New York City, NY – Sunday 4th September
The New York City subway is a complex system comprising hundreds of stations, most underground. Unconstrained by weather and running 24 hours a day, a single Metro card bought from a vending machine will open up all five boroughs of NYC for exploration. This morning Steve and I take the subway south to Wall Street. We have a brief wander around the historic area along with too many other tourists. Neither he nor I feel compelled to do many typical tourist things, the Freedom Tower 9/11 Memorial among them.
After a quick snack from a diner, we stand in line for the ferry to Red Hook and Brooklyn. A bright yellow ferry provided by IKEA transports potential shoppers from Manhattan and deposits them at the door of IKEA. This service is free on the weekends for prime shopping time though charges a fee for its weekday services. As the boat pulls away from the quay, we get a great view of the lower city skyline and other islands. Similarly the free Staten Island ferry is a great way to reinforce the notion of Manhattan as an island, which is something that is easily ignored or forgotten when you’re amongst the skyscrapers.
Red Hook was one of the busiest shipping areas back when shipping was a major mode of freight and people transport. Now, like the rest of Brooklyn, it is at the crossroads of gentrification. Long time residents are seeing infrastructure improve, crime rates decrease but there’s always some character that gets washed away with the grime.
‘When I was here last time, there were a heap of food trucks up near the baseball diamonds,’ Steve explains as we disembark 20 minutes later. A new looking boardwalk skirts factories and car parks. We follow this then divert away from the river towards the ball park.
‘Is this it?’ I ask suspiciously as we come upon fenced off diamonds.
Signs detailing the closure of four diamonds due to soil contamination from lead are attached to the fence by a locked gate. Lead contaminated soil in a park for kids is far from ideal. In a densely populated city with green open space at a premium, this must be having a devastating effect on the local baseball league.
‘Shit. When I was here a few years back, this place was seething. Latin American food trucks up and down both sides of the street, queues at each one.’
Hands hooked onto the black wire fence, I peer through imagining a boy sliding into home base, dirt streaking up his uniform. Parents cheering and clapping. Another kid bat in hand, practising his swing. I’d spent so many weekends of my youth in the same way, playing and umpiring. I can see the entire scene in my head though only an overgrown dirt patch remains.
Consulting the oracle, Steve gets his phone out and checks our location.
‘Another block over, there are more baseball fields. Might be something happening there.’
Rooting, or as it is called in Australia, barracking is heard before we round the corner and see the game in action. I can’t tell if the Tigres or the Coloniales are winning. I don’t understand the language being spoken but I do understand the excitement of the game. Voices raised, kids perched on the edge of the benches, one re-tying his laces. Parents in camp chairs, agua fresca in one hand, tortilla in the other but all eyes on the game. Transfixed by the action, I stand as close as a dare for an outsider.
‘Hey, they’ve got pupusas,’ Steve shouts to get my attention.
‘What’s a pupusa?’
‘It’s like a corn fritter stuffed with cheese, beans or whatever. You want one?’
‘Sure,’ I say to placate him though I’m not really hungry. As well-researched as he is, Steve has a run of bad luck when we travel that means the sought out restaurant is closed that particular day, or run out of its specialty food. The contaminated ball fields and its subsequent impact of the food vendors is just another in a long line of unfortunate dining events in our lives.
Food trucks advertising a slew of Latin American food are doing a steady business in the tree-lined street. We can choose from pupusas, soft corn tortillas with carne asada (charred grilled beef) and more, grilled corn, tamales, ceviche and wash these all down with any choice of agua fresca – fruit based water drinks.
As we stroll away from the food vendors towards our next destination, Other Half Brewing, the scene changes as we wander through residential streets, roller doors revealing neighbourhood bodegas. Young men in ironic fedoras and Ray Ban air wings push toddlers in strollers. I see signs advertising a temporary restaurant pop in in a shipping container, a performance space for hire and bikram yoga classes. Vegetable plots on the verge, rooftop apiary and vacant lots for sale talk of an area facing real change. The coffee shops and bars are no looking servicing stevedores knocking off from a long shift.
Pushing on we hit the Gowanus Expressway. Multiple lanes raised high above the road below. The dominance of the automobile in the development of modern American cities is hard to get away from. McDonalds, a petrol station and other light industry are dwarfed by its pylons. Down a short street, we manage to find Other Half Brewing behind crusty garbage dumpsters and a well-tagged door. Reclaimed wood cobbled together for a cost bar section, this young upstart of NYC craft brewing was certainly drawing a crowd. The obligatory coloured chalk tap list offers a range of IPAs, pilseners, lagers, ales and stouts.
195 Centre St, Brooklyn, NY 11231, USA
TRIP TIME 00:21:07
FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $18.97
Driver – Mohammed
‘Right. Let’s wiggle,’ Uber Mohammed doesn’t give Steve time to trot out his standard opening line. Only paying scant attention to his driving app, he rips the wheel to the right and we barrel down a side road. Through residential streets, across main thoroughfares with little more than a glance, he chants, ‘heavy traffic. Heavy traffic.’
I swear we repeat certain street circuits and clearly so does Steve. Phone in hand, he zooms in and and out trying to ascertain our location in comparison to our intended destination. One way streets conspire against us getting too close.
‘Just drop us here, buddy,’ Steve finally allows himself to say.
Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) had come to my attention via Instagram and immediately I knew I had to go there. An embryonic museum, it seeks to connect to people in a very tangible way. Spread across the ground floor of a double-fronted warehouse, the exhibits invite you to taste, smell and touch. My favourite part is the flavour exhibit where you can play with different natural and artificial elements creating a whole host of combinations. Steve’s favourite thing is the free dulce de leche ice cream we receive on our departure.
The rotating exhibitions are entertaining if not extensive but then all museums have to start somewhere. I admire the small collections of food packaging, menus and other ephemera. MOFAD attempts to inspire and educate people about how food is made, how it’s manipulated and its role as social glue for communities. Food is very clearly more than just ornament or fuel and MOFAD respects this. I want to shout encouragingly, ‘keep going, little buddy.’