On the waterfront
THE VIEW FROM BAYONNE
When my friend Kevin lived two doors away on St. Marks Place in St. George--before he moved back to Boulder County, Colorado--he and I would sometimes head for the Kill van Kull, two short blocks down the hill, where he would hunt for beach glass and I would think about restoration of passenger rail on the north shore, the unused right-of-way only steps from the shoreline where we stood.
One beautiful, clear, sunny day, Kevin and I thrashed through the grasses to our accustomed spot. I stopped, looked around me and felt utterly serene and content. Everything seemed beautiful. Even the gleaming white tanks on the opposite shore. Even the flotsam (or is it jetsam?) deposited on the narrow strip of sand along the water.
I let out a deep, contented sigh. "God, aren't we lucky," I said, taking in the sweep of sky and water, watching a tug approach from the west.
Kevin looked up quizzically from the glass fragment he'd been turning over in his hand. I extended my arm in a sweeping gesture to show him what I meant, indicating the fairly narrow waterway in front of us and the shorelines on either side.
He just shook his head and smiled, not saying a word. He didn't have to.
I knew that to him, I was delusional. What I was going on about was not beauty, not to him; it was urban devastation. He was headed back to Boulder County, after all, to drink his morning coffee looking out at the front range of the Rocky Mountains.
AN UNDERSTANDING NOD
My friend Steve Nutt, an artist from Ward Hill who works in clay and fiber, wouldn't have shaken his head. He'd have nodded in understanding and agreement. I know this because I've seen Steve's photos. The ones he took not long ago while biking through the industrial desolation of Bayonne, the part of it I can see from my office window. Not now, of course, but in January, when the trees are bare of leaf.
When I clicked through Steve's photos, I felt as though I was viewing something I wasn't supposed to. Unsanctioned views of Staten Island's north shoreline. Photos taken from questionable angles and locations. Pictures of a part of New Jersey that got away geologically but didn't go far. A kind of entering uninvited through a back door.
Weren't there snarling German Shepherds guarding the blinding whiteness of those storage tanks on the Bayonne shore? Didn't he need a pass to cross over into a particularly spooky industrial No Man's Land? Or at the very least, a note from the mayor? When I asked Steve what had prompted his solitary adventure, he sent me the following.
TALE OF A LONE BAYONNE BIKER
Having lived within a few blocks of the waters of north shore Staten Island for 28 years, my cameras have pointed away from the island towards New Jersey, Manhattan, and Brooklyn countless times. And I have recorded the island's north shore many times as well. From Bay Ridge, Brooklyn Heights, lower Manhattan (yes, the top of the WTC) and most often from the decks of the Staten Island Ferry. But only once from the shores of New Jersey, specifically from Bayonne.
On a hazy summer morning, probably a Sunday, I'd biked over the Bayonne Bridge and found my way to the shoreline park that starts just below the eastern side of the bridge.
I was intent on creating a ribbon of long narrow images of everything from Port Richmond to St. George.
Large industrial blocks made it impossible to record the Staten Island waterfront as I would have liked. But in the end, I stood between the white petrol storage tanks and the Kill van Kull, facing and photographing the shoreline from which I had studied the Jersey side so many times before.
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