixed gear bike: no brakes. Nothing to do but keep on riding.

    I do not understand why this blog does not have dozens of comments a day. I like this better than many other "popular" bike blogs, whose name I will not mention.


    1. "Life is like a fixed gear bike: no brakes. Nothing to do but keep on riding." I should put that on my refrigerator door!

      You make a great point about how our parents and grandparents aged. I haven't yet outlived any of my grandparents. It must be a strange feeling!

      Thank you for the compliment on this blog. I must say, your comments compensate, in quality, for any lack of quantity!