Thursday, January 28, 2010

Been stranded in the combat zone, I walked through Bedford-Stuy alone…*

This past Saturday, in order to commemorate the passing of yet another year, I took a walk I’d been contemplating for a while: Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue, which googlemaps informs me spans a 10-mile stretch. I can believe that; I started at 12 on the nose and finished pretty much exactly at 3:30.

Bedford Avenue is fascinating to me because it winds through so many different universes. Basically it starts at 0% hipster, only to ratchet it up to about 105% by the end. I listened to 5 CDs and made one phone call during the route; the comings and goings of these coincided eerily well with the passing of neighborhoods.

Bedford begins at a pier on Emmons Avenue. Walking up the pier to my starting point, I was struck by the density of birds—I never saw so many swans before. Seagulls perched every which way; old men fed them; children wandered along the side of the water. It almost felt like summer. I wedged myself into the farthest acute angle of the pier and leaned outwards to the water for a moment, feeling, appropriately enough as you’ll see, like a boxer in my corner. Then the National and I turned and made our way up the road. The National’s Boxer is one of my favorite albums ever. Though its “Ada” was recently replaced as #1-played song on my ipod (a count dating since graduation or so) by Ra Ra Riot’s “Can You Tell,” more than half of my most-listened-to 25 songs are by The National. Boxer is good for a crisp winter’s day. It’s moody and dark without being depressive, the instrumentation clean and deliberate. With this soundtrack I studied the totally-suburban houses of Sheepshead Bay, walked past the playgrounds and churches and quiet, tree-lined streets. I felt like I was in a slow episode of Sesame Street, watching the avenues unspool the alphabet in reverse from Avenue Z up.

Round about the border of Orthoxdox-Jewish Midwood, Boxer concluded and I switched to John Adams’s Harmonielehre. I walked through surreally-Sabbath-quiet streets, passed a woman wearing a jealousy-inducing gray fedora and two tiny kids walking solemnly arm in arm. Around here, the houses crest up to opulence and then ebb back down—pink brick monstrosities brush shoulders with ivy-tattered cottages, modest weedy yards with coiffed topiaries. As Harmonielehre triumphantly crashed to its ending, I came up on Brooklyn College and a row of Victorians so similar to my own street, some with the vestiges of holiday decorations still dangling from their rafters. Lovely.

Then Bedford runs into the mega-commercial Flatbush Avenue. At this point I woke from my reverie to field a phone call from a friend of mine. So far, I’d walked along the west side of the avenue, but here I nearly had to abandon this plan; at Flatbush the sidewalk runs out and you have to kamikaze dart across to a filling station and off its island again before rejoining the main street. While engaged in these endeavors, I was nearly run over by a car whose bumper sticker intoned: “Prepare to meet thy God.” Indeed!

Luckily, I was able to put off that encounter, and, phone call concluded, wend my way up through Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, one of Brooklyn’s most fascinating neighborhoods. The character of the buildings changes every single block, keeping pace with the mood swings of my next listening candidate, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme (what use is a walk without a bit of S&G?). Each block is unique, from scrubbed, dark brownstones to brick cottages, from sandstone rowhouses to Victorians with enormous yards… A church on the corner advertised the next day’s sermon: “January 24th: The Unforgivable Sin.” Good to know where my birthday stands.

Soon “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” (as I'd call my high school on particularly vexed days) came on to propel me up the steep hill toward Bed-Stuy. Once again the city world reasserted itself, crowded, full of storefronts, gentrified and non-. A car service driver tried to offer me a ride; I waved him off. I can never shake the feeling that I’m in some crazy parallel Manhattan over there—disjointed Lexingtons and Parks—or that I’ve stumbled into a founding fathers history lesson, streets suddenly redolent of Hancock, Quincy, Monroe. S&G concluded, I listened to my new Spoon album—propulsive, good for now-tired feet. Spoon carried me through Bed-Stuy to South Williamsburg, where once again I was conspicuous among the Orthodox families out for a Saturday walk. I stopped to admire a cloud of birds looping around and around an otherwise unremarkable brownstone, wondered what its appeal was. I continued past the aptly-named Division Street (and the Cohn Memorial Triangle and its puzzlingly-less-apt street sign “Cohn Memorial Square”) and up to the Williamsburg Bridge, for the last major neighborhood shift.

I put on Clogs to get me through this final stretch, because who doesn’t love clogs? These wooden shoes are made for walking. I mean, Clogs, if you don’t know them (and you probably don’t) is a largely-instrumental band which I learned of because The National’s Bryce Dessner is one of its members. Clogs plays extremely beautiful, contemplative, moody music—a brilliant choice for isolating myself sonically from the oncoming wave of bleary brunchy hipsters, and for basking in my superior musical taste. Oh, hipsters. Even the kids are in on it these days—tiny grubby hands clutching skateboards, wandering the opulent trashy small town. Back in my day... Man. Strolling through this madhouse, I found myself at the shabby edge of Greenpoint, where Bedford deadends. And, whew. Time to sit down in McCarren Park and eat my lunch.

*It was vexing to me that I couldn't title this post so it could encompass both “ramblin’ review” and “ramble in review" in one phrase. Therefore, in protest again the written word, I've avoided the issue entirely, except for this complaint.

1 comment:

  1. i feel honored to be the phone call :)

    what a lovely description of your walk!