“High on the High Line”
A no-budget production of
On This Planet Earth
Mark Gilchrist, 2018
The 1.5-mile-long High Line Park, where you can walk along second-story offices
and watch the spectacle of New York City below, above and all around you.
“High on the High Line”
“I still remember the phone call from Paris,” he said, flitting nearly half of a large pizza slice in his mouth. “Heartbreaking.”
“Must have been from a French woman,” she said.
“No, it was from you, and you really burst my bubble.”
“Well, I certainly couldn’t break your heart.”
“As hard as you might try,” he said. “It was 2015, and I was in New York, standing right here.”
“You mean, in High Line Park? Or right...”
“Right, exactly here, at West 25th Street, looking at the painting of the classic Times Square scene.”
“Aww, with the sailor kissing the woman in white,” she said. “Want a selfie?”
“Only if we mimic the couple on the painting.”
“You mean, just like every other tourist couple — oh look, there’s three of them now…”
“Anyway, it was my first time here — just after the park’s big opening — and I was all caught up in this beautiful moment,” he said. “But then, Paris ruined it for me.”
“Ruined the sailor… thing?” She said, tugging a doughy knob off her pretzel and dipping it into his pizza cheese.
“No, silly, about the park. You see, it is such a beautiful place, and what an incredible idea, championed by just two ordinary guys.”
“You’re babbling, dear,” she said. “Want to start from the beginning?”
“Sure. Do you know what you are walking on?” he said as they strolled south, through a wildflower field above the Chelsea neighborhood. The entire park runs from West 13th Street, up to West 34th.
“The elevated bed of an old spur line of the New York Central Railroad?” She said.
“Yes, they even say that visitors are ‘on’ the park, not ‘in’ it.”
“Clever,” she said. “The railroad was built in the 1930s to serve the meatpacking district and lower, westside-Manhattan.”
“Abandoned in the 1980s after industries shut down here, and…”
“Excuse me,” he said.
“Oh, right. This is your story.”
“Sheesh — okay, not much left to tell...”
“Don’t look so sad,” she said. “It becomes you.”
High Line Park, just “below” the Lincoln Tunnel. Click HERE
“Haha. Okay, so I was very excited, not just because they took something that had been abandoned for almost three decades, something that was evolutionary, ugly and useless, and they turned it into something revolutionary, beautiful and incredibly useful...”
“Wait, you were not excited about that?” she said.
“No, of course I was, but what I really liked, was how the whole idea evolved only because two local people came up with it, and they fought a long, hard battle to get it.”
“Joshua David and Robert Hammond.”
“Right — amazing work they did,” he said. “I mean, Mayor Giuliani was all set to demolish the railway.”
“It was an eyesore.”
“Certainly, especially looking down on it from all those high-rises,” he said.
“And those people do like to look down… Oh, look, there’s a concert here tonight,” she said as they walked along the park’s lawn at 23rd Street.
“I guess they have several throughout the year,” he said, “and art festivals, school field trips and summer camps...”
“You can take eco-tours here, and learn all about nature,” she said, “and they even have youth programs to educate and motivate teenagers.”
“See what I mean? It’s amazing, and to think that, years ago, all anyone could think of was two things; Demolish the eyesore or wait to maybe run trains on it again... someday.”
“They were on a fork in the road…” she said.
“Right, until Joshua and Robert had the vision, and were somehow able to help others see it.”
“That is cool.”
And there I was,” he said, “just thinking that they had just thought of it all, right out of the blue — amazing! But then…”
“Ah, but then, Paris,” she said.
“Yeah, I was standing right back there, looking at a sailor smooching, and describing the park to you, thousands of miles away, and I was all caught up in the moment, and I was gushing — gushing, I tell you!”
“Ah yes, I remember, such a rare moment…”
“And then you had to tell me… you had to say it, didn’t you?”
“I guess so…” She said. “What did I say?”
“You said; ‘Oh, that’s like the Promenade Plantee…’”
“Oh, right, in…”
“Paris. Thanks — built in 1993.”
“Aww, don’t pout,” she said. “It looks so good on you. Say, let me buy you an ice cream.” They stopped at the Melt Bakery at 22nd Street, where she bought him a huge, vanilla ice cream sandwich, taking the first bite.
“Fine. I have bigger fantasies to entertain,” he said. “Besides, it’s still remarkable, how this little park — just a mile-and-a-half long and, what, a hundred feet wide? — has transformed this whole area.”
“Yes,” she said. “And so clever how it didn’t even take up any more space.”
“Ha — right! Why, walking along downtown Manhattan, you would hardly know it’s up here.”
“Except for the 11 entrances,” she said.
“Nearly invisible,” he said, “yet it has had two very visible, positive effects.”
“First of all, it has really gentrified the area.”
“Oh, that’s a double-edged word,” she said.
“Yes, you’re right; with property values boosted and millions of tourists strolling through every year, there’s bound to be a downside.
“What’s the second positive effect?”
“Well, the view from above!” He said.
“Ah, yes, so, looking down from all those fancy skyscrapers…”
“I like the view from right here, actually,” he said, putting his arm around her and walking to a railing overlooking 20th Street, where they could see the Hudson River and New Jersey over the piers.
“So do I,” she said. “You can look down and see the city going on about its business right below you — it’s unique.”
“And you can enjoy beautiful artworks,” he said, “both in the park and on the streets…”
“Like the smooching sailor,”
“Yes, and some of the park still has relics of the railroad’s past, with tracks, and organic, industrial elements,” he said. “I just think it’s interesting how this area has metamorphosed so many times over the last few centuries…”
“Do you mean; ‘Changed?’ she said.
“It’s my word of the day, okay?”
“Sorry, go ahead — I like big words.”
“Okay, so first, this place was all trees and rocks and grass.”
“Right, for millenia. Beautiful...”
“Yeah, okay. Then we moved in and built like crazy…”
“Wait, I got this — Fort Amsterdam, built in 1625.”
“You refer to the ‘Birth of New York City.’ Nice upstage, there.”
“So, after about 300 years, the place was packed,” he said. “They had built a railroad here before the Civil War, and in the early 1900s, more people lived around here than are living here now.”
“I bet they all moved to Queens…”
“Buildings everywhere,” he said.
“So, Metamorphosis One.”
Click HERE for
my photo album
of New York City.
“Right. So, that railroad was deadly. Hundreds of people were killed by trains over the years. Men would ride on horseback in front of the trains to try to clear the tracks.
“So, move the tracks... up?” she said.
“Right, which I would call ‘Morph-Two,’”
“That’s a stretch,” she said.
“Yeah, but it’s my story, so…”
“And then ‘M-3’ comes just a few decades later,” she said.
“Right. Interstate highways crushed the need for these trains because, I guess, manufacturing moved out of the city. So in their next life, these tracks became just a massive, concrete-and-steel, uh, sculpture.”
“For about 30 years,” she said, “and then it morphed — for the fourth time — into what you see now, which will likely be its final ‘life,’
“I hope so,” he said. “I like it even better than Paris.”
“Really?” she said. “Any particular reason?”
“Sure,” he said. “Paris may have had this first, but New York has you.”