With my ever-lovin’ out of town, and Whiskey having had a stomach ache, I was awakened this morning with my pup’s wet and chilly nose nudging me with some insistence.
It’s far better to throw your clothes on at 5AM on a Saturday after a grueling week than have to clean up a mess in the apartment, so I complied with Whiskey's request and hustled her into the darkness.
Even at 5:03 on a cold Saturday morning, even in New York’s quietest neighborhood, there are people on the street. They’re rushing home from somewhere, or walking similarly insistent dogs, or stumbling around from a drunk. Cars are whizzing by on the avenues—way over the 25 mph speed-limit in the city and running through reds with more regularity even than they do at mid-day.
Then there are the hulking, dripping industrial garbage trucks that drive up on curbs to pick up their contracted trash from the too-many restaurants that line New York’s avenues because people are too busy to cook for themselves. Top-heavy dark men swing bulging bags into the maw of their trucks like unionized and dystopian Santa’s helpers loading the fat man’s sled.
Whiskey and I walked through all that on our way over to the East River, where I thought we could have a nice walk along the water in the chill.
The night was clear. I could see two stars in the sky (maybe one was Venus, the morning star.) It’s a rarity to see stars if you live in Manhattan but whenever I’m out late, or more frequently up early, I check for them. Maybe it’s not much, but somehow seeing them lets me think for a moment anyway, that the universe hasn’t quite unsettled as much as it seems to have had.
We walked upriver, passing a dark red Moran tug pushing a giant barge out to sea. The tugboat captains are up early, I thought to myself. They must be having their first cup at three, hugging their ceramic mugs with chapped hands against the cold and maybe wishing they had chosen a saner profession than that of their fathers, who they had almost certainly inherited their captaincys from.
The roar of the highway, the FDR, was muffled and low. Even the bumper cars of the drive were nearly silent. I watched the lights over Queens of jets descending into LaGuardia five miles away as the crow flies, and saw the sparkling halogens of the burly Triboro Bridge just two-miles upstream.
Maybe it’s strange to use the word upstream when referring to the murk of the East River. The waterway—an estuary from the sea, just three miles south—is dark, viscous and industrial. In my youth, it was all but killed by pollutants. But now in the summer the stoic Puerto Rican men are back hoping for stripers or blues to strike their spindly rods, and women are out with chicken necks in cages with one-way doors to trap a hungry and unsuspecting blue-claw crab or two. In the heat of August, young men in wet suits can be seen racing their jet-skis over waters that people joked you could walk across for the garbage back in the 70s.
There’s something life-affirming, god-like, really, whether you believe or not, in having lived near the river your whole life and seeing it slowly return from the dead to the living. Maybe there’s hope yet for our world, maybe it won’t die a permanent death. Maybe as a species, we will wise up before we kill everything.
Whiskey had completed what she woke me to do and we walked an extra-block or two just because we were up and out. Far in the distance, over the ambient noises of the still-asleep city, I heard the faint cry of gulls, waking just before the sun, and hungry for their morning meals—maybe a bagel with a schmear, maybe the rotting carcass of a foul and bloated Norway rat.
We walked home to try to find another hour of sleep.