While we wait for the votes to be counted. North Shore Staten Island. People without shelter. Sleeping huddled together with a million dollar view of Manhattan at the foot of their thin blanket. Nearby, on the east side of the Staten Island Yankees stadium there's some cardboard placed purposefully by another couple - I've walked by them 20 times at least over the past few months. Cardboard placed specifically, for later, to sleep there. And more cardboard at the north end of the stadium tucked between the iron framework and the gate.
While we wait. And while the idea of the people, the public, public space changes daily and we are left wondering how the fuck did we get into this situation with Trump? He's a sociopath. Elise says "abide." Let's go out now so we can recall what any of this might mean on the most mundane, basic, and most important level. The level of our lives on the street.
We're in the third surge of the pandemic and there have been more than 9,500,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 230,000 deaths in the USA. If I wait until next week to write this the numbers will be 11,000,000 and 250,000.
Fewer people around at the moment. We forget until we're lonely, and then we remember why other people, total strangers, matter so much.
The ferry is a good place for
introspection and quietude as we glide, lost in thought, through the gently rippling waters of the bay. Sleeping, daydreaming. Nothing on offer except space. Ridership is down! As they say. From the ferry to the bus or to the train.
Elements. Randomness, emerging, boring, predictable. Suddenly the air is charged when someone's child screams and the adult screams and it's hard to say that no one's going to be slapped and there's a ripple of tension through the crowd waiting in the terminal or riding the train or squashed together on the bus. That was then. Mid-day buses are still kind of empty these days.
Conversations were incidental. You would talk to a complete stranger about whether or not the bus is on time, late, has left already, is crowded. Or maybe not talking, but watching and sharing a silent discourse about the same things. Pull your zipper up higher, make a face for no-one, or for the lady behind you in line and that's commentary on your shared moment. Being in transit with random other New Yorkers is itself a social commodity. Anyone can acquire such wealth as this.
As you take in everything that's going on around you - sad or sweet, tense or chill, divine or hideous, fodder for philosophizing or just momentarily ungraspable - you recognize need and you perceive hope in the smallest gesture of another. The basic risk and the basic reward of public transit is the same - being in the company of a crowd of random strangers, each on their own mission.
The other part is about checking out streetwear and styles and associated demographics. Seeing how people put themselves together. Basic people-watching is some kind of primal behavior, and you learn about your city when you watch people whose paths cross your own on any given day.
We are a disorganized nation, ignorant of any idea about what social responsibility entails. The far right has been yelling about their love of the US constitution and the Bill of Rights as though they themselves have written it for their website manifesto. The pandemic doesn't give a fuck about your rights. Frightened stupid men with large guns and weird camou gear marching across bridges in their black and yellow colors, waving flags and having truck rallies through towns that hate them; and later going hunting up at the cabin and shooting a large animal out in the woods with a semi-automatic rifle. Cops pledge allegiance to far right militias. Cops believe they have a duty to white government to beat people who are exercising their right to peaceful assembly. Cops get a chance to try out deadly weapons on protesters. How does this one work? Stun.
I often take pictures of people from the back. People don't want you putting a camera in their faces. I like to take pictures of people waiting to get off the ferry. Not sure what this moment means but the waiting crowd takes on significance as everyone gathers together to go ashore. I take pictures so I can understand what the crowd, the waiting, the going ashore imply. The boat and the water, too.
Public space is different now. One million people in New York are newly impoverished, since things had to shut down earlier this year. Meeting places gone. Friends so distant now I wonder if I will ever see them again. They live in one of my spaces of worry. While we wait for the votes to be counted, for Trump's lawsuits to be thrown out and gun-wielding white supremacists to go back into hiding, the country is changing right under our feet.
I take walks early in the morning when no one is around. I can take my mask off for at least half the walk and breathe in the fall air. This summer I passed tiny urban gardens with blasts of colorful flowers, large empty churches, brightly colored houses, apartment buildings and housing projects arranged side by side.
Observe as neighborhood restaurants put their tables out in the street and people leave food hanging from their fence for hungry passers-by. The neighborhood grows into itself more quietly now. No families sitting on stoops, no teenagers hanging around the pizza place, no cops clustering at Dunkin. The landmark theater is closed. But the neighborhood itself is like a set for a play, the neighborhood is waiting for actors to populate it, and waiting for an appreciative audience. I am waiting. The steep walk down to the water's edge. Waiting for the votes to be counted.