best thing about New York is the bridges. BMW, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, that’s how I remembered it, from south to north. It’s because they allow for interborough subway access, and we all know that public transportation is what really makes a city – that’s why L.A. sucks. I’m just kiddin’ L.A. I love you. ahem. But the thing about New York is that not only is a car unnecessary, it’s impractical. Traffic can add 10 dollars to an uptown ride. But back to the bridges. Of course everyone’s favorite is the Brooklyn bridge, since it’s brick and wooden planked walkways conjure memories of Whitman’s New York, when the city had a vast harbor, and Brooklyn was its own city, which, by the way, if it still were, would be the fourth largest in the United States. And the gulls fly and coast overhead, and it’s always sunny and cold and blue skied and all the people who are walking across the bridge are looking back and forth trying to take it all in, holding hands underneath those gothic arches in the high towers, the American flags waving on top – it’s the oldest suspension bridge in the country, the Brooklyn bridge. But it’s the Williamsburg bridge that I want to write about because when Buckley and I were feeling adventurous, we’d skate over it. The ride was red and blue: the steel mesh cage of the railings of the bridge are red and you can see smeary uptown Manhattan pretty clearly through the grating. Until the river is directly beneath you’re skating uphill, which is a drag. It’s worth it for the ride down though because the grade is gradually steeper as you get closer to the shore and on a skateboard you can only carve back and forth, weaving so that the board doesn’t get the speed wobbles and throw you off of it and you fall and reflexively fall on your palms to protect you even though they inevitably gash and and bleed and you might even have some raspberries on your knees or elbows after rolling facefirst into the pavement – no, instead you dig your heels and toes into the sides of the board because as they hang off you’re allowed more lateral mobility as any boardsporter knows
(the original phrase ‘hang ten’ comes from surfing when all ten toes are off of the board itself in order to shred the wave) and so you keep gaining speed trying to carve, but eventually you see the end of the path about three hundred meters away and a solid cement wall, and you know that if you bombed it you’d get the wobbles and even if you carved it you might be running the risk of hitting a pedestrian so you can only jump off, and send the board into the wall careening and falling supine, wheels spinning in stasis. And the adrenaline’s pumping and your chest is heaving and you think man, i sure am glad i jumped off when i did because another second or two and i’d be bloodied
In Williamsburg there is more grafitti and fewer people. People who are living in New York not because they have the money to afford the luxury of Manhattan or were passed down a rent-controlled apartment out of luck, but because they work in Manhattan and commute, or are artists and enjoy the quiet or whose parents immigrated here last generation and haven’t moved because it’s home, are the kinds that live in Williamsburg. We skate southeast down a varicolored street with houses that look like matchstick boxes painted the colors of those Valentine’s Day hearts that have romantic phrases like ‘Be Mine,’ and have paint chipping gates and there is a school: a P.S. 89 and a stark playground and basketball court with yellow lines on it and Hasidic Jews everywhere and the men with their hats and their long coats and glasses walk down the street conversing learnedly with their payos shaking back and forth and young pretty wives with their heads covered with handkerchiefs picking their newborn babies in their strollers up as they ascend the steps of these matchbox houses backwards cautiously looking to see that baby doesn’t fall out and isn’t disturbed by the jump and settle, jump and settle of each step, and I wave and some of them look at me while I wave and their faces have distrust on them and they don’t wave back. But I don’t hold it against them because Buckley and I are having a day.
We skate to Flatbush avenue and underneath the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and feel the ages of the crack and the drugs and the danger and the cleaning and the renovation and the new paint and the beginning of gentrification and friendliness, even though it’s grounded in curiosity. And we skate, with one leg boardfixed and the other one swinging back and forth on top of the black pavement making small claps as we push and are pulled by the city forward and back. And the brownstones off of Clinton Avenue are surrounded by large elms and the properties are noticeably older and richer and I think of the New York royalty that owned these pads a hundred years ago and how this was farmland and of how young our country is and how money is aristocracy and sometimes the ability to rise also means the ability to fall whereas in England or India at least you’re set for life, you don’t have to worry about status because it’s handed to you and maybe that’s good but no, it’s not good because it’s not American. And we skate along Fulton, past the liquidation furniture stores and the cell phones outlets and sneaker shops and banks and the people and the buses hissing and squeaking as they rise and sink along the curbs to make their stops. And then we’re in downtown Brooklyn with black lampposts like the kind that are only around old Washington Square and the mottled black pigeons fly off into the cerulean sky and scatter among the court house, the large legal areas of justice and propriety and flagstoned streets and people walking everywhere and there’s seed in the street and there could be a circus around the block with P.T. Barnum saying “Come see the greatest show in the world” and marching his twenty one elephants across the Brooklyn Bridge to ensure people that the flying rumor about the stability of the bridge – or lack thereof – was just that, a rumor and that this is New York City and Brooklyn where we are strong and impressive and acts of virility are commonplace.
Then when we’re back where we started, we’re tired and sweaty. We eat some thin crusty cheesestringy pizza and fold it in half and let the grease drip out of the crust side – or not –and drink our Cokes to wash it down and back out we go and see the precipitous towers loom ahead and the hundreds of pedestrians. We sling our boards under our arms and look at each other and laugh and walk along the bridge, with everyone else – until midway. We ride the grade down, cutting and weaving and we’re back in downtown Manhattan, where we live although the beginnings of the financial district are so different from the ends of the east village that it’s like we’re still in another borough and we to avoid the traffic, we skate uptown along the water in the the board lanes.