POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 17, 2012
NEW YORK >> The neighborhoods turn starkly at first, from the prix fixe brunches and kitchen appliance stores of the tour’s initial leg in Manhattan to the dominoes games and dimly lighted bars that follow.
Here is a pawnshop in Brooklyn, beneath the elevated J line in South Williamsburg, and there is a fish fry in Bedford-Stuyvesant, offering a $4.25 fish sandwich — $6 if you want waffles on the side.
And finally, as the travelers’ smoldering calves churn through the final miles in Queens, a fleet of planes soar comfortingly overhead, whirring lower, lower, lower until all the day’s wayfarers, airborne or otherwise, have reached their destination.
This may be among New York City’s unlikeliest sightseeing ventures, its premise as simple as navigating the city’s grid: Sometimes, in a land of 13,000 taxis and nearly two dozen subway lines, with no flight to catch and nowhere else they need to be, some people just want to walk to the airport.
On Sunday, just before 11:15 a.m., 14 people met in Union Square, drifted south, crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, resisted temptation at Peter Luger Steak House, sipped beers in Bedford-Stuyvesant, trudged through Ozone Park, Queens, and, finally, reached Terminal One of Kennedy International Airport about 7:20 p.m.
They smoked cigarettes and fended off throbbing feet. They stopped often for bathroom breaks (“Leave no bladder behind,” the walk’s 35-year-old founder and organizer, Andy Maskin, said.) They admired chandelier shops and Borsalino hat vendors and wondered aloud why a children’s jungle gym on Brooklyn’s version of Broadway had yellow caution tape hanging from it. And when it was over, the group, slightly smaller than before, hopped on a train and headed home.
It was the ninth year that the walk, or something close to it, had been held. The idea came to Maskin, a Gramercy Park resident who works in advertising, on a gratingly beautiful day in 2004. He was inside; he wanted to be outside.
“I was looking at a map and said, ‘What’s an arbitrary landmark to walk to?”’ he recalled. “I looked at the expanse of the city between Manhattan and JFK and thought, ‘There’s so much of that I’ve never been to.’ I grew up in the city, and I had no idea what it was like to walk around in these neighborhoods.”
And so he walked. A friend joined him. Thirteen miles later, a whim had become a tradition.
“Any self-respecting New Yorker doesn’t go to the Statue of Liberty,” said Adam Olson, 29, a graphic designer from Williamsburg, who participated in his second walk Sunday. This, he said, was the only sightseeing suitable for a local.
Kang Peng, 27, a student from Taiwan, took notes as he walked, jotting down names he wanted to learn more about: Astor. Cooper. Boerum. Williamsburg.
“New York,” he said, leafing through his notebook, “it has a lot of layers.”
Two others made the trip during a visit from Munich; a friend of Maskin’s had placed a flier in their hostel in Bushwick, advertising a free walking tour. Maskin, an official city tour guide, felt compelled to live up to his billing. He explained the transformation of the Bowery (“Have you heard of CBGB?”) and the marvel of Brooklyn bodegas (“They’re these very small grocery stores”).
Maskin was joined on the trip by his wife, Chloe Mead, who has walked since 2010. That year, she began limping near Ozone Park, Queens, with more than a mile still to go. But leaning often on Maskin, she pressed on as the airport came into view.
“And she finished,” Maskin said. “She stuck with me. It made a really big impression.”
They were married in July.
Walking is not always required. As the group neared the Williamsburg Bridge in Manhattan, Mark Triant, 29, found an abandoned Whole Foods shopping cart on the curb along the Bowery.
“It’s all organic metal,” he said.
A fellow traveler, Lindsey Case, 24, hopped in, sitting cross-legged. Triant pushed for several blocks, swerving past a man in a wheelchair, before leaving the cart near Chrystie and Delancey Streets.
The crowd paused to stretch after crossing the bridge, pressing their limbs against parking signs, a shuttered storefront gate and the window of a Brooklyn Industries store.
Soon, the travelers passed several throngs of Orthodox Jews, a well-attended game of dominoes beside a basketball court, and a man swigging from a nearly empty milk carton beneath the elevated subway station at Marcy Avenue.
“Cigarette? Cigarette?” the man asked. “Anybody spare a dime?”
After stopping at two bars along the way, for water and, for some, a beer, the group dined at Bed-Stuy Fish Fry, indulging in whiting, chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese.
Next came the storefront churches of East New York, a garage sale that included baby strollers, television remotes and an empty fish tank in Ozone Park, and, nearby, a stop at a combination bar-bowling alley. Dean Martin played over the speaker system as the walkers refueled. Maskin and Mead shared a slow dance, beside two other couples.
Around 7 p.m., with planes buzzing nearer the ground, the airport finally appeared beneath the pinkish sky of dusk.
“I’m calling it,” Maskin said shortly thereafter, as the group rode an escalator to the AirTrain, which would deliver them to Terminal One. “Eight hours, two minutes.”
But the ranks had thinned in the trip’s final miles. The German tourists had said goodbye at Broadway Junction, returning to their hostel to retrieve their bags.
They had an evening flight to make, they said, at Kennedy Airport.