Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pearson to Laguardia (Pt. II)

Thursday, March 19, 2009 ... [Continued from Part 1]

I've only been to New York once before, and that was to move my sister in. (We drove. It was a disaster.) On that occasion, I had very little time to play tourist, so I was determined to hit the key landmarks this time around.

We took the tram from Roosevelt Island where my sister lives to Manhattan Island (both are part of the borough of Manhattan). The tram is kind of exciting because it crosses the East River high above New York City, providing a pretty sweet view. My sister assured me, though, that during windy days it can be pretty rocky and will even slam sideways into the cable-supporting towers along the way. Since cable cars seem a little bit dodgy to begin with, the image of the tram car smashing to and fro was reasonably distressing for me.

From the tram station we walked to a New York City Subway station. The subway infrastructure in New York is old, made of crumbling tiles, dreary concrete, and criss-crossing black steel beams. Stations have all the welcoming atmosphere of old prison complexes you see on television. That said, the subway network is impressively intricate. Train lines run every which way all over the city, making it an effective tool for getting virtually anywhere. The station at which we boarded the train was an intersection point for numerous lines, with literally dozens of staircases and hallways winding up, down, and around guiding commuters to the correct station platform for boarding. Certainly New York's subway services a much greater proportion of the city than the narrow corridor covered by the TTC in Toronto (and in fact I think that Toronto should be ashamed of the limited utility of its subway system given the size of the city).

Interestingly enough, most stations have an on-duty police officer and numerous security cameras. You can see the little booth in the middle of the station platform in which an NYPD officer was sitting. The above photo of the R Train is the only photograph of the subway that I was able to take, because after taking it I was approached by the officer who told me that it was illegal to take pictures of the subway. When I asked her why this was, she artfully dodged the question by simply replying that she would much rather see me on my way than take me in for questioning, so I had better put the camera away. My sister tried to restate the question by asking what the rationale for this rule is, to which the officer replied that the station is a terrorist watch post, that it is illegal to take pictures of the trains, that the station security cameras are monitored by Homeland Security, and that we didn't want Homeland Security to see us taking pictures of anything.

I obliged by not taking any further photographs from any of the station platforms for the rest of the week. I was, however, pleased that the officer didn't ask me to erase the photos that I had already taken. I must admit that ever since I started blogging, the activity has taken on a somewhat cathartic role in my life. Instead of becoming unreasonably upset with these situations, I consider how interesting these stories will be in the retelling. See how much I like you guys?

The little police booths actually have placards on them that read, "Suspect terrorism? Call the NYPD. 888-NYC-SAFE." I thought it was kind of cute.

As I mentioned, the infrastructure for the New York subway system is incredibly old, but the trains themselves are of various ages. The newest trains include automated audio prompts informing riders about upcoming stations and possible transfer points, LED information screens, and a real-time map indicating where the train is, which direction it is travelling in, and at which stations it will stop. Of course, while none of these features are particularly advanced (they're virtually ubiquitous around Asia), Torontonians won't see anything similar until our new trains arrive in 2011.

We took a ferry over to the Statue of Liberty, donated to the United States by France in 1886. The ferry also travelled to Ellis Island where immigrants entered the United States until 1954, but I limited my goals to the major landmarks - the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building - so we passed on Ellis Island. I was mildly amused by the pigeons who seemed to have taken permanent residence on the ferries. It's actually a pretty clever scheme given the volume of tourists that ride the ferries everyday and buy snacks from the on-board concession stands.

While our ferry dropped us off on Liberty Island, we were shocked to discover that our tickets did not actually allow for us to ascend the statue itself. Ascension all the way up to the statue's crown has been prohibited since 9/11. However, visitors can go up the ten story pedestal with a Monument Access Pass, which unbeknownst to us, needed to be booked a week in advance. Bollocks.

We had to contend ourselves to walk around the statue's perimeter and revel in the gift shop. I have to tell you that Lady Liberty is quite a bit smaller than I had imagined. Sure she's rather big, but she's not the towering colossus that they portray her to be on television and in cinema. In fact, the statue itself is only a few metres taller than the Tian Tan Buddha in Hong Kong, but cheats by standing on an almost equally tall pedestal.

As a result, I was rather let down by Ms. Liberty's stature. This only goes to show you the power of expectation. When I saw the Big Buddha, I was blown away by its size. However, with the Statue of Liberty, expecting one statue to rule them all, I came away notably disappointed.

To be continued...


brutalturtle.blogspot.com said...

I have a solution to the intimidation problem. I have been confronted by people for taking pictures as you know. I am looking for a tiny camera that you wear around your neck and snaps photos every minute. It is cheap, it is not provoking anybody, and when you come home you get a photograph of every step you've taken. What you say. Two for us?

Teddy with the conspiracy theories said...

haha.. tiny discreet cameras are a slippery slope to something menacing down the role, if in the wrong hands... this new-found ability to snap pictures at different angle.... power corrupts haha


sandlot said...

the last picture is reminiscent of cloverfield poster. hahaa.

have you had streetmeat from nyc yet?! please do.