Friday, November 11, 2011
Long Kiss Goodbye
This is the Little Red Lighthouse, made famous in the 1942 childrens' book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge.
The lighthouse has been here, next to the Manhattan footing of the George Washington Bridge, since the 1920s, but it was a chore to visit until the city began creating its wonderful network of bike paths and lanes. One of the most spectacular routes follows the Hudson River almost the length of the island, from Battery Park at the southern tip to Dyckman Street just a few hundred hards short of the Henry Hudson Bridge which takes you off the north end of Manhattan into Riverdale.
I've started taking almost daily bike trips around town, as a way of saying goodbye to the city where we've lived now for nearly a quarter century. On my first one, I rode from home on East 56th Street to Central Park, headed north and then west around the oval drive, exiting on West 100th and then riding west on 97th Street to Broadway where I picked up a sandwich to carry along, then to the river.
Usually I ride south for breakfast at a greasy spoon I like in Tribeca called the Square Diner. But on this day I went north for the first time in years. I stopped at the bridge to eat the sandwich and take this picture. The Coast Guard wanted to take the lighthouse away in the 1950s because its old job of alerting boats to the outcropping of the river bank at Jeffreys Hook was eliminated by the bridge. But toddlers who had read the book began an orchestrated wailing and sent in their pennies to save it.
After lunch I continued on to Dyckman and crossed the island east to the Harlem River side for the trip home. For a few miles there's a nice paved path along the water, but it runs afoul of the Harlem River Drive, and cyclists are forced to join city traffic at around 155th Street. From there you plunge south into Harlem, but it wasn't the Harlem I remembered from our early days in the city.
We used to ride a commuter bus from Riverdale that took us through Harlem when the neighborhoods were an alarming wasteland of empty storefronts, abandoned houses, scrap fires in oil drums, derelict commercial buildings and forlorn, debris strewn sidewalks. Feeling vulnerable behind our windows, we avoided eye contact with anybody on those streets.
Today, the same streets are tidied up nicely, and many of the empty storefronts are occupied by new businesses. The people on the sidewalks look like they have somewhere to go. There are new office and condo buildings here and there. Cars respected the well-marked bike path, and I rode pleasantly south into the uptown end of Central Park, then around the west side of the oval to home.