Boondoggle / by Akira Ohiso

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We landed at 12:10am at Newark International Airport. There were no six passenger Ubers available so we took an airport taxi from Newark to Riverdale.

Several minutes passed before the concierge could find a driver who would take six passengers. There seemed to be a hubbub among taxi drivers, which did not make a former New Yorker feel comfortable. They were winging it to make an extra buck.

We were told the cost would be $80 plus tolls and “a little extra for six.” The concierge added, “It’s a liability thing.” The driver, a heavy-set man, said, “No extra charge, just give me a nice tip.”

The trip went smoothly until we reached the George Washington Bridge. Because of roadwork, we sat in 30 minutes of traffic at 1am on a weeknight.

With tolls, the total fare was $131 not including a “nice tip.” Welcome to fucking New York.

Morning

Our oldest son’s friend is along on this trip and they both want to visit the Freedom Tower. We tell them our stories of 9/11 and they are shocked and fascinated like I was when my parents talked about the Kennedy assassination.

I notice my heart rate increase when I remember that day 18 years ago. I was a temp in the HR department at Black Rock, the CBS building, on 52nd Street. When the planes hit, people wandered on to 6th Avenue to watch the dark unctuous plumes of smoke rising into the late summer sky.

Phones worked for a bit, until the antenna was destroyed with the collapse of the North Tower. I walked to Ellie’s apartment on East 79th Street. Masses of dazed people walked uptown unable to use phones and subways.

That night F-16 fighter jets roared up and down Manhattan Island ready to fire missiles passed bedroom windows.

Several large parks are situated along the Henry Hudson Parkway; Inwood Hill Park, Fort Tryon Park, Fort Washington Park, Riverbank State Park and Riverside Park.

The parkway is lush and verdant with views of the Hudson River and Palisades looking west. I’ve always noticed a white columnated viewing area, but have never stopped in all my years of living in New York. We take our localism for granted and often don’t explore the history right outside our door.

After passing under the George Washington Bridge, the green disappears and the urban takes over. Graffiti narrates fences and stone retaining walls, train tracks run parallel to the highway and large billboards vie for you peripheral attention.

Near Hamilton Heights, a neighborhood where Alexander Hamilton once lived, old stone retaining walls with balustrades and labyrinthine stairways separate residential buildings from the historic industrial zones close to the Hudson. Efflorescence oozes from mortar.

In Harlem, the river view has changed as Columbia University expands north of Morningside Heights. Fairway supermarket, an institution for westsiders, looks antiquated next to the glass and steel.

Riverside Drive apartment buildings with ornate stone facades still dominate the real estate and the views. A neoclassic mausoleum of stone columns and a rotunda preserves the body and memory of President Ulysses S. Grant as yuppies walk dogs and sip lattes.

Presidents will never again be be memorialized with such grandiosity.

We drive down the West Side Highway passing a cluster of Trump buildings with “Trump” removed from the entrances. Tenants demanded his names be removed. In death, Trump will make sure he is buried with dictatorial pomp, but it will become a place of desecration and idol worship.

The Donald J. Trump National Library…think about that for awhile. It will hold first editions of Dennis Rodman’s Bad As I Wanna Be, the Kremlin-authorized hagiography of Vladimir Putin and Goose Steppin’ by Kim Jong Un.

We visit the 9/11 Memorial and then walk across the street to the Oculus, a $4 billion white-boned cathedral of consumerism. You ponder the events of 9/11 then shop just like George W. Bush once told people to do.

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The Oculus is empty like lots of malls across the country. In essence, it’s a glorified mall to tell terrorists “we won.” The New York Times called the Oculus a “boondoggle.”

There is a dearth of shoppers. Retail clerks stare out from their opulent window displays or fuss with merchandise. Armed guards walk the periphery. Police dogs sniff visitors. It feels sterile and dystopian. I expect Galactic Stormtroopers to walk by.

We decide to leave the area and have lunch at Lombardi’s on Spring Street. It was established in 1905 and is touted as “the first pizzeria in America.” The Original Margherita is a purist’s dream.

The brown tenement buildings, crowded sidewalks and dingy cafes of Little Italy are refreshingly rundown.

A Chinese man carries two hefty bags tied to a stick across his back. Young people jump out of Ubers. Old people sit in a corner park. Men with aprons smoke in kitchen doorways. Bicycles, scooters jaywalkers, sweaty tourists and New Yorkers crisscross…

I think of Jane Jacobs.

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