There’s an old joke in New York about having a bridge to sell someone. When someone says something particularly unbelievable, people say — if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. They were trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge. Now that is a lovely bridge but in my mind, the loveliest bridge in New York is the Queensborough Bridge. If I were in the market for bridges, I would buy that one, although I really don’t think it’s for sale.
The Queensborough Bridge though has always been my bridge, our bridge when it comes to the family. Our house growing up, our apartment faced the Queensborough Bridge. It was the sight I looked out at from my bedroom window.
I never really thought that the fact that I grew up in Manhattan was unusual or remarkable in any way. Doesn’t everyone grow up in New York? I mean that’s a strange thing to say but when you grow up in a jungle, you think everyone else grows up in a jungle too. It never struck me as unusual or strange that I had grow up there. Now I think though that it is really remarkable.
It didn’t really hit me until a couple of years ago when I met a lovely man who had grown up in a small village in the Swiss Alps. He also probably thought that everyone grows up in a village like he did. I remember he was quite embarrassed about the fact that he had grown up in a place like that. I remember telling him — everyone is from somewhere. I mean really could I try to one up him on this? No. It wasn’t my place and I’m not the type of person to do that anyway.
We spent a lovely evening together then, just talking about our lives. I told him about what it was like growing up in Manhattan, with the constant din of the city outside and our bridge sort of stretching off into the distance, across the East River. I also told him about when my elementary school took us to Central Park to teach us about ice safety and how we had to form a human chain across the pond next to the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park. I still don’t really understand why the school thought a bunch of kids who had only ever seen Manhattan would need to know this valuable piece of information. Our exposure to nature, I laughed that night. Well we both laughed at that.
Even though we haven’t lived in that apartment in Manhattan in over 30 years, I still consider it my home. I still walk through New York and when I start heading towards 1st avenue or York Avenue, I still think — I’m on my way home. I often think of this quote I once heard about how everyone has a New York in their mind, in their imagination, even if they’ve grown up on the other side of the world from the city, maybe for example in a small village in the Swiss Alps.
The bridge was a constant feature of my childhood, as was the Pepsi Cola sign on the other side of the river. I stared at it a lot growing up. These two things meant home to me and still somehow mean home. The bridge appears in movies a lot and I always pause them or slow them down to see our old apartment building. Signs of home, I guess.
This weekend I finally got the chance to see the Pepsi Cola sign up close and photograph the bridge from an incredible new observatory I visited next to Grand Central station. That entry is currently percolating in my mind. But for now, the Pepsi Cola sign with our bridge in the background and our bridge from up high in the building: