I will be leaving New York soon, possibly for good, and as such there are some sites that I feel we really need to check out before departure. Look, just because you live in the suburban sprawl but a stones throw from the Big Apple doesn’t mean you go there very often. The city doesn’t really want you anyway. You’re not stylish and you don’t have any money. She throws up roadblocks, all designed to drain your precious time and money. Buy a $20 ticket on the rails and make the hour journey to the magnificent Penn Station to play in the grounds of the superich. Buy some beers, cigarettes, the ubiquitous NYC pretzel or hot dog, a water or a coke, and you’re broke son. This is the stuff, or staff, of life and should be free, or close to it, anyway.
Regardless, this isn’t the gritty fun NYC of the 70’s and 80’s like you see in The Warriors and Taxi Driver. The Big Apple has lost a good deal of shine, charm, and lust. From this guy at least. They say that if you can make it in NYC you can make it anywhere, but what happens if you can’t make it there or don’t want to? The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is calling and your tab is due. Where do you go? Alaska maybe? We’ll figure that out I guess. But they’re saying that not all is lost and the Big City still holds some interesting gems. There are reports of a lost tribe of white people living somewhere in Brooklyn that work with computers in some sort of way. They’re wearing black rimmed glasses and they spend all their parents’ money on clothes. Look I can’t feel bad anymore about leaving you Apple, about leaving you in my dust.
OK, so we’re hearing that if you peel back some of the plastic, and really go searching for that mellifluous vibe, remnants of the weird still exist. The golden rule is in reverse and you have to go look for it now because it won’t come to you. Such is the plight of a once great city. As such, I’ve been wanting to check out Roosevelt Island for a while now; take the ride over in that infamous sky chariot, the one made so famous by Wilem Defoe in Spiderboy. Well, who isn’t fascinated by anachronistic means of commute and forgotten islands?
Situated in the East River, Roosevelt Island lies forlorn and forgotten. It’s part of Manhattan, yet only one road connects it to mainland Queens via drawbridge. You can get there via subway but get there via tram if you can, because it’s a great way to travel and, to everyone’s surprise, costs no more to ride than the subway. Make sure to get in and get out before nightfall because the tram stops running in the wee hours and word on the street is that if you get trapped there at night, Roosevelt Island is haunted. You would have to make your bed in the abandoned TB sanitarium that dots the southern tip of the island and no one wants to do that.
Travel Tip: Tips are not included in the tram fare. Be sure to doff the security guard in the tiny plastic booth a few kopeks before you board. He lives in there. Also, don’t forget to chat up the tram pilot on your ride over the river, if only to get a closer look at his little seat. He speaks English.
Stepping foot on Roosevelt Island, it becomes immediately clear that this is not Manhattan, and really has nothing to do with it. Roosevelt Island is a world unto its own and better resembles the campus of a cheap public New York State University than its Big Brother across the water. The vibe here is strong and all buildings are cast in the same concrete ice-cube tray. There are a lot of old people, disabled citizens, and a lot of children running around and playing. The lack of young intellectuals is comforting but only adds to the strangeness of this place as being a part of NYC. There is but one restaurant that is open, and at least one restaurant that appears to be closed but might be open. The one that is open is called Trellis and is a strange and terrible place. It’s got an upstate New York diner type of feel to it, sporting a homebuilt corner bar with no taps. The food is weird and terrible and everything comes with melted American cheese on it, even the French Onion soup. Be sure to ask for extra onions with your French Onion soup; they simply don’t give you enough. Bring your GPS if you must use the facilities, for you need to descend into the R.I. catacombs to get there, and don’t forget your flashlight.
Finish up your meal at Trellis, few ever do, for the true R.I. experience and take a stroll through the promenade to the soccer fields and gardens at R.I.’s northern terminus to cleanse your palette. Roosevelt Island has a rat problem. Glance a look in every other bush and behind things; there are rat traps everywhere (perhaps R.I. should take Istanbul’s lead and cultivate a population of stray cats). We didn’t see any rats though. But look, what R.I. doesn’t have is a segregation situation. Children of all races play together, smile, and hold hands, just like in the textbooks. Weirdness. But hey, it’s getting dark and you gotta go right? Walk the river and play one last game on the world’s smallest basketball court before you catch a ride on the last subway train heading for the mainland.
Travel Tip: Whilst strolling the waterfront keep your eyes peeled for unique art installations placed in the river by artist Tom Otterness that become exposed and hidden based on the flowing of the tides. Hey, he might just email you back if you tell him how much you like them.
“Hey Rich, Thanks for writing. Glad you like the work. With any luck there will be
some new lions in front of the Battery Park City library in a year or
so. Best wishes, Tom”
Maybe when you’re done with checking out Roosevelt Island you can get some Vietnamese food and do a beer review? Sure, why not, right? Write it down on a napkin, but remember not to throw it away by mistake when your cleaning your apartment. Ah, I forgot and I threw it away. I’m sorry. Damn, it was a good one too. But I can remember that 33, the Vietnamese brew, was forgettable. When you’re done with that, make sure to get into a fight at the Salem concert.