Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer 2012: Island Hopping, Part 4

As the calendar pages flip to August, all of those of us blessed with Summer Fridays off suddenly gasp in shock at how fast the summer has gone. We know that we've done something; our lists have check-offs next to them, our closets are cleaner, our files are more organized--but it just doesn't seem like summer should seem "over" yet. Note: If you are an academic calendar, August means summer is coming to a close, as faculty/staff have to report earlier than students.

On top of that, we have stayed inside in air conditioning most of the summer. And by we, I mean me. I have been hiding in a/c and, therefore I haven't gone Island Hopping as much as I should have this summer. So, the first Friday of August, having perused transit maps, timetables, street maps, and event listings, I finally ventured forth (aka forced myself out of the house) to hop around the Islands of New York.

Unfortunately, I had passed up (squandered?) the opportunity to travel i
n better conditions earlier in the season than those I was confronted with upon leaving the house. The weather forecast called for the dreaded Triple H: hazy, hot, and humid - with highs approaching 90, but with the index calling for the mid-90s. I was hoping that would mean it would be more pleasant on the island, but that wasn't quite the case. There were no breezes on the land-side of things.

I'd say that the first stop on our Island Hopping was Staten Island, but that's not quite correct. First I had to get onto Manhattan Island, to hop over to Staten Island. After a quick, uncrowded (I traveled off-peak and after regular rush-hours), I arrived at the Whitehall/South Ferry stop via the 1 line. While there are a number of ferries heading out to islands from the tip of Manhattan, it's hard to miss the Staten Island/Whitehall Ferry Terminal*.

I am kicking myself about never going before, because it was so easy. If you follow the signs, exit off the right subway platform, and follow people, you get where you need to go. (I also have a habit of stopping, getting out of the rush of humanity, letting the crowds clear out, assessing the situation rather than proceeding into the fray willy-nilly, and bringing up the rear flank. I think I've read too many military/history books, and/or spy/paranoid conspiracy novels. Stop. Look. Listen?)

There were so many international and domestic travelers assembling in the waiting area when I arrived. Again, it wasn't a regular commuting time. I barely heard any English when I was there, and some of it was from tour directors making sure their groups were together. If I did hear English, it was tinged with the accents of NYC natives, Brooklyners and Islanders mostly. The waiting area is well lit, with lots of room, with the restrooms and drinking fountains clearly marked in iconography transcending languages. I also found that the one green market vendor that was selling local produce was particularly ironic/iconic that day. A fruit vendor selling apples to the tourists in the Big Apple.

Since the Ferries, well, ferry thousands of people a day, they have boarding and unloading down to a well-oiled routine. I ended up on the middle level, and tried to get a Western view, but that's the side where you usually can see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, so it was mobbed with the international tourists. It was ridiculously hazy, and I can come back anytime, so I wandered a bit, and ended up with a nice rail view of the Eastern side of the boat, facing Brooklyn, the bridges, helicopter pads, and Governors Island.

l: Eastern side, pulling out into the harbor r: Western side, glimpse of Ms. Liberty

Eventually I found my way to the bow of the boat, and while there was only a forward view, the breezes -- oh, the breezes. Those were glorious. The wind in my face. My hair all over the place.

The only thing was, I was wearing a dress. I live in dresses in the summer, especially the ones you slip on, and aren't cinched in at the waist or are tight. It's too muggy to have things close to your skin, and a lot of my dresses are formfitting, but flowy. You just have to made sure you don't have a Marilyn Monroe moment on the streets, or have it fly away from you on a boat. A little attention to gather my skirts (much like my ancestors did for hundreds of years), and I still had a hand free to capture the action as we approached Staten Island. [I was also being careful to keep my modesty, as I was positioned near some very conservatively dressed female students from Turkey, in long sleeves, pants, and head coverings, and I didn't want to offend them or their male companions. My sleeves and skirt weren't quite as long as theirs.]

Approaching Staten Island

Ramps down, prepare to leave the boat. Everyone off.

When I visited, it was time for the ferries to run every half hour. While the ride usually lasts about 20 minutes from Manhattan to S.I., I didn't feel like turning around right away, so I wandered. Outside the St. George terminal are bus connections and ramps leading over the business district. This imposing edifice is the Court House. In the station concourse are numerous food vendors, a local Post Office, a visitors center, restroom facilities, and various vacant store fronts. There are also connections to local shuttles to the colleges, and the politest part of the NYC metro system: SIR, aka the Station Island Railroad, but I'm going to say, SIR, you are the best ever. Why does the politest stretch of the rails have to be a ferry ride away?

I'm trying to find out what this absolutely stunning piece of photo montage art is called. It's huge and gorgeous.

It was too hot to spend much time outside exploring the Esplanade, but I did. It leads outside and gives you a view of the harbor, the ferry fleet, or looking onto Staten Island.

Whoops, I guess I missed that Ferry, but there were other in port, like this one, The John F. Kennedy.

I headed back inside to the air conditioning and wandered back to the waiting room. Security is present but subtle. I kept to the periphery, and ended up watching this interaction between boy and beast.

This little dude was completely fascinated by this sniffer dog. I have to admire the handler. Even though his dog was supposed to be "working," he didn't scowl at or scare off the curious little one. I think the boy's authority figure/guardian knew that the dog was on-duty, and was cautioning the kid to be careful and leave "puppy" alone.

Eventually though, the grown-ups must have had a silent "it's okay" conversation, and "dad" finally coaxed the boy over to pet the "puppy." The dog was unfazed by everything and didn't move at all (the floor was cool), but boy, did the little one dash away having used up his share of courage in the endeavor. He was fast! And super cute.

Other scenes from the waiting room: Aquariums full of fish and ogling tourists. The floors are inlaid with graphic representing the local island and attractions. It's hard to tell, but this Liberty Island inlay has the torch and star as part of the pattern. The Ellis Island inlay had a layout of the Main Building's "sorting/waiting" rooms.

Here we go: Heading back to Manhattan. All aboard The Spirit of America.

I did try to get back on the Western side again, this time up on the top deck, but it was crowded I went back to the main level and found my way back to the front of the bow. Not so much headwind this time, but better, unobstructed views. You can really see the haze in these. On a clear day, you can see almost from island to island.

Leaving port and out to sea

From this new position, I did catch a glimpse of other islands in the mist.

l: Ellis Island and r: Governors Island

Liberty Island and Ms. Liberty, cameo by another S.I. Ferry

Aside from Governors, I think I've decided that this is the closest I'm getting to Ellis and Liberty this summer. The rides aren't free, and my ancestors came in through Canadian ports, or via Southern immigration routes, so I'm not going to find any connections to Ellis in my lineage. I'm curious, but not enough for a trip this year.

Approaching lower Manhattan, you can really see how tall One World Trade is going to be compared to the rest of the skyline. It almost makes you forget the other two towers that used to be there. Almost. Honestly, I had to spend a lot of time looking toward Brooklyn, or my brain would have started going down roads best not traveled right then.

Approaching Whitehall where we started about an hour or so earlier. This was only the first "hop" of my day, so I left the area to wind my way north on the Island, but with a Caribbean destination in mind.

to be continued

P.S. Am I going to go back and ride the ferry over and over for a whole day? You betcha. It's the closest, cheapest way I'm going to get to the Island and shore for a long long time.

*Stations mean that the conveyances are usually journeying to another destination after this one. Multiple stops

Terminal means that this is the end of the journey - the terminus. Thus, Grand Central in NYC, is a TERMINAL, NOT a station like everyone calls it. Ferry terminals - back and forth to each other... Or something like that...whatever. GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL! How hard is it to Google that and get it right Hollywood? Writers? COME ON!

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