Culture in Motion on the Brooklyn Bridge

I’ve come to notice a fascinating phenomenon: everyone on the Brooklyn Bridge has a smile on their faces. Not in the cars mind you. Although that would seem to be the more comfortable place to be, safely insulated from the weather, there I see frowns and congestion induced road rage. The smiles I am referring to are emanating from the people walking or pedaling across this famed icon of New York City.

I admit I always bike rather than walk across the bridge – I have done so almost daily for four years. By now I consider it to be a neighborhood of New York unto itself, with its own faithful, albeit transitory population. Various demographics grace its gentle arch: the commuters, the tourists, the lovebirds, the exercisers, the families, the school groups, the artists, and of course my own posse, the cyclists.

Let me introduce you to the ambulatory inhabitants of my favorite part of town, where the air is always fresh and the views ever-changing. They are my companions in this juncture between my beloved Brooklyn and my muse Manhattan.

The Brooklyn Bridge is a world between worlds where worries are blown away with the breeze and life is at last majestic.

Firstly, the commuters. I am technically in this group, although prone to impatience I speed up the process by traveling by bike. This group are dressed in work attire, everything from business casual to full blown suits. Some opt for the sneaker-suit combination, while others manage in work shoes. One commuter boasted to me that she was not only able to read from, but also to write emails on her blackberry as she crossed the bridge. She wore the smug grin of an accomplished multi-tasker, a smile nonetheless.

Secondly, the tourists. Bubbling along in multi-lingual chatter, they contribute wide-eyed wonder to the Brooklyn Bridge scene. Their outfits often give them away. The French have a particular look in their jeans, turtlenecks and scarves. The Australians and Germans are in all-purpose quick dry outfits that declare, “I am a professional traveler.” They walk with purpose, having the whole city to conquer within a week. Their smiles are of amazement, cameras ready to capture it all.

The lovebirds couple on the benches or drape themselves on the railings. Some days witnessing their embraces ignites dreamy thoughts within me and other days it just makes me feel lonely. I vacillate between thinking that they are either intelligently capitalizing on the intrinsic romance of a wind-swept bridge of the proportions of the Brooklyn Bridge, or simply getting a moment of privacy where they can find it! The lovebirds smile through the rose-colored glasses of infatuation.

The exercisers run or walk faster than anyone else on the bridge. They are dressed head to toe in workout gear and often carry small dumbbells. They are in impeccable shape and smile knowing that they accomplish that fact without spending a cent! They are liberated from gyms and appreciators of how fresh the outdoors feel.

The families appear on weekends and holidays. There are no stories, movies or computer games on the bridge, so it’s a perfect place to bring the family to bond. Free of commerce and digital entertainment there is no choice but to connect. Ranging from being stroller-bound to being young adults themselves, the children either tag along or run ahead, behaving according to their age. The kids are wide-eyed, pink-cheeked, smiling or yelping with joy. The bridge is a playground limited only by the imagination.

The school groups consist of two hyper-alert teachers and a pack of young ones often dressed in matching clothes. They have papers in hand and are engrossed in the bridge’s bronze information panels, seeking answers for their obligatory report. The students are conducting surveys stopping by-passers on the topics of their choice as I know firsthand from more than one occasion. Their grins are those of field anthropologists on the cusp of a newsworthy breakthrough.

The artists have two defining features – easels or tripods. They are entrenched in the alchemy of art, immortalizing Lady Liberty, the rosy sunset and the statuesque skyline, in oils or in pixels. Overlooking the financial district of the city they represent the other pole of New York – bohemia, creativity and an obsession with the esthetic. They beam with the boundless bliss of tapping into the unending well of creativity.

Lastly, the bikers. They are thrilled because unlike everywhere else in the city, where they are allocated 10% of the road at best, on the Brooklyn Bridge half the space is dedicated to bikes, one lane for walkers and one for bikers. Amazingly, without any form of enforcement, the obedient walkers generally respect the boundary and stray not into the bike territory. The bikers delight in the long stretch without traffic lights and smile knowing that once they’ve mounted the crest of the bridge, it’s all downhill from there!

No matter who they may be, something about this hood puts people in a good mood. It’s a place where the elements dominate: water and air rule, and cars and concrete melt away. It’s public space, free of advertising and commerce. The Brooklyn Bridge is a world between worlds where worries are blown away with the breeze and life is at last majestic.

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