Thursday, April 29, 2010

Studying Next to Alma

Even though I took this photo when I was first testing the Medalist, I think it's apropos for today (to be explained after the shot):

Today was really my last trip up to school. Even though I thought Columbia had been fully paid off, they still managed to scare up some minor charges that needed to be taken of, "or else." Or else what, they won't let me register next semester? Did they forget that I've withdrawn from school, am on a leave of absence, or maybe we should just call a spade a spade, I dropped out? I think I like "dropout." Even though this isn't my first time dropping out of college, even in mid-semester, I have a better idea of what I'm doing with my life.

After I paid them off, I decided to walk home. It's something I've done a few times before, and usually takes a little less than two hours. Today I took Broadway all the way down, and was able to put that thick black magic marker line cutting across the map segments of Manhattan in my Hagstrom. Even though I haven't mentioned it around here lately, just about every day I've been out walking, taking pictures of street signs at intersections, and dutifully tracing my route on my map upon my return home. I've found it's become somewhat of an obsession. I look at the map at all the streets in my neighborhood that need to be filled in. I look and figure out my route the next time I leave the house, no matter how mundane an errand it might be, to see if I can somehow work in some untrodden streets as those in my immediate neighborhood get increasingly blacked out, radiating ever farther from their point of origin, my apartment.

Though I forget sometimes how massive this thing really is, until I look at all of the empty streets, unblemished by my Sharpie. I look and figure out how exactly to approach it. I do have somewhat of an idea, starting mainly with the avenues and then space-invadering my way down to get the streets. Today was huge because now, by my self-imposed rules, I can take the Broadway subway uptown and do some walking, because I'll be able to connect it to an area I've already walked. I'm not just going to go into Inwood, do some quick walking around, and then hop back downtown again if it's not connected. It's like an electricity thing. The grid has to be in contact at all times. I've been thinking a lot about the grid lately.

It was 100 years ago that the grid plan was being laid out on this island. Even as the 18th Century came to a close, ideas were already being bandied about as how to manage the ever-expanding population of New York City.

NYC is somewhat of a hobby of mine. It's history, especially. I'm also very much into ephemera. My mother was an antique dealer when I was growing up, and whenever she did shows, I was always fascinated by the ephemera dealers. There always seemed to be a more immediate, tangible connection with the past when I held some kind of document, letter, newspaper, as opposed to the English transferware that was my mother's specialty. I was also always fascinated with maps, so it makes sense that I grew up to become a collector of maps of NYC.

The oldest map I have is from the 1860s, yet it is a reproduction of an even older map, dating to the 1720s. I like the idea that even my repro map is an antique in its own right. You can learn a lot just by looking at maps from different eras depicting the same place. I'm always surprised to see that where in the 1850s, a certain location may have had a church and a cemetery only to be replaced less than ten years later by a scrapyard. Some people go out for fun, I look at maps.

I spent a lot of time looking at maps when I was a limo driver, especially in the outer boroughs, like when I'd end up going to someplace I wouldn't even want to be in the daytime, let alone in the middle of the night, and would quickly consult my trusty Hagstrom before running every red light until I reached civilization (you be a white guy driving a stretch limousine in East New York in the middle of the night and tell me you wouldn't do the same thing. Oh, and if you're wondering why a fancy limo would have business in a shitty neighborhood, it's really not that surprising. Just because someone gets famous and leaves the hood, that doesn't mean his friends get to leave. And once you drop off the megastar, if his friends are still in the car that he's paying for, you're going to end up in some very "interesting" places before you find your way home).

200 years ago the surveyors had to deal with forests, hills, swamps, creeks...all of which were ignored as the city expanded into the grid which begins at 14th and at the time, stopped at 155th. And I'll be walking each and every one of them, in their footsteps.

By the way, there are still a few physical remnants of the survey. I saw one on TV, and was able to find it on my own. In central park, in one of the corners of one of the open fields (I don't know if it's the Sheep Meadow or the Great Lawn, I don't know which one is which and don't really care), there, embedded in the exposed bedrock, is an iron spike surrounded by lead. There's another one in the park up near Harlem that a friend of mine found by accident and took a picture of it not knowing what it was, but it struck her as odd.

Okay, I don't know how to end this increasingly boring ramble of a post with its lame, pandering attempts at being profound. I have to find my way out of this, like clawing out of a paper bag.

Wait...who the hell came up with that term about clawing your way out of a paper bag? How many people have you met that have ended up trapped in paper bags and whose only recourse was to claw their way out? Is this really such a big problem plaguing society today?

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