The Big Apple’s a little askew
I just got back from New York City as I had planned to travel there to support a good friend who was entered to run the NYC marathon. Despite the cancellation of the event, we decided to go still as we had very nice lodgings already booked right next to Grand Central Station. I must admit that part of the appeal was some morbid curiosity about the potential to make the trip a photojournalistic journey.
Before our departure, we had heard of fuel shortages so we bought a 5-gallon canister just in case since we were not aware of the extent of the affected area. As we proceeded down Interstate 87 from Montreal, we were able to fill up until approximately 100 miles from NYC. Through the lower Hudson Valley, it became quite obvious that gas was becoming a challenge to find. As we passed fuel station upon station, there were only two possibilities: either it had a ”no gas” sign or a mile-long lineup to fuel up. Actually, there was a police presence at all stations and some were cordoned off from vehicles where only canisters could be filled. Although we had 3/4 tank + 5-gallon reserves, as we approached the city, we greedily thought that we could get one more fill off the Palisades Parkway. The gas shortage paranoia was getting to us… We got off the parkway and meandered through small towns on the lookout for available fuel. Most of this region seemed to be out of power as well as all street, circulation and house lights were off. Our hopes of finding gas were rapidly fading. After this fruitless endeavor, we decided to head into the city with whatever fuel was had.
So the Sandy aftermath impacted our trip in two ways: the first is the induced fuel shortage paranoia which had a ripple effect later on…
We finally got into Midtown without experiencing too much traffic and our first impressions were that Midtown seemed essentially untouched. The hotel staff specified that the lower part of Manhattan was most affected as train services below the 34th street were still interrupted. After getting our hotel room, we hooked up with other runners from Montreal at an Italian restaurant for dinner, which was mostly animated with discussions and speculations about the cancellation of the NYC marathon. Generally, the affected parties seemed in agreement with the decision but were disappointed about the fact that the event was formally canned Friday early evening only, when most runners had already made the trip. The general disappointment was made even more acute since the marathon organizers had previously sent a confirmation message on Wednesday.
Later in the evening, we headed to Greenwich at the Comedy Cellar to catch two sets of stand-up comics. New York is obviously world-renowned for its stand-up comedy scene and we were not disappointed. The lineup of comedians was stellar. As Montreal has a few comedy clubs as well, I have a reference to compare the comedy style to. I found that the New York scene was more interactive as the comedians fed on discussions with the front row crowd for comedic effect, which bordered on improv at times. Another characteristic that struck me was that racial archetypes as comedic material is very popular and effective. It was a very enjoyable evening and thankfully, we found out that cab availability seemed back to the usual NYC standards.
The next day, we had tickets for the Giants-Steelers game at the MetLife Stadium so we had to find our way to the Meadowlands sports complex in New Jersey. We still felt leery about ”needlessly” burning fuel so we opted to take the direct bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to the stadium. It was a fabulous game (from the perspective of a life-long Steelers fan…)! The Steelers almost self-destructed in the first half but came back to win 24-20 against the local team. However, for us, party was over as we proceeded to take the bus back to Manhattan. The queue was absolutely monstrous, i.e. as in ”as far as the eyes can see and well beyond the horizon”. It was painfully obvious that it would take hours to get out of the sports complex and we certainly regretted not taking the car. Since we had plenty of time to discuss with locals, we were told that the train service to the sports complex was still interrupted, thereby generating such a chaotic situation. Additionally, the problem was compounded by the fact that a lot of people did not take their car for the same reason we did not. At some point, the process got so excruciatingly long and painful that tempers flared and we feared that rioting would ensue. It seems like the police force were able to control the situation and we finally made it back onto the island.
Despite the nightmarish wait after the Giants game, it was a great trip that certainly did not turn out as I had envisioned. Instead of my visions of photojournalism, I essentially took only two pictures. I used HDR to capture an eye-catching feature of the Grand Hyatt New York where we stayed.
Since the hotel is connected to Grand Central Station, I could not resist the temptation to take the age-old cliché: the station on a weekday morning. Before my drive back to Montreal on a Monday morning, I headed there with a tripod. I started with a standard picture with a 2-second exposure time:
I was not very satisfied with the picture: I think that the exposure is a bit long and the framing boring. I first experimented with exposure time to find the optimal when considering a standard New Yorker’s pace. An excessively long exposure makes the travelers quite ghostly and some fast walkers do not appear at all in the image. In the end, I used a 1/2 second exposure and rotated the frame to convey the fact that the city was somewhat topsy turvy and still recovering from the massive impact of hurricane Sandy. I also tried HDR to properly expose the Apple store that opened close to one year ago as it is otherwise completely blown. The experiment is less than satisfactory due among other things to the variations of people in motion in each exposure making a mess of the foreground. In the end, I think that the result from a single exposure is more appealing. I really like the long shadows that are thrown by the early morning sunlight streaming through the central window.
Equipment: Canon DSLR 5D Mk II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L, RAW conversion using Adobe Lightroom 3.6