Monday, September 30, 2013

 You know what's not fun? Most every airport on earth. You know what is fun? Going to the airport when you're not flying anywhere. Incredibly pointless, but a remarkable thing happens.
  I signed up for this Global Privileged Rich White Guy Pass thru customs program - which if you haven't tried to take advantage of and you are a GPRWG/W you should. It saves hours in line. Eons. And makes you feel like a BAD MOTHERF@@#%ker when you walk by everyone else.
  It's terrible I know.
  But first I had to go to JFK and be interviewed. It took about 5 minutes. The guy looked at me, I apologized for not shaving, gave him my fingerprints, he said it's okay you're a Global White Guy,  congratulations, and out the door.
   And then I walked into it...the melee, the scrum, the maelstrom we all know, the cavalcade of flyers falling back into the real world, friends shouting for them, guards yelling at their friends, drivers holding up the rigeur placards with every family name from Somalia to Somerset, half built concession stands promising to stop taking up space cramming everyone into lines half as wide as a medieval alley with half dazed pilgrims trailing luggage colliding within, coffee lines longer than cab lines, and no more seats arrayed for the weary than your average dentist has.
  And I just smiled.....because I was immune. I was unticketed. I didn't need anything.
   It's incredible how much "flying" is a state of mind. You literally become your own anxious avatar. But now, I felt like I'd died and gone to Germany to work on a Wim Wenders' film. I wandered and listened and smiled. I lowered the temperature of the room I was so calm. I let people cut in front of me at the self serve Dunkin Donuts line, I let a guy take my car service, I let another guy know his kid who was exhausting him was adorable. I was, in short, a banner example of a GPRWG. They should hire people to just show up in airports who aren't flying. Like dog walkers or cat comforters at the shelter they'd make everyone else breath out for just a moment. They'd be stones in the river, chicanes on the track, milk in the tea.
  What a disjunction there is then between one's self and oneself flying. And I fly a lot. I'm used to it, I know the tricks, the short cuts, the uselessness of ever raising your voice to anyone behind a desk who holds your fate in her/his hands, and the importance of wearing a jacket when you approach them - those dreamers of the continental lifestyle, of taking a minute and talking to them about absolutely nothing to do with the flight you're about to miss so that they'll have a second in their crammed and misery laden day of tolerating the absolute lowest in the behavior of desperate, nervous, entitled, spineless air travelers who rush their guns all day long wave after wave - release them from that and they'll perform wonders sometimes.
  Because in an airport so very little goes a long way. A single plant watered and happy in a football field of a hallway. Cheers. One employee doing nothing but greeting people. The TSA lady who moves your bag onto the conveyer belt rather than standing beside the machine, watching you do it and the line slow even more.....I used to despise all flying. The flattening of the landscape. Leaving one suburb, entering a tube, and emerging in another suburb. Hated the plasticization of everything. The terminals, the stores, the floors, the air, the carpets, the planes themselves, the air on the planes, the food when there was food, the coffee, the beer, the seats....eveything seemed to be off-gassing. Everything in the entire industry seemed to be made of some version of the jet fuel it all depends on for life.
  But then there's that moment....when you, amidst all that hydrocarbon death, when you notice the human. Or the animal still in us, beautiful and calm. And the surrounding depravation makes the revelation astonishing. I've burst into tears in airports, stood stunned, wanting to sing, felt like I'd just watched Wall-E for the first time when the little machine man reaches out for the absent hand in Hello Dolly.
   It's out there. Or it's in there, the item of reprieve , even in those horrific cattle shutes called LAX or JFK or whatever roman triplet of evil they nail up next. 
   So if you're going: 
   PHOENIX. Yes, Phoenix believe it or not. First off when you land there notice you're literally crossing over downtown. It's as close as you'll get to the approach to old Hong Kong airport where the feeling was you were about to be delivered to your hotel nose first.
  And once down, wander from terminal to terminal thru those pathetic overheated glassways and you'll almost miss the etchings in the windows themselves. There are scores of them: the structural drawings of just about every plane that's ever landed in Arizona lightly cut into the glass and next to them a poem, and not some facile praise of the industry but actual poems, real writing hovering next to the gossamer lines of these old machines.
  I had a huge layover there once and I read every one of them, thinking of my dad and his teenage love for this new technology, the spare beauty of the original plans, the heat of the sun and the light of the hot desert fixing the designs in my mind.
   MADRID. The roof of the new terminal is held up by the most gorgeous stalks. They filigree into arches, half cathedral groining half bamboo fantasy. It's the best place to have to run thru to catch a connector to Barcelona. A nave of orange and tan flickering over your head as you pant.
   JFK. Of course terminal 5, Saarinen's masterpiece now hidden among the masses of Jetblue warehousing. It's so damn small. You realize how much they underestimated post war travel. How unlike the Railways they planned for scarcity, privilege. But the walk from ticketing to your gate is still the only transformative architectural corridor in American flight. You are cleansed, wiped, you get the Kubrick treatment, the James Turrel feeling for a hundred yards and when you emerge into the seating area you're a modern traveler circa 1959. And then the phones start ringing and the guy has his bags on the seat to his left and his lunch on the seat to his right and you are returned to the puerile present.
  DENVER. Is a mile high mile long misery with the worst food of any major modern airport and God help you if your connection is in a different terminal but....landing and taking off, driving towards it, with its white peaked tee pees lit up before the front range of the Rockies, the rich farmlands rolling out the last of plains to the Mts. Maybe a storm coming in. A sunset.Damn. Purple majesty. USA USA...
  LAGUARDIA (in Memorium) There was once a water taxi. You could leave your apt on Ave B with a bag or two, walk to 14th st, take a right, walk to the East River, pay your 14 bucks and get on a little crapola boat which took you under the Queensboro bridge and the Hell Gate bridge with Manhattan and Brooklyn lighting up the water on either side, be dropped off at an Art Nouveau terminal your grandfather had used and fly home in under an hour.
  And the best part was you could come back and watch everyone waiting for a cab in a line 20 minutes long or haggling with a car service and you'd turn right again and walk toward what looked like a derelict pier. And then enter New York by water at night the three great bridges the Williamsburg the Manhattan and the Brooklyn shimmering before you as you docked.
  KANSAI, OSAKA JAPAN. If you want a religious experience, if you want to feel in an airport the way you felt when you first walked in to Grand Central or Union Station Chicago or whatever town you're from that once had a great railway fly to Japan and don't go thru Tokyo, go thru Osaka. Not only will you eat better and be 30 minutes from Kyoto and not have to take a 130 dollar taxi past 50 foot fences built to prevent aggrieved farmers whose land was taken to build the place from pelting you with cow dung will be able to simply sit in a chair at Kansai and look out the window.
   I can't explain it. It's some architectural voodoo but the view from under the 1/4 mile - 1/2 mile(?) (help me Ginny) canopy and out across the bay to Osaka peninsula is mesmerizing. It's the greatest achievement in wide screen letter box technology you'll ever experience. It hovers, it glows, it holds.....and it's in Japan where you're still dazed from jet lag, culture lag, food euphoria, peace, calm and indescribable civic concern. Your brain will hum with content.....and then like the cherry blossom this too will pass and you'll be in your seat listening to a recorded airline functionary talk about deals on sky mall and would you like a credit card.
  The entrance to Kansai too is astonishing. You walk across a massive raised promenade thru what look like two giant metal boxes. An open air gate to a better modernity.
   BURBANK. If you go to LA just figure out a way to do it thru Burbank. It aint pretty it aint in a good hood it aint big but it's fast and they can get you into your rental car or into a taxi faster than you can believe possible. And it will be the last time anything pleasant involving an automobile happens to you in Southern California.
  VANCOUVER. Best floors. You can wander around looking at the art imbedded in the tiles for hours. And the nice canadians won't swear when you bump into them.
   SFO. Go early. Eat and hang out in the International terminal and then go get on your sad little domestic flight.
   LAX. Almost always a mess but most of the terminals have curated displays of decent art. The first two gates peel off away from the main corridor and in one of them you'll usually find a well hung show. Beats hanging out in the undersized useless frequent flier lounges.
   MIDWAY. Best sandwiches and coffee and the Chicagoans have a gruff sense of humor always makes a layover worth a damn. Get your food and then go sit in the hallway headed toward another gate wing. Quiet, bookstore nearby, WWII fighter hanging over your head in honor of the guy the airport was named after. And think..."Im not in O'Hare, I'm not in O'Hare...."
   LONDON HEATHROW. ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE WITHOUT A FIRST CLASS TICKET. Just chuck it. But taking the subway in to London after you arrive is fun. Not the nightmare of the A train from JFK.
   PULKOVO, ST PETERSBURG RUSSIA. I'm sure it's all changed since I went when it was Leningrad but I hear when you take a cab (which you'll probably have to since the cabbie mafias buy up all the train tickets and pay off the conductors not to let anyone on and you end up paying Tokyo level fares just to get to your London priced hotel room) but I hear along the highway back to Peter's great city they still have the German tanks lined up in the fields to show you how where you're going is still standing.
   well that's as good a place as any to pause..

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The High Line Sucks

   New York's High Line. The elevated rail way once connected to the now buried Riverside tracks which delivered machinery and product from all of New York State to the many long shuttered industries running along Manhattan's Tenth ave.
    The Park. It's on top of everybody's top ten list. It's the game changer. The one that made it- made it past the bureaucracies-past the real estate hyenas, past the railroads, past the forces of entropy preserve and beautify 30 blocks of suspended industrial park land and utterly transform the West Side. Chelsea was on its way already- the High Line just made it make partner, made it a made man.
   And it's shite.
   The High Line is not a park. It's a stage for conspicuous consumption. It's where everyone goes to show that they know where to look, they've read the blogs, shopped at the stores, dined at the market. It's a strip of sidewalk where you have no choices. You either keep walking or you sit and perform. Perform sitting, perform being a person who wanted to take a break, act out your lunch or moment of inspiration. You are always in frame. 
   It's the apogee - I hope- of this generation's inability to do anything alone, without broadcasting it, annotating it, tweeting, blogging or sharing it. It's the physical manifestation of that mania. It's the grand platform for those sad hordes who instead of sitting in their homes and writing, studying, or working, have to go out and cordon off a corner of the local cafe and show that they're at work.
    A real park demands the random. By definition it needs to include the idea of the "wild", the undesignated.  IE you should be able to wander off, sit where next to no one sits, double back and take another path, decide to turn what nobody else would call a perch into a perch and perch there and do your thing. It's a retreat from the gaze, not toward it. It doesn't require an audience and it allows people to redefine its space. A park has a physical democracy of access and of usage.
   The High Line is like Foucault's panopticon. The prison where in any space one can stand one is seen by the guard tower. There's no escape in the High Line. It's for people, for a generation that doesn't want one. It's for people who can't imagine committing to an activity that isn't observed, remarked upon, graded and reviewed.
  In other words it's for a people who no longer believe that some things have no value. Or that there's value in doing things that are not being evaluated, that won't add up to a grade or a post, or a poem or a like.
  I remember when the line was just that, a chopped off piece of elevated railway suspended above the city. You could clamber up to parts of it. People who'd had lofts in Chelsea for years abutting it would have impromptu parties or meanders drinks in hand among the tall wheat and loose ballast. It was something you knew you were right to break the law for, it was something you thought ....what if.....? And I think in the same way that you might by some astonishing chance - and the High Line is that, it is astonishing when it lifts you into the air above the great city of New York and lets you sneak around- but in the same way that you might run into a wolf in Yellowstone and think what if I could HAVE that creature and put her in a perfect endless yard or what if I could clean up that dangerous path to Machu Picchu so it was available to everyone......these are things better left imagined. They die when brought to the surface.
   We didn't preserve the High Line when we rebuilt it and redesigned it with boutique architects and gave it a closing hour and signs that might as well say "You can't sit here it's too well designed". We ended it. It's not a piece of industrial history anymore it's a museum piece. It's not a park it's a runway. It's a commodity. The commodification of the stroll. 
  The wreckage of industry should always make us remember the reasons why the wreck happened. No Steel Mill shuttered for 30 years, shut down on the hopes and lives of a generation of people should come back as the shell for a Hard Rock or as a Mall. There's some smiling vapid violence in that. Some kind of brutal disdain in what people call "development". The High Line to me is the high end version of this ignorance.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

One more time

 So I'll give this another shot....hopefully I'll keep it up. If not ....laugh and consider the fork's put in it. Me. 
   I've been thinking that the phone's a failure. A bad invention. It doesn't fit us like a tool should fit the hand. Should want to be reached for.
  Texting's the proof. Who talks more than they text? How many fewer calls are made today than ten years ago? Who has a land line? Who uses it? How often have you seen people carrying tablets that can text and tweet and youtube but have no phone to speak thru. 
   I take pictures of phone banks in airports. Now art installations. Artifacts. Sculpture. Signs and a trace. 
  What I mean is we like to write more than we like to pretend someone's right here when they're not. The disembodied voice is discomforting. It always has been, a subtle evil we let become necessary. "I can't be with them least I can hear their voice." 
  The nearness of but the lack of that is awful. With the phone, the industrial age made of all of us Orpheus listening to our Eurydices, but unable to touch or even see them. 
    Texting's the return of the missive, the notes of Cyrano or Madame de Vicomte on steroids, Lee's pleas to his cavalry arrived on time, everyone from Herodotus to Edith Wharton dashing off a note and giving it to their courier, the IPhone. 
    Only difference is they move now with no less celerity than that of thought. That's the chorus in Henry V and I'm sure he would have been very happy not to have been speaking in metaphor. Hell, Romeo would have lived alongside his Juliet for decades. The friar's note would have arrived in time and left them fat and happy, two kids together in Mantua. 
    Which makes one pause......someone told me there's a comedian who has a routine called "of course of course of course.....but maybe..." IE yes we should rabidly leap to the protection of children who might have nut allergies of course of course of course we should......but maybe if you're gonna die when you eat a PEANUT maybe you shouldn't survive at all... Etc .( Pardon my HBO ignorance.)
   So yeah it's great that our culture is returning en masse to an embrace of the written word. Kids, grown ups, grandmothers all text like mad- Hell Seamus Heaney's last words were a tweet - the Latin for "be not afraid" I think- and our phone calls are reverting to continental usage: how the English of a certain generation used to converse "Hello, I'll meet you at Charing Cross at 5, goodbye" - the phone's original utility was its speed not its sentimentality. Radio was for ships to be saved by not to hear hearts beating. The Internet was made to co-Ordinate artillery fire and to call in air strikes on the button or trade swaps in the nanosecond before your profit went from 2 million to two. 
  We made email have a heart. We realized it's just mail delivered at Cupid's speed and who hasn't since the Greeks or before wanted their words heard ..or seen and made aural by the mind of their beloved - in the time it takes to pray for such a thing?
    But maybe......there's a reason why people who get what they say they want exactly when they think they want it end up getting laughed at by the Gods. Made into fools and playthings. Tied to rocks, fed to birds, pitched headlong out of a golden chariot and into the sea. 
   Maybe Romeo must die and Juliet after. Maybe there's something more to be gleaned there than "God if only the mails worked better in 15th century Italy everything would have turned out the way it was supposed to. What a lesson!"
  The simplest way to put it is I'm glad there's a send button. You can wait. You can - even now - reflect and review. You can edit. 
   You have time. 
    And time isn't just money it's