Now pray for yourself that you may not fall
When the hour of deliverance comes on us all
When our hope and faith and courage and trust
Can rise or vanish like dust into dust
There’s a kingdom of love waiting to be reclaimed
I am the hunter of invisible game
Springsteen, Hunter of Invisible Game
If you have already read part one, you will not be surprised to read here it was with considerable relief that I put my back to the WTC. My encounter with the 9/11 monument had been strange and disquieting. Fear porn was the phrase that kept coming into my head the whole time I was there.
Reading back over it, I realise that I didn’t even mention the ‘Freedom’ tower at all in the first part. I’m not sure why I omitted it, except that I really dislike the design and the way it imposes itself upon the skyline. It’s what I like to call totalitarian architecture, maybe you’ll get what I mean by that; maybe you won’t.
I did photograph it (actually it was while I was doing so that my camera died on me for the second time), but it’s a strange building to capture from up close. It reflects the sky in such a way as to lose definition and when you are shooting up from ground level, it looks more like a pyramid than a tower. Generally speaking, I found it pretty ugly and mast-like. To each his own I guess.
Hitting Broadway as predicted, I headed uptown. Due to the still oppressive heat, I was intending to stick to that Avenue all the way, but I spotted what appeared to be a stylistically unusual public building a block over and detoured to check it out.
The building, I later learned, was the Manhattan Municipal Building, a truly unique, almost quirky piece of neoclassic indulgence. Sadly I only had my phone by this point, but I took what pictures I could and tried not to dwell on the poor resolution.
Rather than backtrack, I kept walking up Lafayette for a block or so past the Supreme and District Court buildings. I don’t know what was going down in Manhattan that day (apart from a sudden plunge in the markets that had the money monkeys on Wall Street pissing in their pants), but there were at least thirty armoured Homeland Security SUVs lined up across the street from the court buildings. I would have taken a picture but didn’t fancy getting my phone confiscated.
I turned back towards Broadway at the next convenient intersection. I’d have stayed on Lafayette if I’d known then that Bowie’s penthouse was along there. I would have loved to check out the building where he lived, but I wasn’t privy to that fact at the time. And yes, I am indeed a big enough Bowie fan to want to walk by his building, as I believe I covered here.
Back again on my chosen route, the heat was now seriously messing with me. I should have stopped walking and taken the subway, but I can be a stubborn SOB sometimes and I wanted to stay above ground. You don’t come to New York to look at tunnels.
At some point, I realised that I was moving into the realms of heat exhaustion. It was at that point I came upon a group of black youths handing out free Coke Zero cans to passers-by. Normally I would never touch soda, especially of the diet variety, but I gratefully accepted a proffered can and downed it immediately. OK, I told myself. You need to get re-hydrated – now.
At that moment, a man on a bicycle rolled up and the youths tossed an entire carton of sodas into the basket on the front of his bike. In the broadest Aussie accent imaginable he exclaimed “jeez thanks, guys! This city is just awesome!” I kept walking choosing not to identify myself to my overly enthusiastic fellow countryman.
He was actually the second Australian I’d knowingly encountered that day. Earlier I’d been walking past some swanky-ish hotel when a fairly beautiful woman in her twenties had come barreling out the doors and bumped right into me.
“Oh, sorry darl’” was all she said, but the accent was pure Melbourne. Actually, I didn’t need the accent to tell me she wasn’t a native New Yorker, the fact that she acknowledged my presence at all, told me that.
From then on, at any street vendor I came upon, I bought bottled water and just kept drinking. And though it never got comfortable – my face was nearly purple from overheating – I started to feel a little steadier on my feet.
Recounting all this, I realise what an idiot I sound like. I literally hadn’t prepped for the heat at all and when it dawned on me how affected I was, did virtually nothing to safeguard myself. At the time, I just figured typical male pigheadedness would carry me through and, ultimately it did, but I’d taken a dumb risk. There’s a reason the phrase stupid tourists is a well-worn one in almost every tongue. I’d like to say I’ve learned a valuable lesson, but…
Union Square seemed like a good place to grab a little shade and reflect. I found an empty bench and sat down to watch the passers-by for a bit. There was a generally relaxed mood in the park – that is until a very odd little group came stalking in. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like them.
They were two men, a woman, and a large dog. All were wearing heavy combat jackets, pants, and boots; completely incongruous in the intense heat. All had hairstyles of the shaved and dreadlocked variety. And all were carrying big backpacks from which protruded coils of twine, crumpled newspapers, and other street jetsam. Even the dog, an intimidating beast, was wearing a vest festooned with stuffed pouches.
They were obviously street people, but they had taken urban homelessness to a new level. They looked like post-apocalyptic warriors and it occurred to me that, for them and millions of others, the apocalypse has already arrived. They’re living ahead of the curve in the world we all secretly fear is coming. Their collapse is simple history for them and now they survive, living off the bones and detritus of that collapse.
They could probably teach you & I some invaluable survival skills, but it might cost us our wallets.
The mood in the park chilled considerably upon their arrival, and people began to get up and leave. Reading the wind, I decided to do the same. New York is an expensive place to get yourself stabbed. It’s possible I may have misjudged those grim looking folk, but when you’re on unfamiliar turf it’s usually a good idea to err on the side of caution.
We all come up a little short and we go down hard
These days I spend my time skipping through the dark
Through the empires of dust, I chant your name
I am the hunter of invisible game
I felt much better for my short rest and was pretty certain I hadn’t actually developed sunstroke. I did, however, realise that I had neglected to eat anything all day and so, once I was back on 7th, I searched out a pizza joint and had a tasty NY slice. I’m a man of simple tastes in many ways.
Soon I was back at Penn Station, boarding my return train to Jersey and my girl.
The trip home was uneventful enough except that, apparently, the further you travel from the city, the shorter the station platforms get. After a certain point, the conductor starts making announcements that people who need to alight have to move to a car that actually has doors on the platform. I ended up traversing half the train to get to my door. That may be common in Jersey, but I’ve never encountered it in Australia.
Well I awoke last night to the heavy clickin’ and clack
And a scarecrow on fire ‘long the railroad tracks
There were empty cities and burnin’ plains
I am the hunter of invisible game
All in all, it was quite a day. I was wrung out emotionally and exhausted by the twelve kilometers (roughly seven and a half miles) I’d walked in crazy heat. I’d been, by turns, thrilled, amazed, and horrified; not bad for one day.
I can’t wait to get back there again.
All images used in this post are my own.