The photos accompanying this text are from a rain-soaked weekday spent in the company of a nice man named Moses. He’s an urban explorer-type who relishes an immersion such as the one we had in store that dreary morning on Staten Island, paddling out to a ferry graveyard located in the Arthur Kill Waterway. It’s a strange, atmospheric place aching with nautical nostalgia. Twisted, rusting wreckage of steam-powered ferries and diesel tugs harken back to New York’s first flush of 20th century greatness, when its harbor teemed with industry and transport. No matter how many Starbucks and Best Buys populate its streets, New York City never seems too far from its past. That’s what makes the city’s present feel so vital and emergent; it’s a tension, a duality that makes the place especially alive. The city is constantly moving forward, pulling its past close behind. So, it’s hard to find a place where this is not the case, where there is no such tension, where New York is only its past and nothing else. The Staten Island ferry graveyard is one such place—and that makes it a relaxing pleasure.
Moses served as my on-camera guide as we paddled from vessel to vessel. The tide was up so we could steer our canoes through the ferries and across the tugs’ decks. Pretty cool thing to do and we made plans to do more.
Back in 2002, I had to leave New York and head for California. It broke my heart but I had to go. 9/11 not only affected the soul of the city, but the showbiz economy ground to a halt and I needed to make a living. But I miss the place badly. So for me it’s been fun talking about poking around the city’s netherworld again. If you want to see something cool, watch Moses’ friend Steve Duncan in his videos on his website www.undercity.org. One day, I plan to show up without a network camera crew and follow these guys down a few dark alleyways.