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new york urban

NYT / JFK to Manhattan on foot

"Peo­ple don't know where they are any­more, " [the writer Will Self] said, adding: "In the post-indus­tri­al age, [walk­ing] is the only form of real explo­ration left. Any­one can go and see the Ituri pygmy, but how many peo­ple have walked all the way from the air­port to the city?â€

This is from A Lit­er­ary Vis­i­tor Strolls in From the Air­port, a New York Times account of writer Will Self's walk from JFK to his hotel in Man­hat­tan. Self walks 20 miles through a col­or­ful cross-sec­tion of Queens, tak­ing pho­tos and chat­ting about his phi­los­o­phy of per­am­bu­la­tion. Cars (and TVs and com­put­ers and so on) have imposed a "wind­screen-based vir­tu­al­i­ty," he says, effec­tive­ly cut­ting us off from the land­scape around us. The NYT writer name-checks psy­cho­geog­ra­phy in con­nec­tion with this dis­cus­sion, but doesn't elab­o­rate. Appar­ent­ly, psy­cho­geog­ra­phy is a com­mon, every­day con­cept in which every­one is con­ver­sant. (I would guess that it's not). Also dis­cussed: Self's seat-of-the-pants route-plan­ning (he relied upon native New York­er Rick Moody), and his expe­ri­ences in the less-trav­eled parts of the bor­ough:

Not long after nego­ti­at­ing the Cross Bay Park­way over­pass, Mr. Self decid­ed to go "off piste,†as he put it, bor­row­ing the term used to describe [the act of leav­ing] groomed ski runs [to explore wild ter­rain]. He ignored Mr. Moody's instruc­tions and head­ed straight west on Glen­more Avenue, through East New York and Brownsville. Glen­more at this point slices through a long, grim stretch of low-rise apart­ments, pock­et-size auto-body shops, razor-wired vacant lots har­bor­ing high-strung dogs, and a sur­pris­ing num­ber of church­es, includ­ing one, Glen­more Avenue Pres­by­ter­ian, that fea­tured a Sun­day-morn­ing "Apoc­alip­sis†service."What could be more suitable?†said Mr. Self, who had just been dis­cussing the apoc­a­lyp­tic theme in his own nov­el and those of H. G. Wells.

A relat­ed per­son­al account: Once, in the fall of 1997, my flight had arrived late to JFK, and I was rac­ing to catch the last Delta com­muter flight to Boston, which was leav­ing from a dif­fer­ent ter­mi­nal. When I arrived at the curb, the secu­ri­ty guard told me that the shut­tle bus had just left, and that I'd prob­a­bly miss my flight. He men­tioned that the ter­mi­nal was "just beyond that big TWA hang­er over there," and I thanked him and set off walk­ing. Need­less to say, there weren't side­walks con­nect­ing the two, and I spent much of my time "off piste," scur­ry­ing along the shoul­ders of frontage roads and across park­ing lots. It was scary and fun, with planes peri­od­i­cal­ly screech­ing just over­heard, but I arrived just in time, and since then I've always want­ed a chance to do it again.