I started running by doing it after work, but soon I was also running at lunch a few times a week. At first, I ran around a small park near my downtown Brooklyn office, but then I wanted to go further. I started to run over the nearby Brooklyn Bridge, turn around, and run back. I had walked over the bridge a few times before, but this began what would be many, many more trips over the bridge. As time went on, I frequently ran between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and in those days, the Manhattan Bridge walkway was not open, and the Brooklyn Bridge was often the most convenient route for me. I am not sure what the total number of trips were, but I am confident I ran over it more than a thousand times.
I fell in love with the Brooklyn Bridge. Its distance was satisfying. It is almost exactly a mile from the Brooklyn steps to the walkway to the Manhattan terminus of the bridge. The upward sweep was a bit of a running challenge, but not too much so, and going downwards was not too steep to be excessively hard on my knees. It was also pleasing because the walkway is on a higher level than the roadway. I would be aware of the cars and when there was bad traffic on the bridge, try to race them across the span, but the elevated walkway kept me separate from the traffic. Mostly, however, it was satisfying to run the Brooklyn Bridge because of its beauty and the sights I could see.
The bridge’s Gothic arches are iconic for good reason and have captured the imaginations and talents of artists, including, of course, those of Georgia O’Keefe’s. Those stone arches, however, did more than just define the bridge. Because of the bridge’s incline, the arches were not only in front of me, but also above me. They seemed to represent a symbolic goal. From the Brooklyn side, they framed the Manhattan skyline through their openings. They made me want to reach Manhattan, be a part of Manhattan. That skyline, however, cannot be contained in the frame of the arches. It extends above and around those pillars. New York can be reached; it can be entered, but it can never be encompassed. There is always more.
I especially loved running the bridge towards Manhattan after a light rain. The walkway consisted of wooden beams, and when wet, those planks would reflect the arches. The arches were underfoot and in front of and above me all at the same time.
Running to Manhattan in the early morning on a clear day brought a different kind of light. I would be running west and the rising sun would be behind me. The windows of the Manhattan skyline would catch the sun and be aglow. The reflected oranges and yellows and reds made it seem as if a light show were being performed.
It seldom seemed as exciting running over the bridge towards Brooklyn. Brooklyn was home, but Manhattan had the better skyline. Even so, sometimes the run to Brooklyn, too, brought spectacular sights. There is a period in the spring and fall when the sun, as viewed from the bridge, sets directly behind the Statue of Liberty. When I would see that, I would always stop and soak up the sight. With the sun low on the horizon, the sun appeared unnaturally large and almost looked as if it were attached to the Statue. I never found a spot off the bridge where I could observe this phenomenon, and when I saw it, I was always grateful that I had taken up running.
The bookend to this was seeing a full moon rising over Brooklyn as I ran home with an early night run. A rising full moon has always been spectacular to me, but it was even more so from the elevation of the bridge walkway.
Another night scene was more memorable to me. Sometimes I ran over the bridge on a cold, clear winter’s night–the kind of night when everything in the sky is extra crisp, and although stars are not really a New York City feature, where even the stars stood out. The bridge’s wooden-slatted walkway had gaps between the boards. Through them I could see down to the East River. On these nights, the stars above stood out as if they could be touched, but looking down in the cold air, crisp images of lights could be seen reflected by the water. Those lights may only have been from buildings or vehicles, but they seemed to be the reflected stars. It felt as if the stars were above and below me, and I was running in their midst.
My running days are long gone, but my attraction for the Brooklyn Bridge has not ended. On occasion, I walk over it. This is now a bit of a struggle, and I am often amazed that it once was a nearly effortless run. Still, almost every time I go over the Brooklyn Bridge, I still find a sight that amazes or inspires me. As a result, my living room is filled with images of the bridge. I have an oil painting; a numbered print; photographs; a reproduced image I saw oat a New York Public Library exhibit; Christmas cards; and more, all depicting the Brooklyn Bridge. (To be continued.)