Road tripping through Kerouac’s Queens
Taking a road trip sometimes happens on a whim on a random weekend day, not because I’m suddenly inspired with the desire to know the American road, but because our toddlers have fallen asleep in their car seats and the wife and I want them to nap for a while. So began our latest sojourn on the great American road, which kept us mostly around our borough of Queens, but that’s OK because as you might have surmised, Queens is secretly New York City’s greatest borough.
We left the Queens Botanical Garden in our neighborhood of Flushing and our twin girls were asleep before we reached the nearby highway. We headed to the Rockaways because it was the anniversary of the Easter Uprising in Ireland and the Rockaways have been a home to hardscrabble Irish for a long time, including one Queens native who wound up fighting in the Easter Uprising of 1916.
Our navigation system took us into Nassau County and we passed by Valley Stream State Park before getting off of the highway and driving through the villages of East Rockaway, Malvern, and Lawrence.
We didn’t end up in the Irish part of the Rockaways, and the housing projects that tower over the bungalow houses are not filled with Irish immigrants. We decided to start our journey home going through Broad Channel and my old neighborhood of Ozone Park.
We took Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge and cruised over Jamaica Bay. On one side of the bridge the skyline of Manhattan was prominent through the haze of sun and clouds. On our right and north was JFK Airport. Broad Channel is a small community that sits on the waterfront of Jamaica Bay. It’s a rare example of small town life within the five boroughs of New York City.
Cross Bay Boulevard brought us farther north, past the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge on both sides of the road and into Howard Beach and Ozone Park.
When I first came back to New York City, I worked at JFK Airport and lived in Ozone Park. I was very happy to learn that Jack Kerouac lived in Ozone Park for 12 years. He’s celebrated a lot in Massachusetts where he is originally from and buried, and in Manhattan where he would give readings and where he wrote On the Road. But Kerouac wrote his first novel, The Town and the City, while living in Ozone Park.
There is a historic marker outside the house where Kerouac once lived. When I lived nearby, it was good to go to Glen Patrick’s Pub and gulp down drinks, hoping some literary magic might have survived and would rub off on me. That kind of sentimentality is crap, really, but it was good at the time to know that the inheritors of America’s great literary traditions came from working-class enclaves like Ozone Park and Howard Beach.
It was good to see reinforced the knowledge that real literary grit and work takes place not in the posh hipster enclaves and trendy bars or bookstores of Manhattan or (nowadays) Brooklyn. Kerouac didn’t haul his typewriter to a coffee shop so people could gawk at him write. He got his writing done in a cramped apartment a few feet away from Cross Bay Boulevard.
We took our girls into the Cross Bay Diner and had a late lunch while watching boats and seagulls come by on Hewett Creek. Fishing boats, a police boat, and even a large fishing boat called The Capt. Mike, came by and served as a great distraction for the kids.
Howard Beach and Ozone Park have changed quite a bit since Kerouac lived there, and they’ve changed a lot since I moved away in the summer of 2001, but their working-class character survive and they remain great neighborhoods to live in. They will continue to inspire and bring more great artists to the world.
Earth Day is Not Just for Hippies Anymore
April 22 is Earth Day and no doubt many of the Earth Day observances will be obnoxious and useless. People have given environmentalism a bad name. Whether trying to tie helping the environment to New Age mysticism, linking terrorism to climate change, or comparing eating meat to the Holocaust, the mantle of environmentalism and appreciation of the Earth is a damaged one.
Just because hippies are doing it, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong or bad. Hippies were one of the first groups to organize against prohibitions against marijuana and now only the most dyed-in-the-wool authoritarian throwback wants to keep banning the weed. There are some things hippies get right, and appreciating nature is one of them, even if they do it in ham-handed and atrocious ways.
There is no American in history who embodied personal greatness and strength more than Theodore Roosevelt. And Teddy Roosevelt never met a nature preserve he didn’t like. To him, men who sat around inside all day were pussies who deserved to be thinned out of the bloodlines. Enjoying the great outdoors is a necessary part of life Roosevelt would tell you if he were still with us today, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate nature is some kind of effete nincompoop who should have no say in civic affairs. Even after he was president, at a time when most people retire to the quiet life, Roosevelt nearly died on an expedition in South America. You can go to the American Museum of Natural History today and see animals that Roosevelt went and shot so you could enjoy looking at them today.
Theodore Roosevelt would rightfully despise hippies and other layabouts but he would approve of Earth Day.
In order to appreciate the world and the great outdoors, it has to be there and in good working order. If you’ve ever gone to a favorite camping spot and found logging going on nearby, or seen heat-induced drought dry up streams in a favorite deer hunting spot, you will be drawn to the cause of the environment not matter what your politics.
Environmentalism used to be the exclusive province of more left-leaning groups, but now there is much common ground and elements on all ends of the political spectrum have found reason to embrace elements of the environmentalist movement.
And contemporary Earth Day observations will feature a lot of DIY community organizations acting independently and doing things that involve lower-cost, non-government solutions to some of our problems. For example, my wife is one of the founders of our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group, which is a cooperative that allows members to get fresh produce from a local farm. Flushing CSA is taking part in several Earth Day events, and CSA groups are one of a lot of different cooperative organizations out there that are doing very direct and helpful things outside of what is normally thought of as environmental activism.
Earth Day may still be stigmatized as a lot of nonsensical claptrap, but that’s not excuse not to do something that is helpful to the Earth. It’s what Theodore Roosevelt would do.
News Flash: New York’s subways are horrible
Presidential candidate and former Secretary of State, carpetbagger Senator, First Lady Hillary Clinton was recently criticized for needing to swipe her MetroCard five times to access the New York City subway system. She rode the 4 train all of one stop after entering, and technically broke the law by campaigning in the subway.
There are a lot of things to criticize Hillary Clinton for, but the media focused on her needing five swipes to get her MetroCard to work. But the MetroCard incident (if you can even call it that) didn’t expose Secretary Clinton as being out of touch, it demonstrated what any New York City resident will tell you in a heartbeat: New York’s subways are horrible and only getting worse.
I’ve been a regular New York City subway rider for nearly 20 years now, I’m a seasoned professional when it comes to riding the subway, and there are times when I will need five swipes or more to get through the turnstile.
And the MetroCards and the turnstiles are only the tip of the iceberg. The entire subway system is unreliable, poorly run, and in need of massive reform reconstruction.
The same week that Hillary Clinton had her MetroCard wielding skills thrown into doubt, I visited the subway system’s newest station for the first time. The 34th St. – Hudson Yards station opened up last September to much fanfare as being the sleek, modern station of the future that the city had been waiting decades to see. I had to ask someone where it was because signs do not lead pedestrians to the station and it is surrounded by the massive Hudson Yards construction project. But once you find it, and this is old news now, the Hudson Yards station is a leaking boondoggle. When I got the station, all but one of the down escalators were out of service.
In theory the station is supposed to be ready in a few years to welcome thousands of people who work there and see off thousands of residents who will live there during the workdays. It can barely handle the small amount of traffic it gets now. In fact it proved to be a disaster even before it opened.
And the 7 train is the most overloaded train line in the system (though there are several other leading candidates for this honor, the L train being one of them). Even if the Hudson Yards station is the dream station it was meant to be by the time the construction on Hudson Yards is completed, there are no plans to double the tracks or the capacity of the trains, so the transit authority thinks that a few extra thousand users a day can be absorbed by the 7 line with no problem. That idea is absurd.
And as bad as the 7 line service is, there are actually train lines with less reliable service. Almost every workday, as I’m on my way to work. Emails from workers in the small office I work in arrive on my phone. Just about every day at least one or two people are emailing that subway or commuter train lines are messed up and they may be late for work. My first day back in the office this year after the holidays, it took me two and a half hours to travel 13 miles, and that was after I gave up and got out of the subway at Jackson Heights and took a cab the rest of the way to work.
Here is what New York City’s subway system desperately needs:
Infrastructure overhaul: New York’s subways are running on an antiquated switching system that in some places is more than 100 years old. There’s no excuse for that in a city as modern as New York.
More trains: No one should wait more than fifteen minutes for a train or bus anywhere in the system anytime. Am I unrealistic? No. It’s a matter of public safety at night as much as it is a matter of decent public transit.
Faster trains: The trains were made to run slower after an accident in the 1990s. Let’s reverse that and let the trains go at the speeds they are able to move. The way to avoid accidents is to avoid accidents, not degrade the service to mitigate risk.
More passenger capacity: The Long Island Rail Road has some trains that are doubled decker and can handle more passengers. There’s no reason we can’t have that for the city. The same applies to busses. If the tourist busses can be double decker, there’s no reason that some of our transit system busses can do that as well.
New York City is the greatest city in the world. It deserves to have a transit system that reflects that. We are far from that today.
New York is full of adult children
One day I was on my way through a part of the Lower East Side that used to be tragic because it was filled with open-air heroin markets and abandoned buildings that were once beautiful. Now the tragedy came from the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. I was walking by the playground of a public school and it was filled with grown adults playing kickball.
People are free to do whatever they want to with their time, but it’s hard not to be embarrassed for people who are full-grown adults doing things designed for children.
Adult kickball is the least of it. Washington Square Park recently hosted an adult pillow fight. Grown people will now pay money for summer camp for themselves. Biological adults have even held big-wheel races for themselves. There is now a Night at the Museum sleepover at the American Museum of Natural History for adults instead of just children.
If it were only stunted teenagers or adults who were developmentally disabled who were participating in these kinds of events, I’d understand. But people who are involved in these childish games are often educated adults with good jobs, who are old enough to be mature. Adults will spend thousands of dollars to dress like elves or witches or Star Wars characters and not just on Halloween.
There’s something deeply wrong with wanting to revert back to childhood. Even if you had a happy childhood, why live it again? The things we did as children were fun, but they were always a substitute for the adult things we wanted to do more at the time. At least I did. I thought kickball sucked when I was a kid; I wanted to read books and shoot real guns instead. Why should we want to go back to a time when all of our decisions were made for us and we had only limited access to the real adult world? If grade school was the best time of your life, you have failed miserably somewhere along the line. No one should peak at 10 or 12.
The adult privileges we have come at the price of the responsibilities we inherit. Older generations partied hard when they were in their 20s and 30s, but they were working jobs to support families. There’s nothing wrong with being a late bloomer in life. I didn’t get married until I was 40 and became a father at 41, but I retired from the big wheel racing circuit before the second grade.
Our educated adults should feel free to party, but not at the expense of their dignity. There’s a danger to clinging to the past and wanting to act like a child; it stunts your development as an adult.
It’s sad to see people bragging about doing things as an adult that they should have mastered decades ago. There’s even a cute term for it: “adulting.” People who use ‘adult’ as a verb deserve to fall into the same vat of acid as people who use ‘summer’ as a verb.
I understand wanting to keep the party going and avoid responsibility, but if you have a clear mind and the courage to face reality, you won’t feel good about yourself if you avoid life. Accepting major adult responsibilities can be a daunting undertaking, but you will feel better about yourself knowing you didn’t run from the challenges of life.