Saturday, September 1, 2007

Survivor Prequel - Life on The Island

An Island Joins the Mainstream - I remember moving to Roosevelt Island in 1978. We left a nice pre-war apartment near Columbia for a nearly new one bedroom with river views and my all time favorite commute, a tram ride followed by a short walk from 59th Street and 2nd Ave. to 57th and 5th. Instead of stepping over unconscious derelicts to get to the subway I was floating over the East River on a contraption tourists still pay to ride just for fun.

Roosevelt Island was different then. There were only three apartment buildings, a few stores and the old buildings. The Octagon was locked and crumbling. The former asylum at the south end was an abandoned ruin, fenced off but easy to visit anyway. The Island featured tennis courts, public courts, that were actually playable and available. I remember comedian Buddy Hackett strolling down Main Street talking a blue streak, a very blue streak. There was no subway connection and most important, Roosevelt Island was still a mystery to the rest of Manhattan. (That's right, Roosevelt Island was, and is, part of Manhattan despite the fact that the only bridge connects to Queens.) This made for great conversation.

How do you get your food? Every morning the entire Island rises at 6AM and forages communally for roots and berries. If we don't find anything, then we go to the Shopwell near the parking garage.

What do you do if the tram is broken? Training in water safety and small watercraft paddling fundamentals is mandatory for all new residents of Roosevelt Island. We maintain a fleet of canoes and kayaks on full alert whenever the tram undergoes maintenance, but because of the treacherous East River currents it is usually easier to just grab the bus to Queens.

The Tram actually did stop running for several weeks. This gap was the result of scheduled maintenance, a movie shoot (Nighthawks starring Sylvester Stallone, Spidey came much later) and a wait for a replacement part that had to be handmade by Swiss elves who were already caught up in the busy season at the North Pole. For over three weeks we took a slow bus through Queens and back into Manhattan. The movie crew provided free donuts for a while, but the natives were very restless by the end of this episode.

I feel a sudden urge to go to the US Open and have my picture taken. More Roosevelt Island or Upper West Side memories may appear in future entries.

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