When a friend invited me to tour an island known for its mental asylum, abandoned small pox hospital, and pneumatic tube trash system, I was of course thrilled to join. I’d never ventured over to Roosevelt Island, a narrow strip of land between Manhattan and Queens in the East River that’s only two miles long. It used to be called Blackwell’s Island, then was named Welfare Island, but when that got a negative connotation to it, it was changed to Roosevelt Island. There are only a few ways to access Roosevelt Island, and the tram is currently being rehabilitated, so you can come over via the Roosevelt Island Bridge or the train. I have enough claustrophobia living in Brooklyn, that I might go slightly mad staring at the two shores from Roosevelt Island, gazing up at the Queensboro Bridge where people ride over and never stop. It probably doesn’t have a high writer population. Or at least, it shouldn’t. A writer on Roosevelt Island would surely be a recluse.
Before heading over to that magical island, we started our walk in Astoria, meeting at the Socrates Sculpture Park. I actually went back this past weekend to spend more time there, so I’ll save it for another post. We then walked along the water (past the garish, massive Costco. How do people buy things in bulk here? Do you roll your barrels of pasta sauce down the street to your apartment? I guess you could build your furniture out of massive boxes of cereal and eat your way through your home.) From the waterfront, Roosevelt Island landmarks were pointed out to us, like the Octagon. It used to be the entrance of the New York Lunatic Asylum, built in the 1830s. The descriptions of conditions there are horrifying, although they slowly got better after some people exposed the awful treatment of the patients. The building was in disrepair for years, until being restored for the center of…an apartment building! Splendid. I would say that would make them the creepiest apartments on Roosevelt Island, but the whole place has something a bit off about it. You know how architects always have wild drawings of super modern, modular apartments of the future? Well, they were actually built on Roosevelt Island, complete with little astroturf lawns and jutting box windows.
We walked across the Roosevelt Island Bridge (first photo on this post), and along the East River side of the island. There were beautiful sites like Big Allis, a giant electric power generator. We stopped at where the new tram station is being built, and then went down to an exhibit on the pneumatic trash system on the island. Since 1975, people living on Roosevelt Island have had their trash whisked away by tubes, just like when you go to a drive-through bank or maybe an old library. All the trash is sucked to an AVAC center, which happens to be right near the Octagon. (Do ghosts travel by pneumatic tubes? Oh my god, no one dare steal that idea! I could totally write a haunting of Roosevelt Island with asylum ghosts traveling by tubes story.) The pipes are 20-inches wide, and all the apartment buildings are connected with a tube. Maybe they should change the island’s name again to Aspen Isle, and really push the environmental vibe, make it a colony of urban woodsmen. We were told that the AVAC center is very humid, so it’s also used as a greenhouse for poor abandoned house plants the employees find. I also really liked that a big PR point for the installation of the pneumatic system was that Disney World had one. Because of course, everything built in Disney World is totally applicable to NYC infrastructure. Maybe we need a monorail. Maybe one will be added along the Gowanus during the Superfund Cleanup. Oh man, I’m rambling. Why did I drink an espresso so late in the day? Well, the system on Roosevelt Island is really awesome, and its too bad that its not all over the city. Their sidewalks are so clean, because they don’t have garbage dragged over them everyday. And garbage trucks aren’t rumbling down the roads, using up gasoline.
We had been walking for a while and were exhausted, so we didn’t hang around to explore the island. But I’m definitely going to return to see the Octagon up close, and hopefully take the tram when it starts running again. When we finally got a train to Manhattan, I went to Union Square to read for a while and then met a friend up in Greenpoint for a drink and found that I’m really awful at this table version of shuffleboard. Not that I’m great at a non-table shuffleboard, I’m just not good at games or sports that require delicate movement (ballet doesn’t count, you don’t need hand-eye coordination for that, and I was never a prima ballerina or anything). I guess I’ve never been great at any sport, though, but I tend to do well at hitting things. I was always better at batting than outfield in softball, and would prefer to go to the driving range all day before putting in golf.
The next day, I went to the End of Year show at the Cooper Union, where all the students display their work. It was cool, and I’d never actually walked around the academic buildings before. Here you can see the ultra-modern egg lattice thing that is over the treacherous stairs. Or at least they seem treacherous to me, please see that above hand-eye coordination note.
Okay, what am I going to do with all this caffeine?