as much as i wanted to skip the whole trip and go back to bed, i've already passed the hardest hurdle, which is just getting up in the first place. 5:30am in the morning this time of the year the sun is already out. i fed the fishes, locked all the windows, and gathered up my gear. i was out the door before 6am, on my way to porter square, to south station, to new york city, to the mermaid parade at coney island. on a normal morning i'd be able to get down to south station in about 30 minutes. however, the MBTA was doing construction work along the longfellow bridge again, so i had to get off at kendall square and take a shuttle bus to park street, followed by a few more stops until south station. i didn't arrive at the bus depot until almost 7am. normally i ride the lucky star down to NYC but there was a fung wah bus just about to leave so i grabbed that instead. the bus was at full capacity and i got an aisle seat.
with just a few hours of sleep the night before, it didn't take me long for me to fall asleep on the bus. the only down side was because i was afraid to leave my camera bag in the overhead storage shelf, i ended up having it on my lap the whole time, crushing my private parts. i slept pretty well despite the fact that i was on the bus. the thing that kept waking me up was the periodic sudden stops or the occasional highway swerve. our driver - wearing a white fung wah lab coat - seemed to be on a personal mission to get us all to NYC in the shortest time possible. we even pulled up to a rest stop, only to speed away for some unknown reason. maybe because he saw another fung wah bus there and wanted the bragging rights to say he beat the bus that left ahead of him. the final stretch leading into manhattan was a drag race between the two fung wah buses as the one that used to be behind us managed to get ahead of us. i couldn't sleep at that point as ride became a death race to see who'd be the first to arrive in chinatown.
it took us just 3 hours and 30 minutes to arrive in the new york city chinatown, much earlier than i'd anticipated. that early in the morning (10:30) many restaurants were still closed. i finally found a place to eat - thai son - one of the only vietnamese restaurants that was opened. after i ordered up a bowl of pho, i made use of the bathroom. i sat at the back of the restaurant. i wondered if they put me there so it'd be harder for me to just walk out on the check. it gave me a good view of the restaurant though. there were at least 5 waiters and waitresses working, despite the lack of customers. the people who worked there didn't seem to be vietnamese because i heard them speaking cantonese chinese instead. a large asian man wearing a track suit was walking around the restaurant. i've seen enough sopranos to know that's the uniform of organized crime. at one corner of the restaurant was a door with a crane-design bead curtain in front of it. i noticed people going in and out of this secret room, and think there was even a numbered entry pad. could this restaurant actually be a front for a criminal organization? as for the food, it was okay, your basic pho. one of the waiters seemed to be refilling all the tabled sauce containers and i had a forearm rudely reach across my face a few times without asking. after i paid i hit the bathroom one last time before i left. who knows when i'll be able to find another bathroom.
john called me right when i stepped outside. normally a new york city trip would involve a visit to his place, but he and his family were out of town this weekend. he said he could leave me their house key in case i needed a place to stay but i told him i'd be going back to boston after the parade.
the night before i'd researched the best route to get to coney island from chinatown. i headed to the nearby canal street station and took the N train all the way down to coney island. i couldn't get my metro card to work at a revolving door subway gate. a new yorker saw me struggling, swiped my card through the machine, and literally pushed me through, yelling, "go! now!" (apparently i was doing it too slow). i was relieved and humiliated at the same time. on the N train i sat right across from a costumed mermaid painting her fingernails blue so i knew i was heading in the right direction.
30 minutes later i was in coney island. ahead of schedule, i had about 2 hours to kill before the parade started. i took a circuit tour down the boardwalk. the weather was hot - probably in the 80's - a nice day to hit the water if i wasn't in my leg cast. i walked through the amusement park area and watched as a group of kids were getting their kicks from a vomit-inducing ride. i came back out onto the street and was determined to find a good spot for shooting photos. i ended up right across the street from the coney island terminal, figuring i could capture people as they left the station, sort of a pre-parade warmup. even though the official start of the parade was still an hour and a half away, people were already picking their spots and lining up behind the metal barricades. i was next to this asian guy eating out of a takeout box. when i heard him talking to his friends on his cell phone, i recognized his taiwanese accent immediately. i struck up a conversation with louis, found out he's a student from taiwan living in NYC for the past year. i got myself a cold soda and prepared to hunker down for the next 4 hours.
this being my third mermaid parade (2007 2006), i still have a hard time explaining what exactly it is. is it a celebration of coney island? an art festival? an anti-establishment protest march? it's a little bit of everything. certainly you have the whole eponymous mermaid theme, the extension of that anything to do with water, whether it be sea creatures, mythical water gods, fictional underwater characters, or island life. there's the local burlesque shops which provide a whole bevy of eye-catching talent. antique cars, bikers, flappers, goths, punks, hipsters, wizards, performance artists, carnies, marching bands, dancers - that's just a sampling of the representation.
once the parade kicked off around 2pm, i spent the next 2 hours shooting non-stop. a guy behind me with a camcorder tried to squeeze to the front, first by making small talk, then casually suggesting if we could scooch over to make room for him. nobody budged. i didn't just stand here for 2 hours to give up some space for a total stranger too ill-prepared to arrive early! he soon left when we were unresponsive to his demands. another guy standing next to me must've been an insult comic, making snide remarks like "mid-life crisis!" to the hot rod drivers or "shave your legs!" to the cross-dresser.
i managed to shoot the whole day without once replacing my batteries (although at the halfway mark the camera was showing me the low-battery icon). i did swap out the memory once i filled up my 4gb card, replacing it with my backup 2gb card.
i saw the rude mechanical orchestra (RMO), one of the only groups i recognized (with their distinctive green marching outfits). i first saw them last year at the camberville honkfest and just fell in love with marching band/dance troupe. i couldn't be sure, but i think the hula dancers (one of my favorites) were also a part of the group. i hope they come up to camberville again in the fall.
i saw a few repeats but for the most part all the costumes were new. i see the whole parade as a tribute to the spirit of human imagination and creativity. louis asked if i've ever been to the village halloween parade. i've never been but heard good things so i might try to make it this october. i'd imagine it'd be like the mermaid parade but with even more costumes. the only downside is it's at night, but i look forward to the challenge.
the parade finally drew to a close around 4pm, as the police unlocked the barricades to allow people to cross the street again into the coney island train station. i could already fell my tanned skin tightening from standing out in the sun for 4 hours without any protection. exhausted from standing for so long, pushed forward into the crowd and made my way to the N train going uptown. normally i might give up my seat but with my leg in a cast i had no compunction about sitting down.
if everything went according to schedule, i'd be in chinatown to catch the 5pm fung wah bus, be back in boston by 9pm. that is, if everything went according to schedule. unfortunately the train grounded to a halt at pacific street due to a mechanical malfunction. i ended up taking the B train uptown, thinking it'd take me to canal street. two young filipinas offered me their seat after eyeballing my leg cast. i refused, naturally, but it's the first time i've been in any condition where a stranger would offer me their seat. i got as far as 42th street before my spider senses were telling me i was way off-course. i took a Q one stop to connect to a southbound R train at 34th street. from there i finally arrived at canal street in chinatown.
i always get confused when i surface, not sure which direction i should walk down. judging from the setting sun i figured out the directions, but i still ended up walking the wrong way for several blocks before the unfamiliar buildings made me realize i was going the wrong way. i didn't actually get to the fung wah ticket counter until well past 6pm, and could only catch the next bus arriving at 6:30.
the bus was pretty empty, maybe about 20 people total, enough for every person who wanted two empty seats to get one. at $15 a ride, i'm still surprised fung wah hasn't upped their prices with the recent gasoline cost. first thing i did when i got on the bus was to go use the bathroom in the back. i've never done that before, always figured it was too filthy to even try, but i found it to be reasonably clean (it was kind of like an airplane bathroom, with a weird suction toilet).
sunset wasn't until close to 8:30 so i had about 2 hours worth of looking out the window. despite this being primarily an urban trip, i was surprised to find how much nature i could see from the comforts of a bus window. earlier, back in coney island, i saw a bunch of laughing gulls, the only place i've ever seen them before. entering manhattan, i saw many tree of heavens growing from dilapidated lots. leaving NYC, i saw a wild turkey by the side of the road in upper bronx near a salt marsh below a bridge. at the NY-CT border, three deers grazing in a nearby field. as soon as we entered connecticut on I-95 on the right side of the highway is a grove of bamboos. and finally, going over a bridge in greenwich, i saw a white egret standing by the shoreline of a river.
i did sleep a little bit, but for some reason not as well as compared to when i just had a single seat. we stopped by a roadside mcdonalds at one point for 10 minutes where i took a bathroom break and got a hamburger to go. it was around 10:30 when we finally arrived in boston. an easy ride back to cambridge via the red line was interrupted by the longfellow construction project, which meant a shuttle bus delay. i ended up not getting home until another hour later, 18 hours after i woke up this morning.
you may also notice starting with this post that i've gotten rid of the red thumbnail indicator symbol and replaced it with a image border rollover indicator instead.