The big news in New York and its suburbs right now is that there are tornado warnings in the area. I am 54 years old and I lived the first 45 years of my life believing that New York and its environs are not subject to tornadoes but in the era of Global Warming, we seem to get tornadoes now once or twice a summer. One has apparently touched down in Queens and there's an eerie pall over the city, the sky in some places dark as night, and in other places a luminous and foreboding grey-yellow.
Tornado warnings or not, my young dog Whiskey needs her exercise as do I, so we headed down to the water for a two-mile walk.
The first sign of life we saw was a large Department of Environmental Protection sludge boat. New York City has three of these vessels. The smallest is 280-feet long and displaces just over 1,600 tons. The larger two--built on the same plan back in 1967 and 1974 are 323-feet ten-inches long and displace 2,557 tons. These hard-working ships run up and down the rivers day and night, taking sludge from urban waters and depositing it out to sea, 4.5-miles past Ambrose Lighthouse--12-miles away from the aqua-boundary of the City.
They are hardy ships and the one we saw, the larger model, the "Newton Creek," was showing no ill-affects from the oncoming storm. It was steaming up-river through a light chop. Whiskey and I watched as it made its way away from the sea.
These ships are the biggest ships that ply the East River, though the Hudson gets ocean liners which sometimes moor as far north as the piers in the low 60s and large container ships that on occasion make their way 100-miles upriver to Albany. They are even bigger than the "General Slocum," a 235-foot steamboat built in Brooklyn in 1891 that crashed and burned above 90th Street on North Brother Island, not far from where Whiskey and I were now, killing 1,021 of the 1,342 people aboard. It was New York's greatest single day of death until September 11, 2001.
As we watched the big ship make its way home, Whiskey strained at her leash. The increasingly darkening sky was making her nervous and the leaves that were falling from the London Planes and Sycamores in nearby Carl Schurz Park were proving a distraction. Whiskey wanted to chase each one like it was a small animal.
So, too, Whiskey and I headed up-river, making fewer knots than the burly Newton Creek, but moving steadily, as well. Parents and children began streaming home now. The temperature was dropping rapidly and large beads of rain were beginning to fall. Even the black kids playing basketball called it quits and ran north to home and Harlem, their t-shirts loose and wet, their expensive basketball sneakers untied.
Whiskey and I continued our trudge, perhaps carelessly. I couldn't really believe New York could be hit by a tornado, so while everyone else was headed in, I was determined to keep walking at least until I reached my usual turn-around point, the high-masted flagpole that sits along side Gracie Mansion, the 1799 farmhouse turned "official residence" of New York's mayor.
We hit the flagpole and now most of the people still in the park were running south and west. It was time to seek cover and concrete. I too heeded the call of reason and turned tail with Whiskey, reckoning the shortest, most-scaffolding-covered route home.
The sky now, in the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein was a "bright canary yellow." And Whiskey and I made it into the clean, well-air-conditioned lobby of our building. Jimmy, the doorman, closed the door against the wind and rain.
When the skies are brighter canary yellow
I forget ev'ry cloud I've ever seen,
So they called me a cockeyed optimist
Immature and incurably green.
I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we're done and we might as well be dead,
But I'm only a cockeyed optimist
And I can't get it into my head.
I hear the human race
Is fallin' on its face
And hasn't very far to go,
But ev'ry whippoorwill
Is sellin' me a bill,
And tellin' me it just ain't so.
We had made it home.
We had beaten, for now, the storm.