The process of choosing an excursion destination is sort of mysterious even to me, though it certainly relies on some concrete factors like weather and availability of special events. This one feels like it had much more that went in to it, and the turns it took were much more unexpected.
Monday, coworker friend sent me a link to an amazing video. I had to watch the whole thing right then, I was captivated! Friday I got a note from Dad with a newspaper clipping attached about the same people/project. Late Friday night my sister’s boyfriend posted the same video on my Facebook. I highly recommend giving it a watch.
Steve Duncan’s love of the history behind these unusual places and his respect for it really speaks to me. His daredevil-ness makes me fear for his safety. I was really struck that he had visited so many places that I have or am planning to.
I took this as sort of a sign and decided to pick one of my places that’s also covered in the video, specifically the Freedom Tunnel. I mentioned before that this is not a blog about trespassing, and in my Riverside Park excursion I specifically did not enter this tunnel. A way around this is to ride the train through that tunnel. I devised a plan and bought myself an (overpriced) Amtrak ticket to ride one stop on the Empire line between Penn Station and Yonkers. It felt a bit weird to shell out, since most of my excursions are either free or simply cost me the price of getting there.
This excursion was also an exception because I did not use the car at all to get to/from my destinations.
As I boarded the 1-train near my house I considered what the boundaries of the excursions are. Does the event begin when I step out of the house and end when I step back in the house? I do tend to describe all of that on the blog, so does that mean it’s a part of it? Or is there a point at which I arrive at my destination and the experience officially begins? I do feel sometimes like travel to and from an excursion is more “blah” and pedestrian and I shift into a different mode for the experience itself. But who’s to say what the answer is? I figure out what the rules are for my own project.
I rode the 1, then caught an express 3 down to Penn Station. I was there plenty early and spent some time walking around and looking at stuff. I was a little nervous as I waited – just general travel nervousness, not about anything specific. I recalled the last time I was in Penn Station going to and from Boston on the Acela over the summer. I was nervous then, first time I had taken Amtrak by myself so perhaps some of that spilled over into this excursion. A few trains on the board were delayed, presumably because of the previous day’s snowfall.
I observed quite the cast of characters while waiting. Many were typical-looking traveling families or couples. There was a gaggle of maybe-homeless men socializing boisterously. A man in a chef’s uniform tried to hustle me for money (the pitch was too rehearsed to be real). I’m not complaining, it’s just all interesting to watch. I loved the spatial pattern that emerged around the big board announcing tracks. People stood nearly symmetrically on either side of it. No one stood too close to or under it.
After what seemed like a long time, although the train was on time, the track was announced. We all shuffled down the escalator and into one or another of the train cars. I had a moment of panic, wondering which way the train would pull out and therefore which side of the car to sit on, but I realized that the sights would be beautiful and different on both sides, there was no wrong answer!
After a few minutes we began to pull out of the station. I was super excited, trying to catch a glimpse of anything and everything that I could. We emerged from the tunnel for a moment next to a NJ Transit train, then went back underground. My mind raced, trying to figure out how fast we were going and how far north we had made it at each moment.
I could tell when we were in the Freedom Tunnel. It was far too dark and too fast to take pictures. I caught glimpses of graffiti, though, and shafts of light streaming down from the grates in Riverside park. Everyone was so concerned with goings-on in the cabin: collecting tickets, getting settled, but I just wanted to look out into the tunnel.
We came up for air around 125th Street, where my previous Riverside Park excursion started. I recognized the West Side Highway so close to our left. Cars seemed to race us. I wanted to be simultaneously in a car and where I was in the train! We passed familiar sights and I realized I was now in a place I had wondered about every trip down the West Side Highway and to Fairway’s parking lot – first on elevated tracks then inside a huge, wide pit full of parallel tracks. Wouldn’t the train slow down so I could enjoy?
Further north my view was all snow-covered woods – Fort Tryon and Inwood Hill parks. I watched the trees and brush rush by, so close to the train at times.
All too soon I got one of the views I had been waiting for: of the Henry Hudson Bridge from the Spuyten Duyvil swing bridge. It’s a place I’ve loved for a while, and wrote about early on. The train clattered across the bridge and the supports intermittently blocked the lovely view. The sound and strobe effect added intense framing to the scene.
As soon as we crossed the river I began to get sad. Riverdale (my neighborhood we were passing through) isn’t far from Yonkers and my ride would soon be over.
I felt a little dopey getting off in Yonkers. I think I was the only one to ride just that one stop. I hopped off the train and waited with it a few minutes on the platform, enjoying the powerful diesel rumble. A few minutes after the train pulled away a construction train came by. Then everything was quiet – there was hardly a person in sight. I imagined how different it must be on a weekday with commuters going back and forth on the Metro-North all the time.
I stood there trying to decide what to do. I had originally thought I’d just turn right around and get on the Metro-North back to Riverdale, but looking around there were too many potentially interesting sights so I decided to explore a bit. I walked down from the platform and started towards the water. Since I didn’t have the Hudson-side view on the way up I figured I’d take a look.
I walked onto a pier running next to a new, luxury apartment building. Seagulls and mallard ducks swam next to me. At the end of the pier was a fantastic view of the New Jersey Palisades. To my right sat a “Science Barge”. I vaguely knew about this from some work that a good friend did with its parent organization.
To my left was an interesting structure whose purpose I couldn’t make out. While walking over to take a look, I wondered what it would be like to live in one of these waterfront apartments. I don’t generally have such a high opinion of Yonkers but perhaps it would be beautiful. The desolation this cold Saturday afternoon made it impossible to tell what the character of the area really was.
I reached this turquoise and red structure that jutted out into the water and determined with the aid of signs that’s it’s a rather posh-looking restaurant above a water taxi depot. There was nothing stopping me from walking out to the water in this structure so I did. The taxi stand was as quiet as the rest of where I had walked, and in fact a handwritten note declared it closed. The views from this abandoned waiting area were just gorgeous. In spite of the overcast sky I could see the George Washington Bridge to the south and pretty far north as well. Several barges floated on the river.
Here was another opportunity for me to get back on the train and go home, and although I knew I was in for about 1.5 miles of walking from my train stop to home, I decided to explore even further. I remembered that I was somewhat near the abandoned Glenwood power plant, a place I photographed as part of a sketch for my one and only film. Smart phone seemed to indicate the distance was walkable so I set that as my goal.
My walk paralleled both the river and the train tracks and I saw so many interesting and unexpected things. It’s sort of an industrial district, with factories, depots, and lots. But there’s housing too – mostly beautiful old houses and apartments in various states of beauty and/or disrepair. And some more modern touches like public art and luxury apartments.
I was somehow surprised to see a building labeled “City Jail.” Perhaps it was unexpected because I’m used to New York City, where Rikers Island is the holding facility for the entire city and seems quite out-of-sight, out-of-mind out there on its own island.
As I walked more I realized how far I had actually committed to walking, but turning back would be a cop-out! I passed a school bus depot, an MTA bus depot, and a bakery.
Eventually the road I walked on curved around and over the train tracks. I waited there at the top of the bridge for a train to come by, about fifteen cold minutes. Lone cabs drove by and honked. I didn’t look – there are no cabs in my excursions. After photographing the southbound train I pressed on, more determined than ever.
After wondering at Victorian-style houses and beautiful old apartment buildings, I finally descended the hill to the Glenwood Metro-North station. I climbed up and across to the other platform first to get a good look at the abandoned power plant. I bought my ticket from a machine and walked back to the other side. Because of those ticket vending machines most station ticket booths are now closed. I peered into this one. No fixtures were left, just a pile of bricks in the corner.
I remembered that on my scouting mission in 2003 I had taken some pictures of the Glenwood plant from the roof of a garage. Indeed, there was that garage, right next to the old ticket booth. It clearly belongs to the adjacent high-rise apartment building. I wondered whether it occurred to us at the time that we probably weren’t supposed to be up there. I thought for a minute and then decided to see if I could get up there again – just for a minute! It turned out to be easy, the concrete outdoor stairwell’s doors were unlocked and propped open. I tiptoed around blobs of snow and ice on the roof and looked out at the beautiful abandoned structure.
One is first struck by the scale of this building, perhaps made more obvious by its proximity to the train platform. The giant empty shell just looms over the area. But this day I was hit with something else too: music. I strained at first to hear where this could be coming from, perhaps a car, the apartment high-rise, or a couple of men fixing a truck on a sidestreet? I turned my head to try to figure it out, but no, it wasn’t an illusion, it was coming from inside the power plant! Rich saxophone tones echoing through the building’s beautiful acoustics. I pictured something like a scene from a 1930’s jazz club inside.
It was magical. After a glimpse south to snap a picture of a blue building that looked like an ice cube, I climbed down and back over to the southbound platform to get closer to the abandoned plant.
I listened to the saxophone more and tried to conjecture who the player was and, from the tracks in the snow, how he or she had gotten inside. I wanted to know badly but was in no shape for more exploring and risk-taking for the day, plus there’s the whole trespassing factor. I walked back and forth on the long platform, photographing, listening, and watching. I enjoyed it so much but checked my watch frequently for my train’s arrival time. I was freezing with wet feet!
Finally the Metro-North came. I climbed aboard near the back. The last car had a hand-scrawled sign on its interior door: “CLOSED”. A couple cuddled – I couldn’t tell whether they were comforting each other or were just being in love. Girls in the next car giggled and snapped flash photos. I looked out the window, my ticket never collected, and the couple of stops went quickly.
At Riverdale I stepped onto the platform, a little disoriented. I never had occasion to ride to this stop before. I spent a minute there, looking around. The most interesting thing was a shallow ramp (with funny warning signs) down to a patio with benches near the water. I had no idea one was allowed over there! This must be beautiful in warm weather. My trip to the water’s edge will have to wait until then.
I started my walk north and east, up winding streets with no sidewalks. The snow in the trees was beautiful but the walk was tiring. I passed a funny little entrance to “Riverdale Yacht Club”, which I also had no idea existed.
I was more glad to get home from this excursion than any other and get out of my wet, snowy clothes and shoes. What an expedition!