I’m convinced that living in New York City can teach you to love the rugged outdoors the way that wearing a catholic school uniform encourages a sense of style. You can’t rebel against something, consciously or not, if there are no constraints.
To some, spring is the perfect time to sit inside and look at pictures of flowers on Instagram, but from running around in the sun in Upper Manhattan, I’m tan enough to look like I crawled out of a Jimmy Buffett song. It won’t be long before I look like the leathery ladies sunbathing nude on Fire Island, their arms one big freckle from shoulder to wrist.
“This is where I’m going to get married.” I point to the left at Inspiration Point as my boss and I cruise up the West Side Highway. “See those beautiful arches? That’s Fort Tryon Park. One of my favorite places to go running when I’m not working for your ass.”
“Is this another one of your architecture soliloquies?” She asks, with a smile and an implied eye roll.
I like driving by myself because then there’s nobody to make fun of me for enjoying where I live, or to roll their eyes when I sing all of the words to Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise” over Coolio on the radio.
“If you look over the river, you can see the Palisades Cliffs.”
I often take for granted living so close to the George Washington Bridge. Bridges are so magnificent, it’s a shame that they’re thought about mostly in terms of traffic or tolls, or a clusterfuck of highways. I’ve always liked the graphic design of the interstate highway signs, the red and blue shield with the cute white numbers. They look so cartoonish in my mind, as if the 95 is going to sing and dance before a movie and try to convince me to buy a $10 hot dog.
There are also the signs on the bridge warning you to look out for people who might be jumping. The GW is such a beautiful bridge, it makes me a little bit sad that I’m not suicidal. Jumping off it looks like it would be really fun, except for the dying part. It’s hard to lean over the railing and not get swept to another world with the wind in your hair, the Hudson below a calming repetitive series of waves not unlike a Windows 95 screensaver. From above, the river actually appears grey or silver rather than brown, and sparkles like a sequined dress worn on an inappropriate occasion. The puffs of green on either side look like a fifth grader arranged a pack of broccoli for a history class diorama, extra credit since it doubles as a Michelle Obama-approved snack for later.
From these heights, The Little Red Lighthouse is little more than a Christmas colored spinning top with its green roof. There’s a lovely view of Downtown, where the individual buildings are still easily recognizable. Though not as visually compelling as its Art Deco neighbors to the North, you can at least say that The Freedom Tower is big and shiny. Regardless of time of day, because of its angular design, the light always reflects beautifully off of New York’s New Tall Metal Penis.
“Is everything OK here?”
“Ah!” I jumped, two sunglasses-clad cops staring me down. “I’m not suicidal! It’s just a nice day.” I resent that it’s assumed you are suicidal if you are enjoying a nice day in the middle of a bridge.
The North entrance to the Palisades Park has a few wide wooded trails, some of which lead to nice views of the river. A few seagulls circle the bridge. Do birds look down on humans because we can’t fly the way humans look down on other species because they don’t build art museums or go to college? I can imagine the birds tilting their noses up like New Yorker caricatures, “Look at those idiots on the ground walking. I bet they’ve never even murdered something with their bare hands and then eaten it.”
The smell of the wood chips on the trail brings me back to summer camp. At the trailhead, the path splits in two. I take the uphill trail until there’s too much poison ivy in the path for me to continue. Bette Midler’s organization, The New York Restoration Project, renovates a lot of the parks Uptown so there isn’t a lot of poison ivy in the paths, but probably not this one in New Jersey. I can see her pulling weeds and doing a Sophie Tucker routine about how important it is to keep your bushes tidy. I’m not afraid of rugged trails and cliffs, Dangerous is my middle name. Well, my confirmation name, after Mother Dangerous of Assisi, but I’m in the kind of compression shorts and a tank top that would have Katy Perry telling me I should cover up, so there’s no way I don’t come out of this very itchy.
The downhill path has the scariest steps I’ve ever seen, each one more broken than Willy Loman and more slanted than a FOX News editorial. I run into two older Asian gentlemen on their way up the path.
“There’s about four hundred more steps,” smiles one of them.
At the bottom of The Stairmaster is the river. I walk a few miles on the river path, admiring the cliffs and a few wimpy waterfalls to my left, the river, and some of my favorite Washington Heights and Inwood landmarks to my right.
The list of things you will find in Palisades Park includes but is not limited to: poison ivy, many scary broken stone steps, scenic views, hundreds of inchworms dangling in midair, people fishing while sitting next to their wide-open SUV trunks, waterfalls, and a lot of old Asian people.
I walk up another set of stone steps up the cliff, this one overlooking a waterfall so grand that it has to be viewed in about six different sections. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about New Jersey isn’t waterfalls, though I’m sure the Real Waterfalls of New Jersey will have their own show next season. .
On my way back over the bridge, I see the same cops from earlier leaning over the railing just as I was.
“Don’t jump! There’s so much to live for,” I call out to them.