09 September 2006

The Occasionally Recurring "Reads Brooklyn" Edition

A week or two ago I mentioned that I'd started reading David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, and figured I'd use today's off-day post to report that I finished it a few days ago, and it was a fantastic read. Although his previous novel, Cloud Atlas, had earned him comparisons to Thomas Pynchon in some circles (as noted earlier, it's one of my all-time favorite novels, but I don't quite know if I'd go that far), Black Swan Green is essentially a simple, first-person coming-of-age story that documents a year in the life of dorky British thirteen-year old Jason Taylor in the early 1980s. Clever and often very funny, the novel is divided into thirteen chapters, each a more or less self-contained story covering one month in Jason's life and relating his attempts to make sense of a world which is anything but sensical. Among other things he gets bullied for his stammering, has his first kiss at a Christmas dance, and has a run-in with Gypsies, all of it told in a sweet (but never cloying or sentimental) manner that has particular appeal to those of us who were probably overly sensitive in our junior high school days or who came of age during the Reagan/Thatcher years (or both, of course). Not that anyone reads my blog for literary advice, but I obviously would recommend this one very highly.

Wish I could say the same for Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days, which I finished last night. It looked like a great premise -- three separate but inter-related novellas set in three different time periods, the stories linked together by the figure of Walt Whitman (someone with whom I'll admit to my own ongoing obsession with). But I was disappointed with the execution, and I found a lot of the prose somewhat clunky and even hackneyed, particularly in the third section. That's the one which takes place in the future, but is laced with a surprising number of science fiction clich├ęs (the main character is a robot who longs to be human, another is a member of an alien race of reptilian creatures, and people drive "hoverpods" and talk on "vidphones"). I wanted to like it, I really did, but I kind of felt let down.

In any event, I just started Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. I'm sure that my thoughts on that one will eventually turn up here, too.

I'll be running again tomorrow, and it looks like I'll almost definitely reach the 25% of Brooklyn run mark the following Sunday, precipitating what I think will be a much-deserved (and physically necessary) week-long break. I am so looking forward to that.

Bonus photograph du jour:

Just off of 86th Street

08 September 2006

Ending the Week in Gravesend

Friday 9/8: Gravesend

9.85 miles
Time: 1:15
Pace: 7:37
Temp: 70
Dewpoint: 60
Weather: mostly sunny

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.91
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: I started at McDonald and headed west on Avenue U, then turned south on Stillwell, then east on Avenue V to W. 10th but doubling back to W. 11th, then south to Avenue X, over a block to W. 12th, north to Avenu W, west another block to W. 13th, south back to Avenue X, west to Stillwell, north to Bath Avenue, west down to Bay 32nd, north to Benson Avenue and back east to Stillwell, north to 85th, west to 25th Avenue, south a block to 86th, west to Bay 37th, and south to Harway Avenue. Then, a systematic back-and-forth covering all the streets bounded by 86th to the north, Stillwell Avenue to the northeast, and Harway to the south (Bay 37th, Bay 38th, 25th Ave, Bay 40th, Bay 41st, 26th Ave, Bay 43rd, Bay 44th -- which I doubled back to Harway at in order to get around the high school, 27th Avenue, Bay 46th, Bay 47th, and 28th Avenue). When I got to Bay 49th I went north the little bit to Stillwell then doubled back down to Cropsey, went east to Bay 50th, back north to Stillwell, I took the D to downtown and then the G to get back home.

Notes: I always like Friday runs -- I'm typically close to exhaustion, but knowing I have the next day off allows me to tap into that last little bit of stored energy and I usually really enjoy myself. Today's run, while rigidly systematic, also helped me to fill in a number of gaps on the "big map" between the east-of-Stillwell portion of Gravesend that I've been spending a lot of time in recently and a chunk of Bath Beach that I had filled in last month. The result is a pretty good swath that's now essentially complete from McDonald Avenue west to Bay Parkway and north of the Belt Parkway (with the exception of a small triangular section wedged up by Bensonhurst which will be easy to finish off next time I'm down that way). After all these 10-mile runs in the summery humidity it's quite gratifying to see real progress being made toward my goal. Of course, it's also immensely humbling to look at the vast regions I've barely touched, but I'll save the despair for another day. Now, I'm feeling pretty good.

The streets I traversed today are mostly residential, though there are the standard small businesses along Bath, Benson, Harway, and Stillwell. Of some interest is the MTA bus depot which takes up two full blocks. In fact, Bay 38th Street between Harway and Bath, which runs through the middle of it, is closed to regular street traffic (though apparently, not to runners). Also within the boundaries of today's run were two or three high schools, so once again there was quite a bit of pedestrian congestion, at least compared to the way things were over the summer (and which probably spoiled me a little).

I'll hit the road again on Sunday, for a run in which it looks like I'll reach a couple of minor milestones. For now, though, some photos:

Avenue U

Marlboro Houses public housing, W. 11th Street

Harway Avenue

Apartment building on Benson Avenue

Concrete plant on W. 13th and Avenue Z

07 September 2006

(What's Becoming) My Weekly Trip to Canarsie

Wednesday 9/7: Canarsie

7.94 miles
Time: 1:00
Pace: 7:33
Temp: 64
Dewpoint: 58
Weather: sunny

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.09
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: I started at Glenwood and E. 101st, went south to Seaview Avenue, west a block to E. 100th and then doubling back to E. 102nd, north to Flatlands, east to E. 103rd, south back to Seaview, east another block to E. 104th, north to Avenue M, east to E. 105th, south once again to Seaview but doubling back to Flatlands 10th, east to E. 108th, then working my way north by going back and forth between E. 105th and E. 108th back to Avenue M, west to E. 104th, north to Avenue L, west to Rockaway Parkway, north to Holmes, west to E. 95th, north to Avenue K, west to E. 86th, north to Church, east to E. 89th but doubling back to E. 88th, north to Flatlands, east to E. 93rd, north to Foster, west to Remsen, south to Bedell, east to E. 92nd then back north to Foster, east to Rockaway Avenue and south to where it runs into Rockaway Parkway, then south to Farragut and east a block to 98th.

Notes: Exactly a week after last running in Canarsie, I went back for another round. I've been getting pretty serious about running the farther reaches of the borough (and ignoring the closer neighborhoods) for now, but today the real truth is that I had to move the car at 9:30, and Canarsie is accesible by the L train which ususally gets me back home relatively quickly (at least compared to, say, the Q from Brighton Beach or something). Moving the car twice a week (thanks to alternate side-of-the-street laws) is essentially a form of expiation for the admittedly selfish act of keeping a car in the city, a sort of voluntary tax paid in aggravation and spare time rather than dollars. And it's an effective one -- many are the times I've pondered selling the car (well, if it was mine to sell, which it isn't) after deciding that it's not worth stressing out about parking spaces twice weekly just to be able to drive to Fairway once a month or my brother's in Jersey even more infrequently. But Kate likes to keep the car in case she wants to ditch town on the weekend (which she did just last week, actually), while I think I'd be happier without one. Anyway, it's taken care of now, but it's kind of funny that I based my running route today (both in terms of length and location) on maximizing my chances of getting back to Greenpoint by 9:30 and avoid a ticket (what are they now, $45?). It's quite amazing how much influence our vehicles can have over us sometimes. Maybe that's why I like running as much as I do -- I feel a lot better being on my feet than behind the wheel.

And speaking of running, today's jaunt was uneventful, but marked by the same busy streets and sidewalks I noticed yesterday in Sheepshead Bay, a result of my running right around the same time that neighborhood kids are trudging off to school. It didn't help, of course, that I unthinkingly planned today's route to pass within a block of Canarsie High School, right around 8:00. It was nice, however, to see bright, real, direct sunshine, unfettered by showers or storms or, in fact, any cloud cover at all. As I've mentioned numerous times, I sure don't mind running in cloudy conditions or even rain. But we've had a wet eight or ten days here, and it was certainly pleasant enough to see blue skies and sunlight.

Because my route today was almost entirely residential, and because I was in kind of in a hurry to finish up (you know, so I could get back to move the car), I only ended up taking a half-dozen pictures today. Here are half of them:

Outside a bike repair place on Rockaway Parkway

In the market for a new scrim? (Flatlands Avenue)

More fun with anthropomorphized meat, also on Flatlands Ave

06 September 2006

Back to School

Wednesday 9/6: Sheepshead Bay & Gravesend

9.49 miles
Time: 1:10
Pace: 7:23
Temp: 64
Dewpoint: 60
Weather: mostly cloudy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 8.45
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: I started on Sheepshead Bay Road under the subway tracks, headed south to Jerome, east to E. 17th Street, north to Avenue W, west a bloc to E. 16th, north to Avenue S, west a block to E. 15th then doubling back to E. 18th, south to Avenue U, east to E. 19th, north to Avenue P, west two blocks to E. 17th, doubling back to Ocean Avenue, south to Avenue U again, east a block to E. 21st, north back to Avenue P, east two blocks to E. 23rd, south to Avenue X, west to E. 16th, north to Gravesend Neck Road, west a block to E. 15th, south back to Sheepshead Bay Road, west to E. 14th, south to Voorhies, west to E. 13th, north to Avenue Z, west to Homecrest, south to Shore Road (with an out-and-back on William), west to E. 11th, north back to Avenue Z, west to Coney Island Avenue, north to Gerald, west to E. 7th, north back to Gravesend Neck Road, west to Village East, north on Village North, west to Van Sicklen, south to Village East, and then back a block to McDonald.

Notes: Yes, it was yet another long train ride down to Sheepshead Bay for today's run. If it seems like I've been doing a lot of running in that area you're not imagining things, either -- Sheepshead Bay and Gravesend are both very large neighborhoods, geographically, with the former alone comprising well over 300 blocks and the latter not far behind. So if the "bad news" is that they're enormous and I'm making dozens of trips down that way, the good news is that I like these areas just fine, and moreover, I'm making tangible and very encouraging progress filling in these regions on the "big map."

As for the run itself, it was another speedy one (though not quite as quick as yesterday's). I've described the neighborhood before in these posts so I won't bore anyone with more of the same, but there was one noticeable difference -- a lot of kids on the sidewalks, and a lot more vehicles (including quite a few schoolbuses). I guess I forgot that school started here yesterday. Of all the things I miss about living in a college town, it's the excitement and energy that accompany the beginning of the school year that I miss the most. Not that Brooklyn (and the city as a whole) doesn't have its share of excitement and energy, of course -- but after a decade in Iowa City, it's definitely something I've been surprisingly nostalgic for.

A few pictures from this morning:

Church on Avenue P

Clown love on E. 23rd Street

Bungalows on E. 21st Street

Jewish War Veterans post on Avenue X

05 September 2006

Dirt Roads and McMansions

Tuesday 9/5: East Flatbush, Flatlands, Bergen Beach, Mill Basin

10.34 miles
Time: 1:15
Pace: 7:15
Temp: 67
Dewpoint: 56
Weather: overcast

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 9.39
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: Today's run began at Flatbush Avenue and Avenue I, from where I headed down to Avenue J, east to Ralph, south to E. 72nd, over to Avenue K, up to Bergen Avenue, down to Avenue L and then back to E. 72nd. I then went south to Avenue N, then east to the end and then doubling back to the not-quite-finished Royce Street, south to Avenue T, around the corner to Bergen, and then south to Avenue X (with an out-and-back on the dead-end Maxie Boulevard). After that it was west on Avenue X to Bergen, around to Avenue Y and west to E. 69th, north again to Avenue X, east to E. 70th, north to Avenue W, west back to E. 69th, north to Avenue U, west to E. 67th (including the block of E. 68th that dead-ends at the water), north to Avenue T, west a block to E. 66th, then south as it curves around to National Drive, north three blocks to E. 63rd and then back up to Avenue N, west to E. 59th, north to Avenue M, west to E. 43rd, north to Flatlands then east just a little to E. 40th, north to Alton, west back to Flatbush Avenue, north to Avenue K, west to E. 31st, north to where it dead-ends, back a block to Aurelia, east to Flatbush, and then north to Avenue H. Whew. I took the 2 to the G home.

Notes: Running is an often mysterious activity. Sure, many of us who engage in it like to pretend it's much more of a science than it really is, recording our paces down to a fraction of a second and planning each of our meals down to individual grams of protein and carbohydrate. But despite our best efforts, there's still a distinctly random element which dicates that we never know what's going to happen on any given run until we're actually out there running. In other words, despite plenty of rest and nourishment, sometimes we get out on the street and have really lousy runs where our legs feel like lead and each mile feels twice as long as it really is, while there are other days when, sleep-deprived and achy, we go out and feel -- for no discernable reason, mind you -- that we could run forever. I haven't had many of the latter so far this summer, but today was one of them.

Why? I have no idea. My 40-year-old body sometimes feels like it's nearing exhaustion from running over 180 miles during August, and I've had enough pain in my legs and heels that I've been popping a good amount of Advil over the last few weeks. I know I don't sleep enough, and I'm still mentally processing the changes in my day-to-day existence wrought by a move from Iowa to Brooklyn, while trying to get back into the rhythms of writing on a daily basis. Yet today I got up and busted out over 10 miles in an hour and fifteen minutes, for a pace of around 7:15 minutes/mile, easily my fastest run (except for shorter races) in a year or two. True, my pace overall has been speeding up as I've piled on the miles this summer (something that's not completely unexpected), and stopping for 20 or 30 seconds while snapping pictures here and there offers occasional breaks, but the bottom line is that I haven't run this fast in a long time. And moreover, it felt great -- I felt like I could've run another 10. But then again, tomorrow might be one of those off days, so I guess things average out.

Regardless of why it was that I felt so good, I headed back to Bergen Beach and Mill Basin, residential areas that I haven't visited in a while. And what I saw today confirmed my initial observations -- in Mill Basin, especially, there were a very good number of oversized, somewhat ostentatious homes crowded next to one another on smallish lots, and sometimes alternating with the more modest ranches and split-levels that I have to assume were the original houses in the neighborhood. There was some more unexpected stuff, too, with a mostly abandoned-looking industrial facility between the water of East Mill Basin and E. 69th Street in Bergen Beach (see the picture below), as well as several blocks of new construction in the Georgetown part of the neighborhood. Perhaps most interestingly, I also got to run on three separate dirt roads today -- an unpaved extension of Royce Avenue through a few blocks of new development, the secluded Maxie Boulevard, a dead end off of Bergen Street leading to a small yacht club on Paerdegat Basin, and a narrow alley/driveway that snaked behind some of the fancier houses on E. 66th Street, along the water. It's not too often I encounter unpaved roads here in Brooklyn, but three in one run seems particularly unusual. And fun, of course.

OK, that's about it for today. As always, some photos:

Some of the fancy newer homes in Mill Basin (looking across from Bergen Beach)

E. 59th Street

Some kind of industrial something, E. 69th Street

Yeah, I know, but it makes a nice picture (Avenue N)

Graveyard at the Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church (Kings Highway & E. 40th)

04 September 2006

Sticking to the Union

Yes, it's that day where we celebrate the working people of our great nation, with an emphasis on the organized labor movement, despite the fact that only like 12% of American workers belong to a union these days (and that many unions have become as bloated and self-serving as the corporations they've ostensibly been devised to oppose). Still, although my life has been one of relative privilege and leisure compared to, say, factory workers in the 1930s, I, myself, have been a union member for most of my adult years: I was with the CWA for a year (1987-1988), the IBEW for over eight (local 827, 1988-1996), and the UE (local 896) from 1999-2006. Admittedly, my UE membership was through the graduate student union at the University of Iowa -- I wasn't exactly working in a sweatshop or anything -- but, hey, I paid dues every month. Anyway, as someone trained in history I do realize the importance of the labor movement in our nation's past, and so maybe it's good for all of us to take a moment to remember the hard work and sacrifices of America's workers over the years, even as we head off to shop the Labor Day sales at the mall or squeeze in one last day of summer vacation. Either way, I'm not running today, and that feels pretty good.

Speaking of running, I've been working on all kinds of ways to revamp my strategies for covering the whole borough, trying to come up with plans to both save time and wear and tear on my aching body. I'll keep going at my self-destructive pace for the next two weeks or so (until I reach the 25% milestone), and after a week of rest I'll implement these new plans (which will probably include things like running four days a week instead of five and eliminating a longer run on weekends). Despite this plan to cut back, I still ought to be nearing the halfway point by the end of the year.

Bonus off-day photo:

You know, when I was a kid we were lucky if we had 60% playgrounds! (Glenwood & 100th Street in Canarsie)

03 September 2006

After the Storm

Sunday 9/3: Gravesend & Midwood

12.57 miles
Time: 1:35
Pace: 7:33
Temp: 66
Dewpoint: 64
Weather: partly cloudy & humid

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 11.16
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: This is a complicated one, so here goes. BTW, these detailed routes are just an attempt to keep a pretty accurate record of where I've been. I hope no one actually reads these. I started at McDonald & Kings Highway, then south to Avenue S (with a little loop including Billings and Colin Places), west to Stillwell, south to Avenue W, east to 11th, north to Avenue V, west to 13th, north to Avenue P, east to 12th, north to Bay Parkway, over a block to 11th, south back to Avenue P, west back to 12th, south to Avenue V, east to 11th, north back to Avenue P, east a block to 10th, south to 86th and then to Avenue V, east just a bit to 9th, north to Avenue P, east to 8th, and south to Avenue W (along the way I also ran Lake Place as three one-block out-and-backs off of the numbered streets). Then (deep breath): east on Avenue W to 5th, double back to 6th, north to Wolf Place, east to Van Sicklen, double back to 5th, north to Avenue V, west to 7th, north to Lake Place (including the two little dead ends by the subway tracks), back east to 5th, south to Avenue V, east to Van Sicklen, north to Lake, west to 5th again, north to Avenue U, double back to Lama, east on Lama to Van Sicklen, north to Avenue T, west to 3rd, north to Applegate, west to 4th, double back to 3rd and continue north to Avenue S, east to Van Sicklen, south to Avenue T, east to Lake Street, north to Kings Highway, continue north on Dahill to 65th, east to 2nd, and north to the dead end at the park, then back to Avenue M, over a block to 3rd, and north until it, too, dead ends at the park. Then I walked the couple of blocks and caught the F train home.

Notes: Twelve hours earlier this run wouldn't have seemed possible, as the remnants of Ernesto were bringing heavy rain and gusty winds to the area. But this morning, when I woke up around 5:30, the wind had died down to a breeze and the precipitation had moved on to New England. So although it was still damp, gloomy, and quite humid, I figured it was time for a little bit longer of a run. Continuing my systematic routes, I headed back to Gravesend for a geographically intensive excursion which actually filled in a lot of gaps on my "big map" (and resulted in the almost ludicrously complex route, which, when you look at it on a map, really isn't as bad as it seems). And a fine run it was, too, as the sun actually forced its way through the clouds (for the first time in what, a week?) and dried things out.

Actually, it looks like the Gravesend area had some serious wind from the storm (or at least more than it felt like we had up here in Greenpoint), as there were a lot of leaves and small branches on the streets and sidewalks. And on 8th Street, there was a whole tree down, blocking the road and crushing a vehicle. Dutifully, I snapped a picture, and while I feel for the folks whose car caught the brunt of it, this was really nothing compared to the damage back in Iowa City when we got that tornado this past April.

Anyway, once again the route was mostly residential, so there were fewer overtly appealing photographic subjects, though I did my best. Some of the homes were actually very attractive (especially a row on 9th Street), and up around Avenue P was just block after block of very cool-looking art deco style 6-floor apartment buildings. Regardless, I'm taking tomorrow off, and then Tuesday I begin pressing on toward the 25% mark, which I figure might come during my longer run on September 17, a mere two weeks from today. I'm really looking forward to that week off.

In a schoolyard on 13th Street

Houses on 9th Street

11th Street

What a great name for a laundromat! (Avenue S)

Avenue P

(Presumed) storm damage on 8th Street