Sunday, November 13, 2016

Signs of the Times

Growing up in the Northwest Bronx today bares little resemblance to its 1960s and 1970s forebear. The very same sentiment could be applied to growing up just about anywhere, I suppose. That’s because we now live in an ever-evolving Information Age. In fact, a case could be made that it’s a Too Much Information Age. The signs of the times are everywhere and impossible to miss.

When I was a boy, Kingsbridge-ites would “go into the city.” It’s the phrase that was regularly applied to our Bronx to Manhattan sojourns. Despite the Bronx being a borough of New York City—and a pretty famous one at that—the expression was both used and understood by everybody and anybody. One would “go into the city to see a play” or “go into the city to Christmas shop.” Here, at least, is something that has stood the test of time. Bronx residents still “go into the city” and many of them take the Number 1 subway train—the Broadway-Seventh Avenue local, which cuts a neat swath through the West Side of Manhattan, the most recognizable city part of the city.

I ventured “into the city” on the Number 1 train last weekend. Fittingly, I began my journey at the beginning, the Van Cortlandt Park station, where I spied a sign—for the very first time—that informed me the pride in the subway line was back. Funny, but I never knew it existed in the first place. Still, I was happy it was back. In the 1970s and 1980s, subway trains were covered in graffiti and grime, including the Number 1 fleet. Nevertheless, I suspect the “Pride Is Back” is a contemporary brander’s brainchild—an advertising concern that couldn’t tell you what exactly happened to the former pride, why it existed in the first place, and—the burning question of the moment—why it’s back.

In the city itself, more signs of the times were seen, including one at the entrance of a little park in lower Manhattan. It’s the first time I have ever been apprised of how many light poles, moveable chairs, and trees were within a park’s boundaries. I only counted twenty-four moveable chairs when the sign said twenty-five. I could have lodged a complaint with New York’s complaint hotline, 311, but took the high road.
Down wind from this park with three-dozen trees was a peculiar-looking building, the handiwork no doubt of a Jenga fan and architect. This aesthetically unappealing edifice was also blue—the icing on the unsightly cake. I fear, though, that its design is something of a trend. While down by New York Harbor a short while later, a skyscraper on the New Jersey side sported the same Lego look. And I thought the pencil-thin, uber-tall buildings—which have been sprouting up in New York's skyline of late—couldn’t be surpassed for ugliness, but I was wrong. The signs of the times never cease to shock and awe.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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