One of things I most enjoyed about living in Mid-town Manhattan was being surrounded by history. It was everywhere and I took advantage of this. For example, one summer I studied Central Park while – along with reading every book I could find – exploring the Park; the first and perhaps greatest example of public landscape architecture in the world. I learned so much about that Park that, in fact, I was constantly correcting central park guides whenever I ran into them.
After that I studied the Brooklyn Bridge. I read the fascinating McCullough book, “The Great Bridge,” and watched Ken Burns’ documentary (his first.) on the bridge. I went through all the photographs and material on the Bridge at both the Museum of The City Of New York as well as the New York Historical society. I went down to the bridge countless times but it was usually during the middle of the day when it was packed with people.
John Roebling, the designer of the bridge before coming to America had been a student of the great German philosopher Hegel and held strong metaphysical beliefs. So, he didn’t see the bridge as merely a civic structure. Roebling saw it as a way to elevate men’s souls by bringing them closer to the spiritual. In its gothic design he was emulating the great Cathedrals of Europe so, that when standing between the two towers—when it was first built it was one of the tallest structures in the city—a person could leave the crowded city and look out over the river and see it from the perspective of a bird—of God even. Because of the crowds I had never been able to just stand there and in the quiet appreciate what Roebling had intended.
Therefore, one summer Sunday morning at around 4:30—when dawn was just breaking I walked from my midtown apartment to Broadway and headed down to the bridge. (Broadway will take you right to it.) I chose a Sunday morning because that is the one day when for a few hours in the morning—as the sun came up—there is no one on the street and you can enjoy the city all to yourself.
So I set out from the later 40s and as I progressed downtown the light brightened and, and enjoying the beginnings of a day, I was preparing myself to walk onto the Brooklyn Bridge and enjoy the structure as John Roebling intended it to be appreciated.
Then as I was just reaching either 23d or 14th street (I don’t remember which—and remember when I walked, I walked at a brisk paced—I noticed someone shoot out behind me. He just appeared and suddenly walked behind me. Then just as I passed another street another man walked out but, I immediately concluded that if I wasn’t walking so fast he would have come out in front of and I would have been caught between the two. I quickly realized that I was almost mugged or worse. A quick look at the two and I could see that they were strung out druggies looking to get some money for their next fix, toke, whatever.
John Roebling and The Brooklyn Bridge were no longer in mind. In an instant I had shifted into the flight or fight mode. This increased as I watched the two continue to follow. Concluding that there might be a third, I turned and headed east towards the East River.
Let me tell you, there are different kinds of fears. The worst is what I call the ‘white hot” fear. This is of course caused by adrenaline pumping into one’s heart—remember fight or flight. As I kept walking, they kept following and as I was never a bully boy in school, fist-a-cuffs were not my thing as I had a mouth and wit that I used a weapon that people feared. Therefore, this situation I was at a complete loss as to what do except walking. (I had obviously chosen the flight part.)
I must have walked three, maybe four blocks and came to large, open park-like area boarding the street. During those blocks I did three key things. The first was that I got the “White Fear” under control and began to think logically. The second was to conclude that “flight” wasn’t going to work. The third was that these two were strung out junkies and definitely not organized crime hit men. In other words they weren’t thinking all that clearly and were probably as worried as I was as they didn’t know what to expect.
So I said to myself, “create the unexpected.” Do something that normally they wouldn’t be done and confuse them. It’s called tactics. At this point I was a block ahead of them. So I turned and walked right towards them. The two immediately stopped as this was something that they did not expect. OK, I said to myself, I was right. I then approached them at a brisk pace—as if I didn’t have a care in the world—and when I reached them stopped and asked the two if they knew what time it was.
The two looked at each perplexed as if they couldn’t figure out what was happening or what to do next. Then, in a lowered voice, one of them said they didn’t. I said, “thank you,” and walked past them. Instead of following me the two just stood there like deer caught in the headlights not knowing what to think or worse, to do.
I made it back to Broadway, continued my walk downtown—no way were two goons going to ruin my little adventure. By the time I reached the Bridge my body was back to normal—fight or flight had faded away—and as I reached the middle of the empty—and especially quit— Bridge the attempted mugging forgotten.
Standing in the middle of that bridge on that Sunday morning proved an incredible experience during which I understood exactly the effect Roebling was after. In fact, it was one of the few times I have ever achieved what my first wife called—and thought that I was incapable of—a spiritual experience. I would add that it was, for me—also metaphysical in nature and a hundred and fifty years after it was built, I was enjoying one of the greatest works of art ever created.