The most beautiful sight in New York
The return ticket on the admirably named SeaStreak Martha’s Vineyard costs something on the order of $100 one-way. It’s worth it for the city approach alone. First, you’re hugging Long Island, with a house or two visible in the formless coastline on your left. Then the houses and terrain get bigger, more pronounced and then WHAP—there’s Connecticut on your right, beginning the gradual process of pinching you toward Manhattan, which is still invisible for about 20 minutes as the features on both sides of you grow and grow and grow. The sun is also setting to your right, its reflection off the water pointing back at you in white, then yellow, then gold, then orange, then blood orange and finally red before, in an instant, vanishing completely.
And then you see it.
Straight ahead of you, a small row of rectangular gray shapes on the horizon that takes up no more than one-twentieth of your visual panorama. But make no mistake: you’re headed right for it. You get closer and closer and it still doesn’t seem to grow but the houses on your left do, to the point you realize you’re looking at mansions, and look at all the sailboats in the water now here at dusk, and there’s “West Egg” and now “East Egg” and as the lights turn on in the June 20th night, you look for a green one, and you continue…
The lights are popping on in front of you now and suddenly the gray shapes are bigger, less rigidly rectangular and they are not all visible. You approach the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges, sailing underneath both of them against an amazing pinkblue sky. (You text your friend below and implore him to take in the views). Immediately after the Whitestone, the boat slows down, as if slammed in the face by the idea of New York, but really just because you’re in a no wake zone from here on out. The breeze is still defined, but it’s no longer relentless. It alternates hot and cool, and you have no idea—as you pass LaGuardia Airport now, under the belly of a plane—how it happens, but it’s great. After LaGuardia, there’s Riker’s Island, and you have the only view of it you ever want.
You hang a left after Riker’s, and the city is no longer in front of you: It’s vertically materializing on your right. As you face it down just beyond Astoria, you see the railroad bridge imposed upon the Triboro imposed upon the skyline. It might be the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen. And then Astoria Park passes on your left and you’re past it, and now there’s nothing between you and Manhattan and the FDR on your right and suddenly this isn’t New York but Hong Kong: A megalopolis on the water effectively using its waterways not just for function but for wonder and awe. You watch the streets pass as the sky darkens and the lights get brighter and brighter, reds and greens and the blue of the Empire State Building, which is no longer just the building you work near. It’s the symbol of a city you are, at long last, able to see with new eyes.
As it builds to a crescendo you hear a voice behind you. “Bryan, are you getting off?” Pulled from your—my—trance, I nod and head below, ready to enter the belly of the beast.
that’s what she said.