Saturday, January 30, 2010

Great Lakes Angler on New York City

Readers, this last week my work brought me to Manhattan for my first time. As an outdoors-man, lover of open spaces, verdant surroundings, and cool clear water I expected New York to wear on me quickly and that my flight home could never come to soon. I was, however, very wrong about this and the following are my thoughts on this Metropolis.

The story starts at 4:30 A.M. Central time this past Wednesday. My bags were already packed and my things were in order. I found my way to the train to the airport, where I met the Photographer whom I work with. We boarded our plane at sunrise and climbed through the atmosphere to where I could look straight down out my window at the home turf of Great Lakes Anglers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. I observed a surprising amount of ice tacked to shore all the way around the bottom of the Lake Michigan basin. The ice found its way out more than a mile off shore.

A path left behind through the ice by a freighter or cutter heading into an Indiana Harbor.

I flew on and soon found myself above a heavy blanket of cloud cover and found entertainment in the pages of Seven Years in Tibet while Josh Ritter and Vampire Weekend chimed through the speakers of my ipod and before I could shoot through more than a chapter or two we were beginning our final ascent. It was at this point I realized that from takeoff to touchdown it takes less time to fly over 4 states from Chicago to New York than it does to drive from my house to my favorite spot on the Milwaukee River... Depressing.

I craned my neck to get a good look at the spires of the buildings looming over the island of Manhattan. In the last few months I have landed in Laguardia two other times and only got glimpses of the skyline as my photography for Hedrich Blessing took my to Long Island and Connecticut, this would be my first time actually visiting the city.

Freighters entering New York City.

I slipped the 12 cases of photography gear off of the baggage claim and rolled it out the door. This process is a humerus one and often gets laughs and jokes from spectators. Firstly it always happens that almost half the gear that even comes off the plane belongs to me, and past that I (a lanky 6'1" guy has to wrestle with these 70 pound cases individually just to get them stacked into a tower on our cart. At that point I have to lay myself out to even instigate movement of the cart, as it weighs somewhere in the 600 pound range.

Common comments are "What band are you in?" and "I thought I brought too much baggage with me when I fly!!"My response to that is usually "Well, I like to travel lite."

Details aside I finally found myself having unloaded the baggage in the showroom which we were to photograph and was stepping into a cab to the hotel. I again craned my neck to get a view down every street and up every facade of every building. The other photographer and I grabbed a tripod and some cameras and spent the afternoon walking around midtown photographing what architecture interested us. We finished making a dusk shot at the apple store at around 6:00 and I trotted off to meet a friend a couple of dozen blocks to the south.

Clouds at dawn casting their shadows on Lake Michigan.

She is and architect and after showing me her office she had a surprise for me. She walked me over to the High Line, something I have wanted to see for the last 2 years after finding Joel Sternfeld's book : Walking the High Line, one of my favorites. From there we continued walking through the streets and I began to feel the energy of the city and found things that made it very different from Chicago and things that made it very same to some of the other metropolises that I have been to in the past such as Bangkok and Amsterdam. Every square foot of the city seemed unique and I found that by the end of a couple of evenings of walking I had put dozens of miles under my feet without even thinking about it.

The apple store, an hour before dusk.

In my short 12 hours of freedom in the city I made my way past storefronts, past camera stores, through a particularly wonderful used book store, and had tasted some fantastic food. I found that to me there were a few differences between Manhattan and Chicago and that the biggest and most important difference to me was as follows. In Chicago you approach this grip of buildings, buit up like a pair of pyramids rising from the lake to John Hancock and Trump Towers, and rising from the flats of Illinois to the Sears Tower. As you walk/bike/train/cab/drive your way toward the city it rises in front of you and you enter this densely packed web of concrete and steel. You stand in a tunnel of reflected light and noise. Upon making your way in a straight line in any direction you will find that in minutes you emerge from the other side and looking over your shoulder, you are afforded a view of the city again, retreating behind you heroically.

Manhattan, in contrast, is far more dense in some respects, and less in others. In any block you find dozens of buildings that rise 4 to 10 floors above your head, and in no case is there ever a chance of seeing more than a small cone above your head, you can walk for 5 miles and never find a view that affords you site of more than a few of the tops of the higher buildings around you. I will admit that I didn't make it to the financial district and I may find that part of the city similar to downtown Chicago. All in all I found a sense of uniqueness that I have never felt before in America, every square foot of this city seems to be made special by its tenant or owner and for that reason I felt the incredible energy and power that exudes from every shop window, honking taxi, and glowing sign.

I felt a certain level of contentedness as my plane rose beneath the full moon, speeding me away from New York and back over the Great Lakes to my home. I am pleased to have been given the chance to experience a thing which most people would like to do in their lifetime, it has given me a new respect for finding myself standing knee deep in cold water under a tunnel of budding trees on a April day with titans of the lakes swimming toward my feet. It has heightened my appreciation of every square foot of space that I have and I take it a shade less for granted than I did last week. All in all, I think this trip has made my love for the spot I live and the country I live in jump two whole rungs on a ladder I seem to be racing up with disregard for my own safety.

Thank you for reading and I will do everything in my power to be who I am and take what I have for what it is.

Until tomorrow...

Tom Harris

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