Bridge Run

“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Ah, the Bridge.

The Queensboro Bridge, completed in 1909, is an iconic piece of the Manhattan skyline and an important part of New York history.  For what it lacks in aesthetics, it makes up in function.  It connects Midtown East/the beginnings of the Upper East Side to Long Island City.  Its cantilevered form sweeps over the East River, and Roosevelt Island (which, for postal service purposes, is curiously considered part of Manhattan — little known fact — and something I only discovered when I was working on a deal a few years back and found a contract with a “Main Street, NY, NY” address).  And yet, while it doesn’t have the grace or beauty of its sisters suspended downstream (or maybe, because of that!), the Queensboro Bridge has been romanticsed in film, and in song, and in literature.

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In fact, the Bridge is so much a part of our popular culture and consciousness, that people do not even know that it exists.  The only bridge of which they have heard is the Brooklyn Bridge, and even then, they wouldn’t know what that looked like if someone sold it to them.

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(Brooklyn Bridge on a Three Bridges Run)

The Queensboro has many functions aside from getting people from Manhattan to Queens.  For instance, it is a key feature of the New York City Marathon, and is, for many Marathoners, The Hardest Part.  At least it has been for me.  The second-highest elevation point in the race after Mile One (The Verrazano Narrows Bridge), the Queensboro spans between Miles 15-16 and marks the entry-point into Manhattan.  It spills out on to First Avenue, and is one of only two significant points on the race where there are no spectators.  It is silent, save for the pounding of feet.

And then: The Roar.  The roar of the crowd as the runners approach First Avenue is a sound unlike any you have ever heard before.  It rivals the heartbeat on an ultrasound — it is primal, and human, and…there are not English words to describe it.

Speaking of that Roar — while it is beautifully deafening, it is a cheer.  And I discovered last year that there are Bad People in the world, and on the news, and they will want to use their voices to drown out the beautiful things about New York, not cheer them on.  There are people who think it’s okay for professional sporting events to continue in the wake of tragedy — and to waste food, and use generators, and pay advertisers, and glorify over-paid professional basketball players and football players.  And these same people will have the audacity to drown out the Roar; to destroy an international symbol of human strength, and fraternity, and charity.

They will insist upon the cancellation of the Marathon — whose start was in unaffected areas of Staten Island; whose course was through unaffected areas of the City; whose resources were largely private and which raised millions of dollars that stayed in New York.  But they will insist that professional sporting events in flooded Brooklyn and devastated New Jersey should go on.  They will have no problem lining the pockets of advertisers, and pro-athletes who funnel money away from the City, but they will insist upon calling Marathoners “selfish.”

These are the people who will never cross the Bridge.  They will never see the wild promise and mastery and beauty of what New York can hold, because they’re so concerned about an imaginary score.

I was angry for a while, but now I feel sorry for them.

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Because there’s an awful lot of beauty in crossing that Bridge; hearing the Joyful Noise as you come down on to First Avenue.

My office looks out over the Queensboro, and every day, I remember that there are still people who are suffering from the effects of the Hurricane.  But despite all of it — the weirdness, and the hardness, and the Bad People, and the ugliness that came about in November — this really is a great city, you know?

And this year, on the Third of November, it’s not going to be just me coming over that bridge.  My brother has agreed to take on the challenge of running his first marathon.  And so on that first Sunday in November, it will be the both of us…feelin’ groovy.

You can’t stop a New Yorker; you can’t hold a Marathoner back.  You cannot crush the spirit of someone who has seen and heard the City, for the first time, every time, crossing the Bridge.

(Throughout the month of June, I’ll be writing a series of New York-related posts, and/or inviting some friends to guest post about their New York experiences, to celebrate my eight years in New York City.)

2 Comments

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  1. It is impossible to explain to the uninitiated that the marathon is the purest, and most unselfish, form of joy.

    Not only today, as we all sacrifice our identities as individual runners to become a part of the larger pack, but even at its roots as Pheidippides ran alone into Athens proclaiming to all: Rejoice, we are victorious!

    On The First Sunday in October, on The Third of November and every start line that we may cross while our bodies are still able to carry us, we will rejoice.

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