January 16th, 2017
Briefly, my morning commute works a little something like this: Catch the 6:54 train from my house. Change in Secaucus for a New York-bound train. Arrive in Penn Station- NYC 9 minutes later. Walk across the terminal for the 123 Subway uptown one stop. Walk a ways to catch the Grand Central Shuttle. Arrive in Grand Central by about 7:45am.
Two trains, two subways- 11 miles in 45 minutes. Just enough of an eternity for a contemplation about the meaning of life. Twice a day, and five days a week.
Last Wednesday was different though. Last Wednesday, there was some sort of event downtown that made the 123 trains delayed or apparently nonexistent or whatever. After waiting on the platform for approximately three minutes… I decided it was the end times and I was going to walk to Grand Central instead. I have done this walk a few times before… it takes no more than 20 minutes, but today it would be different…
(I am trying to paint a picture of my mindset here. Just go with it for a bit and let’s see if I can Bob Ross this thing.)
Sometimes I wonder if grand forces in the universe set up a wide range of key events in a specific manner in order to teach me a lesson. It is a lesson that is taught without my input or direction, other than to keep walking forward with my eyes open.
The absence of the 123 trains was not the only change to my morning routine this past Wednesday. Additionally, I had my camera in my backpack. I don’t typically carry it along with me to work but today I did because earlier in the week one of the guys expressed an interest in photography and since he has been out of it for awhile, he had no idea of the advances in digital technology. So I said I would bring it along with me so he could check it out when we had an opportunity.
That opportunity didn’t pan out on Tuesday, so I brought it again on Wednesday. Little did I know at the time that it was, in fact, the universe’s forces that prevented the opportunity for me to show him the camera on Tuesday because the universe was not ready for me on Tuesday. The universe had already scheduled two key elements for Wednesday morning, aside from the broken subway, and those elements were firm scheduled events apparantly.
So there I go on my way off the platform and on to the street. Then I figured I might as well make the best of it and pull the camera from my bag.
I took that first snap (above) just outside Penn Station’s 7th Avenue entrance. The Pennsy bar. Where many “business folks” have tied one on because they got hired/fired/engaged/disengaged/made or missed a connection with lovers/train… Anyway, a bar.
But I like the name. And the eagle. But that wasn’t the lesson the universe prepared for me. That was just the backdrop. The lesson is this:
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. -Isaac Newton (1676)
In this immediate lesson that occurred within my first hundred steps of standing outside the station that I have stood outside countless times before, I realized that as much as I thought I knew of photography, of the city, of life even… I am no more than the small sparrow in the grand realm of knowledge.
In this case the Bald Eagle is an expression of the Universe. Standing upon its shoulders I can see above the broken train, above the cold weather, above the limitations of my ability, above the fact that I do not have even more than a single lens with me, above the faux-homeless demanding money, above the TimeOut magazine people, above the tour bus salesmen, above the smog, above the… well, you know…
But what did I see?
I saw that ever since I was a young boy, I have admired New York City. Not just the city… but the people. There is a massive energy that surrounds enormous crowds of people that are always in a state of motion. Fast motion. I am wildly attracted to that energy. But up until October, 2016- I was always an outsider looking in.
Now I am a commuter into the city. It is not without its downfalls, but I have always aspired for it and now suddenly it is my life.
Fortunately, I did not take a job that lands me in a cubicle in some nondescript tower on Any Street between Some Avenue and Every Avenue.
I have been fortunate enough to land a job at the corner of Park Ave and 42nd. Or Madison, or Vanderbilt, or Depew, or Lexington… take your pick. Or 43rd, 44th, or 45th.. Doors on all sides at Grand Central Terminal.
How fortunate is that? I am very thankful for this sort of commute because unlike all my previous jobs where the only variety in my commute was the family of trees on the sides of the highways… This is a commute with a VIEW!
On my short 20 minute walk, I go from Penn Station through Herald Square and the Empire State Building, to Times Square with all the lights all the time, past Bryant Park and the Library, and onward to Park Ave where I enter Grand Central just shy of the Chrysler Building.
20 minutes and I hit most of the most popular NYC-in-a-day walking tour hotspots.
Lesson 1: I make a daily trek through the most powerful city in the world. Do not take that opportunity for granted.
But back to Penn Station for a quick second to learn my second lesson:
New Yorkers are one of a kind.
If you are paying attention to the background you’ll notice I met this guy immediately after taking my self-portrait (the sparrow). He walked right in front of my camera and without hesitation said, “Now you know you can’t come to the city without taking a picture of a gorgeous black man!”
And before I could even contemplate whether or not this guy was going to ask for money, or life advice, or my favorite number… *poof* He was walking away and immediately swallowed up by the sea of commuters crossing over 7th Avenue.
Lesson 2: New Yorkers are New Yorkers. They move fast- so fast that they almost seem to be a blur. But with a fast enough shutter, we can capture a freeze frame and learn that their depth runs as deep as the 7 Train under Roosevelt Island to the height of the Freedom Tower. So go full-on ‘Billy the Kid’ with the shutter button. It is worth it.
So with these lessons firm at hand, I marched forward with this rekindled appreciation for this commute that I have actively sought out for years and years.
Not all photos will be fantastic photographs with the right composition, focus, focal length or whatever. They don’t have to be. I strive towards that but I still have this desire to share a story because of what this parking enforcement officer taught me:
Lesson 3: Just because I see the same thing every day, it does not mean no story is there to be told. On the contrary, repeated encounters are the Universe reminding me that “Hey! If you can’t figure out the dialogue, then I’ll find somebody else that can!”
There is not a morning walk that can be done anywhere in the city without delivery trucks, of some kind, illegally parked and damn near simultaneously getting parking tickets from NYPD. It is constant. So here is an Officer doing her part by looking up info on the truck with dispatch and preparing another citation. There was a second truck behind that with a ticket affixed, and another behind that one as well. Parking ticket and all.
I’d sure like to know the annual sum these companies are paying. Whatever it is, it is far less than the lost man-hours in trucks driving around looking for valid parking that simply does not exist in the most compressed island in America. It is illegal parking, it is a huge inconvenience to everybody elision the street trying to drive normally… but this is the way in New York City. Do you want to deal with the illegal truck or empty shelves at the corner store because deliveries couldn’t be made? There is simply no known way to please everybody…
But again, I must recognize that just because I see this every day, it does not mean that it is common. Many people live far outside city centers and will never experience these stresses of urban living and working.
Speaking of compression…
This high speed golf cart police car is actually a thing. And a very valuable thing! These tiny cars are the result of a department thinking outside the box. In New York City, more can be done by a cop on foot than could every be done by car. So when cars become the occasional need and not the constant need, why not lose the hood and trunk and only keep the bare minimum required to get us from A to B?
Got a bad guy? Well, with no backseat, you also don’t have to worry about transport through the gridlock. That’s what paddy wagons are for. Win-win.
For me, the most important aspect of this photograph is the One Way sign that points directly to the US Military.
Without the military,I would not be where I am today- for that I am absolutely sure.
Hooah to all my fellow serving members and veterans out there!
And after that, I found myself at the doorstep to my job.
Thank you, Universe, for a need to carry the camera to work, a broken subway, and a comfortable set of walking boots.
*The Commuter Series today was solely photographs that I took while walking to work on that particular day. I don’t know if I should make that a rule, or allow myself to add in photos from other NYC excursions to help drive paint a more colorful picture. “We’ll see.”