Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Vision Quest, Starz Style

After the building anticipation around the enigmatic Vision Quest, we finally arrived at Woodlawn Cemetery to begin what would be an exhausting, fulfilling and exciting two days. Now, I have all these artsy, detailed descriptions of settings in my placebook, but I feel that it is a little much to include all of them, so I will just include brief snippets. Sorry, Mr. Drybala.

After taking a group picture right past the entrance of Woodlawn Cemetery, each group went their separate way. Led by our medium, the wonderful Andy Meyers, we trekked through the surprisingly vast sprawl of grass, trees and graves that is Woodlawn Cemetery. The cemetery was a city within a city, even equipped with avenues. As we walked further into the cemetery, the grave markers became more ostentatious. There were neighborhoods within the cemetery, and it was very clear what class each area was. The cemetery, though adjacent to a busy street, seems peaceful and quiet and perfect for finding some solitude, exactly what the people there will be doing for a long time. It even smelled tranquil, fresh with the dewey smell of recent rain.

The walk from one end to the other took north of twenty minutes and we were expecting Robert Moses' grand mausoleum at the end of the journey. However, we were confused when we reached his grave, a modest marker among many others, his body stuffed into a granite wall behind a building at the back of the graveyard. Our group speculated on why he chose this as his burial ground; we came up with an idea: that he felt truly misunderstood in his lifetime and did not want his legacy to be one of opulence, but instead one of modesty and public servitude, despite his egocentric nature. Bessy and Kate, rivaling Robert Moses' architectural prowess,  left him a splendid replica of the Triboro Bridge.

Our next visit was to George M. Cohan's grave. His mausoleum was definitely grand, fitting for a grand entertainer and a true symbol of New York. I performed, with assistance from Bessy and Kate, some of Mr. Cohan's greatest hits, including "Yankee Doodle Boy", "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "You're a Grand Ol' Flag". Though I did not do Mr. Cohan any justice, I do believe he appreciated the thought; they tell you it's the thought that counts, right?

Our third and final visit in Woodlawn Cemetery was by far the most impressive: the Belmonts' mausoleum. It resembled a small church, with intricate, Christian-themed carvings framing the outside. There were two gothic, dark mahogany doors, as if people were walking in and out daily. The Belmonts' had some Jewish blood, so there was an obvious denial of their roots. Jeremy and Charlie left them food offerings, specifically Alva. The food included corn bread, brie and challah. Jeremy and Charlie didn't let the Belmonts' get away with throwing away Judaism. Loud and proud!

We received a clue that led us to a monument of Eleanor Roosevelt in Riverside Park. As we walked from the cemetery to the 4 train, we noticed we were walking through the underpass the Warriors began their journey under. We couldn't help feeling like the best gang in the world, with our matching t-shirts (minus Jeremy, he was shunned for a little due to this egregious and inconsiderate mishap) and early morning pep and vim. After a long, but successful, subway journey, we arrived at 72nd Street and found our girl El at the entrance to the park on 72nd and Riverside. 72nd Street was bursting with dogwalkers, trucks unloading merchandise and cars flitting in and out of the avenue. Grand apartment buildings line the streets, and as our Green Guide (plus Ruby) pointed out, a man is wasting water hosing down the sidewalk, pushing trash from outside one apartment building to another. In Riverside Park, a dogwalker was having trouble with four dogs, as two of them could not seem to get along. Again, like the cemetery, the peacefulness of the park is tested by the rush of cars right beside it.

After sending Andy the quote under the statue to prove we had made it, our next clue led us to the Museum of Natural History, and more specifically, the Teddy Roosevelt Monument. We walked up Broadway, weaving through the mix of jogging housewives decked out in Lulu Lemon apparel and trying desperately to keep up with their dogs, and the occasional hobo. Speed walking and jay walking like true New Yorkers, we made it to the monument. This is when our group experienced a little acrimony. While sitting outside of the Museum below Teddy's imposing figure, surrounded by a flock of pigeons, we struggled with our next clue: Name two architects who were involved both in Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. We also began to dispute a lunch spot and how much time can be afforded to lunch. Once we finally figured out our clue, we headed towards the subway with our sights set on Sheep's Meadow. I will skip the food debacle. You can ask us about it in person, there are differing viewpoints and I feel I may have a bias.

Zabars was our choice (or not) for lunch and after some peeing and paninis, we hopped back on the subway and got off at Columbus Circle. Walking through the park, Charlie began to explain to us the different types of "environments": "sublime", "picturesque", etc. We kept our eyes out for each type as we traipsed through the park, looking for Sheep's Meadow. After some initial confusion as to our directions (I swear, Andy, I'm not the only one...even Google Maps was confused. Or at least Kate.) we finally came across the Meadow of Sheep. Our next clue gave us some trouble, as Bessy and Kate had some misunderstandings on how to read our key (or really, how to read the English language...). We ended up with a clue that said George CTITE and that was quite confusing for us. However, after the misunderstanding was cleared up, we realized it was George Cohan Statue and, with my expansive knowledge of everything George Cohan, we set off for Times Square, opting for walking instead of channeling our inner Warriors and braving the subway again.

The George M Cohan challenged was maybe the most interesting. We were to get a complete stranger to sing "Give My Regards to Broadway" in front of the George M. Cohan statue on 46th and Seventh Avenue. After an unsuccessful attempt to get policemen to sing with us ("Do you really expect men in uniform to do that?" was their response) we found a nice man, obviously on his way to an audition (he was sporting a messenger bag and had frosted tips, sorry to perpetuate stereotypes) who was actually more enthusiastic than we were. He even prompted a kick line and really brought the performance to a whole new level.

Then technological chaos ensued. Long story short, we received videos that were not very functional, pdf's that contained gibberish and by the time we finally figured it all out and knew we were to be headed to Washington Square Park, it was time for me to go back to school for play rehearsal. I heard the last task and the visit to the organization was lovely, even though the group was apparently put to work mailing letters.

The second day started off, for me, quite interestingly. After being driven to 72nd Street by my mother, I missed the 2 train heading downtown because there were too many people in it. I then got off at the wrong stop and my sense of direction was tested. Though I did make my way to City Hall, I discovered, thanks to Andy, that my inability to distinguish left from right is a form of dyslexia. At least I have a reason to say now when people make fun of me. Once the whole group was assembled, we headed towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Today was much nippier than yesterday. I didn't get the memo and my hands turned bright red. However, the Brooklyn Bridge was splendid, framed by the morning sun creeping up from behind the clouds. It smelled and felt like winter, cold and clear. The sheer size of the Brooklyn Bridge was impressive. The latticework leading up to the arches served as a drumroll, fueling our anticipation for the upcoming piece of architectural beauty. The bridge, though somewhat weathered, seems at once brand new and thousands of years old. It contains history and bikers and hipsters and cold students and cars and birds.

After some placebooking (it has officially become a verb, like Facebooking and Googling), we headed off in our separate directions, this time with our mediums (Mr. Meyers and Mr. Waldman) guiding us and imparting on us his infinite wisdom of New York City. We walked through Battery Park to Castle Clinton, but not before stopping at a monument to 9/11. The monument, formerly a piece of artwork between the two towers, is a once spherical hunk of metal that survived, despite some aesthetic damage, through the bombing. It is a powerful reminder of the resilience we have as New Yorkers and an indicator that although times were tough, we knew we would pull through. Castle Clinton was home to a fiery debate among the Starz, boys against girls. The boys were on Eleanor Roosevelt's side, against Robert Moses building a bridge through Brooklyn Heights, decimating Castle Clinton and the once great aquarium it housed. The girls were on Robert Moses' side. I think the boys won. It is clear that in the long run, a tunnel, which was eventually what was built, would actually save money and that it would not be worth destroying a historical landmark and impinging on the views of the area.

From Castle Clinton, we trekked into that foreign land called Brooklyn, to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The Promenade overlooks the water and has a splendid view of Lower Manhattan, but is also plagued with the incessant noise of the BQE under it. We split up on the Promenade and asked locals about their thoughts on the BQE and the promenade, and about that nefarious Robert Moses. Though one woman asked Ruby and I, "Which Robert Moses?" most people were very helpful in understanding the sentiment of the locals to both the BQE and the Promenade. Although the BQE can be annoying, the Promenade was definitely a good payoff. Locals use it all the time and it is perfect for walking, running, dogwalking, taking children and just looking at the view.

Our Brooklyn adventure continued when we walked into what can only be described as your typical Brooklyn diner. The owner, a first generation immigrant from _______ was in pure form, Brooklyn. He ordered for us, saying, "Black and white cookie, good for the teeth," and though nearing eighty, was spritely, waddling about, joking and pointing. He is Woody Allen and every wonderfully accurate stereotype of a Brooklyner. I must say, however, that the hot chocolate was not the best; it was clearly Swiss Miss and I was expecting a little more from the reincarnation of my grandfather.

On the streets of Brooklyn Heights, cars are limited and it almost feels as though you have been transported back 50 years. The sound in the neighborhood is hushed, the buildings have remained. There is no trace of steel or the harsh, industrialized nature of Manhattan. Brownstones and soft grays of apartment buildings only.

Our final stop, Coney Island, required a good amount of subway travel, but since we were so effective at channeling the Warriors, it was no trouble for us. We arrived at our mecca, Coney Island. The welcome was not warm. Coney Island was, for a lack of a less pointed word, desolate. The amusement park was closed, buildings empty and very few passersby. It was eerily quiet and seemed almost faded, like a dated fairytale. The ocean bursts out from behind the amusement park. The sky is completely clear and expansive, merging with the ocean into a never-ending page of blue.

The group, again united, entered Coney Island USA and we were taught about the history and significance of Coney Island, by both someone who grew up there and someone who works to restore it. We explored some artifacts from Coney Island's beginnings and headed to the Russian restaurant, where we would have our victory meal. It was four courses and very, very Russian, whatever that means. We were tired, as I am now, and the journey home was a long one, but one well worth it. The Vision Quest was over, but our knowledge of New York was already expanding rapidly by the minute, and I visited places I had never been to before, such as Coney Island. I was on subway lines I had never been on. I was on bridges I had never been on. And just from this smattering of New York City sites, it had become even clearer how little I really know about New York City and how much more there is to learn.

Starz Out.

Times Square looming before us. 

The view of Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. 

Kate enjoying some Coney Island carney culture. 

Ruby being artsy on the boardwalk. 

Ruby being artsy on the boardwalk part two. 

The newspapers we helped mail at the Catholic Worker Movement. 

The all-powerful Brooklyn Bridge. 

Some Starz enjoying Castle Clinton. 

1 comment:

  1. Jacob,
    I love "place booking" as a verb. I hope it become a regular habit.
    Despite your obvious partisanship (!) you were reasonably attentive to all the groups. I think my favorite moment was you all finding that wonderfully game stranger to sing with you. Bravi!