04 November 2006

Alley Art and Mother Jones

Saturday 11/4, Run #78: Brighton Beach

Distance: 10.74 miles
Time: 1:20
Pace: 7:27
Temp: 38
Dewpoint: 24
Weather: sunny

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.38
Total Unique Miles: 613.51
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 35.21

For the complete route, click here

Notes: Whoa. Today's run was the most complicated I've done so far, even more so than my previous outing to Brighton Beach a couple of weeks ago. In fact, the route was so complex that the little reference map I make was twice as big as usual, in order to have enough space to draw in all the tiny streets and alleys I needed to cover. (If the interactive map above doesn't provide enough of an illustration, get a load of the written description of the route. Seriously, it was awfully confusing -- not only were there seemingly dozens of turns and lots of retracing my steps, but almost all the streets were called "Brighton" something or other).

Why so complicated? Partly because Brighton Beach occupies a tiny little patch of Brooklyn just east of Coney Island, an area of roughly half a square mile (or less than 300 acres). Yet over 30,000 people live there, giving it a population density of roughly 60,000/square mile -- a good 50% higher than the rest of the borough (in which about 2.8 million people live in 71 square miles), and pretty close to the density of Manhattan (which, as of the 2000 census, was around 67,000/square mile). And while much of this density comes from the apartment buildings and condos close to the boardwalk, there are plenty of detached and semi-detached houses as well, and the only way to fit them all in is to make the streets narrow and very close together. In fact, in order to maximize the number of houses on some blocks (especially between Ocean View and Neptune Avenues), there are a number of pedestrian alleys, which I always enjoy discovering (but which pretty much added to my general sense of disorientation). The houses that fronted the alleys, insulated as they are from public view by virtue of their distance from vehicular traffic, represented a remarkable array of styles (and varying degrees of upkeep). The alleys were also the source of some ever-welcome weirdness, including one yard along Brighton 3rd Place with a number of odd and unique art installations (a picture of one is included below).

Another interesting discovery was an apartment building on Brighton 3rd Street bearing the name "Mother Jones." This is presumably an homage to Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (1830-1930), the famous union organizer and labor agitator and the only woman among the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905. (Her legacy is also evident through the eponymous magazine known for its lefty muckraking.) Some cursory googling didn't turn up anything about the building, but considering the neighborhood's long history as a destination for eastern European Jewish immigrants (many of whom were involved in socialist causes during the first half of the twentieth century), it certainly seems plausible enough.

[Interesting demographic aside: in the Wikipedia article on Brighton Beach (as well as other online sources), the population is given as 150,000, which is clearly wrong. Not only would it be close to physically impossible to squeeze that many people into that small a space, but the entire population of Community District 13 -- which comprises all of Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and parts of Sheepshead Bay and Gravesend -- was only 106,000 according to the 2000 census. (I got my figure of a little over 30,000 by adding up the individual populations of the seven census tracts within Brighton Beach, a trapezoid bounded by Ocean Parkway, West End Avenue, the boardwalk, and the Belt Parkway).]

Okay, enough with the geography and demography. Today's was indeed a labyrinthine run (and one I'd been long dreading, due to the commensurate complexity of the recordkeeping), but I also really enjoyed it. It was cool this morning but dry and sunny, and taking yesterday off helped my heels and legs to feel a bit better. Moreover, I can now move Brighton Beach onto the "completed" side of my running ledger, bringing me that much closer to having the entire southern third all wrapped up.

And as almost every runner (and New Yorker) knows, tomorrow's the New York Marathon (almost half of which, by the way, takes place in Brooklyn). Maybe I'll apply next year (my last marathon was Quad Cities, a little over a year ago), but for now I'm looking forward to spectating instead of participating. Best of luck to all the runners, and especially those of you whom I've gotten to know through this blog!

Finally, despite all the squinting at my little map so I wouldn't deviate too far from my convoluted route today, I managed to snap some photos. A sampling:

mosque, brighton beach
Banner Ave and Brighton 8th Street

hand laundry, brighton beach
Brighton 12th Street

millennium, brighton beach
Brighton Beach Avenue

mother jones apartments, brighton beach
Evidence of Brighton Beach's Wobbly past? (Brighton 3rd St.)

green water, brighton beach
Uh, is the water supposed to be this color? (Brighton Beach Ave)

yard art, brighton beach
Yard art on the alley part of Brighton 3rd Place

kehila, brighton beach
Brighton 11th Street

mural, brighton beach
Mural on Brighton 2nd Street

02 November 2006

Finding the Friendly Firehouse of Flatlands

Thursday 11/2, Run #77: Marine Park & Flatlands

Distance: 10.65 miles
Time: 1:20
Pace: 7:31
Temp: 46
Dewpoint: 40
Weather: overcast

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.71
Total Unique Miles: 606.13
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 34.79

For the complete route, click here

Notes: Another kind of average run today, mostly picking up a number of residential streets that I need to finish up Flatlands. There were a lot of repeated miles, too, though most of these were due to the fact that no subways run into this part of the borough and there are only so many routes to and from the nearest stations. It was raining when I got up (around 5:00), but it had mostly cleared out by the time I started running around 8:30 -- and, as these things happen, the sun peeked out as I walked the block home from the train.

Though today's run was nothing particularly special, I can't help but express a little surprise at the interest generated by a photo from yesterday's venture down to Dyker Heights. The fine local news blog Gothamist ran the picture of the Jesus and the twin towers statue (taken outside St. Ephrem's Church) at the end of the day yesterday, and it has, as of 11:45 this morning, resulted in the photo being viewed 274 times on my Flickr page. To put this in perspective, most of my pictures have been viewed between 3 and 15 times, and the previous high was 104 (for a shot of Loew's Kings Theater in Flatbush that Brownstoner ran a while back). I'm not sure whether the 274 hits in less than a day is a tribute to the popularity of Gothamist, the religiosity of New Yorkers, the inherent strangeness of the statute itself, or maybe some combination. Regardless, it's still kind of fun to have people take such an interest in one of my photos.

I'll be taking tomorrow off, coming back with a longish (~11 mile) run on Saturday that should hopefully wrap up Brighton Beach for me, and then I'll be taking Sunday off to watch the runners as they make their way right through Greenpoint and right by my building. I'll try to take some pictures. And, of course, speaking of pictures, here are today's:

friendly firehouse, flatlands
Firehouse on E. 48th Street

ave maria, flatlands
Mary Queen of Heaven School, E. 57th Street

house, flatlands
House on Avenue I

garage, flatlands
Garage on E. 52nd Street

wall, flatlands
Avenue O

01 November 2006

If I Was President: Fewer Cars, More Bakeries

Wednesday 11/1, Run #76: Dyker Heights

Distance: 10.08 miles
Time: 1:15
Pace: 7:26
Temp: 60
Dewpoint: 52
Weather: mostly sunny

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 8.96
Total Unique Miles: 598.43
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 34.35

For the complete route, click here

Notes: It was a beautiful morning here in Brooklyn (even if it was a bit warm for my tastes), as some remaining cloud cover from overnight cleared out and left bright sunshine. And my run today was excellent, too -- everything felt good from the start, and I covered just over ten miles at a pretty solid clip despite the hillier-than-usual terrain. Dyker Heights, like its neighboring communities (Sunset Park to the north, Bay Ridge to the west, Bensonhurst to the east) is a great place to run, with a nice mix of small businesses along the avenues (which run more or less north and south) and residential areas (including some beautiful townhouses) on the tree-lined east-west streets. Of particular note was a statue ouside St. Ephrem's church, depicting Jesus cradling the twin towers of the World Trade Center. September 11th-related murals and memorials are quite commonplace around the borough (understandably, of course), and the image of the two iconic buildings figures prominently in many of them. Still, I hadn't seen anything quite like this before.

The run today filled up enough of the neighborhood that I can finish it entirely with one more trip down there, and after looking at the "big map" today it looks like I'm getting close to being done with everything south of the 65th/Avenue P/Flatlands Avenue line I drew a couple of months ago. All I need, I think, is one more run in each of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, Marine Park, Canarsie, Bergen Beach, and East New York, and maybe two more in Flatlands. Plus, I'll have to take the train out to Rockaway and run back over the Marine Parkway Bridge, since half of it's in Brooklyn (this run will also give me the opportunity to poke around Floyd Bennett Field, too). But I'm heading to Flatlands and Brighton Beach this week, and it appears that I might be done with the southern third or so of the entire borough within two weeks. Crazy! Of course, this means that I'll have to come up with some kind of plan for what to do next, but I've still got a little time, I suppose.

Anyway, lots to see today, including some bright autumnal foliage, which I haven't seen a lot of around here this fall. Henceforth, photographs:

bakery, dyker heights
I'm always drawn to bakeries. This one's on Fort Hamilton Parkway

old furniture store, dyker heights
13th Avenue

jesus of the twin towers, dyker heights
Outside St. Ephrem's Church on Bay Ridge Parkway

houses, dyker heights
Some autumn color on 70th Street

religion & art, dyker heights
Mosaics high up on a 65th Street church school

30 October 2006

Run-of-the-Mill Running

Monday 10/30, Run #75: Canarsie

Distance: 8.63 miles
Time: 1:05
Pace: 7:32
Temp: 44
Dewpoint: 28
Weather: sunny & breezy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.10
Total Unique Miles: 589.47
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 33.83

For the complete route, click here

Notes: After yesterday's unusually enjoyable trek through Sea Gate I suppose it was inevitable that today's run would be more quotidian. And it was, too -- except for the fact that the weather was especially pleasant this morning (it was breezy, but nearly as windy as yesterday), there was nothing much memorable about it. My route took me through an almost entirely residential portion of Canarsie (a neigborhood I've visited numerous times before, and which I'm probably only two runs from finishing up), and thanks to the return to Standard Time, I was able to head out earlier than I've been running lately, meaning the streets were even quieter. I even had a tough time finding interesting things to photograph, and the three pictures below are the best I have to offer today.

I suppose I shouldn't complain too loudly, though, when the worst thing I can say about a run is that it was pretty average and that nothing much happened. In any event, I'm probably going to take tomorrow and Friday off, run Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and then take a rare running holiday on Sunday, so I can watch the real runners -- the marathon course goes right past my building, so I'm quite excited. Without further ado, today's photos:

canarsie theatres
Avenue L

mural, canarsie
87th Street

pharmacy, canarsie
After losing this many letters it's probably time for a new sign (Avenue L)

29 October 2006

Surprising Sea Gate

Sunday 10/29, Run #74: Coney Island and Sea Gate

Distance: 10.24 miles
Time: 1:20
Pace: 7:49
Temp: 46
Dewpoint: 24
Weather: sunny & very windy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 6.72
Total Unique Miles: 582.36
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 33.42

For the complete route, click here

Notes: The one constant in all my runs thus far has been the ability of Brooklyn to surprise me at almost every turn with the unexpected, the unusual, or the just plain weird. Thankfully, most of these surprises have been good ones, and today's run was one of the best. That's because I headed out to Sea Gate, the small gated neighborhood at Coney Island's western tip.

Because it seems to operate more or less independently from the rest of the borough, I'd put off running there for months, figuring it would be something of a hassle. But with the rest of southern Brooklyn filling up on my "big map," I decided it was finally time. And so, on what will probably go down as the windiest day of the year, I made my way down there.

I had imagined the area as some kind of super-luxe spot with lots of enormous newly-constructed mansions (kind of like parts of Manhattan Beach, on Coney Island's other end), but what I found was an unassuming and almost cozy neighborhood with a tangible sense of place. There was enormous architectural diversity, with houses of dozens of different styles and sizes next to one another, but no commercial buildings as far as I could tell. It wasn't completely residential, though, as I also saw a few modest synagogues, and, at the westernmost end, Norton's Point lighthouse -- apparently, the last manned lighthouse on the east coast, until its former keeper died in 2003. The whole neighborhood is surrounded by water except on its eastern border, of course, and though much of the beachfront belongs to individual property owners there was some public access as well (with excellent views of the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge). And the place has quite a colorful history, too -- from hideout for famous gamblers, gangsters, and even discraced politicos (it's where Thomas Nast nemesis and Tammany Hall boss William Tweed laid low after he escaped from a Manhattan jail in 1871) to at least part-time home to figures as diverse as Woody Guthrie, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Beverly Sills, and even Soupy Sales. The entire place seemed pleasant and mostly quiet, and had -- no doubt due to its geographical situation (and the fact that I visited early on a Sunday morning) -- remarkably little vehicular traffic. I even saw one or two other runners!

All told it was a great run (despite the wind, which did its best to provide me with a natural dermabrasion via violently blowing sand on the boardwalk on the way down there). Though it's a small and entirely residential neighborhood, Sea Gate was yet another surprise in a borough that's teeming with them. Finally, I need to give a shout out to Sergeant Walsh of the SGPD, who was helpful, friendly, and filled me in with some background on the neighborhood and its history -- including which house used to be the hotel where Al Capone stayed. Thanks!

And almost lost among all of this is the fact that I hit a milestone of sorts: I went over the one-third mark for running all of Brooklyn. BTW, the number 33 1/3 reminds me of the antique musical medium of vinyl long-playing records (completely pointless trivia: the first LP I bought was Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, in 1977; the last was Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, in 1988 -- after that it was all CDs until a year or two ago, and now I get most of my music via download or from the library). Also, Sea Gate and Coney Island are now complete -- two more neighborhoods down!

For more on Sea Gate, check out this article from the Voice, this slightly older one from the Times, or consult your local library. Otherwise, a few pictures from this morning:

wind-driven sand, coney island
Wind-driven sand on the Coney Island boardwalk

view, sea gate
The view from Norton's Point

monkey, sea gate
This was in someone's front yard (though I don't recall the exact street)

lighthouse, sea gate
Norton's Point Lighthouse, between Beach 47th and Beach 48th Streets

lions, sea gate
Not the NY Public Library (Mermaid Avenue)

houses, sea gate
At the end of Lyme Avenue

former hotel, sea gate
Former hotel on Atlantic Ave, reputedly where Al Capone stayed