Hello from New York City (4) – Staten Island and a Random Act of Violence
The Staten Island Ferry is a fabulous institution. It is a huge ferry that departs from a very modern, glass enclosed terminal, holds several thousand people and in just about 20 minutes whisks you over to Staten Island, very close to the Statue of Liberty, and all this for free! One thing we really noticed about New York City is that we definitely love the public transportation system. With our week long pass we have been hopping on an off subways as we please and we have found the transit system to be very efficient, pretty clean and quite safe (for the most part).
The Staten Island Ferry is a great insiders way of sneaking a peak at the Statue of Liberty since it passes pretty close by Ellis Island. Not close enough to take really great pictures with a simple digital camera like mine, but I gave it a shot anyway.
As we got off the ferry terminal on Staten Island I had a bit of a hare-brained idea: I suggested that we board one of the buses that was waiting there, just to hop on and ride around and see the island. Of course I didn’t have a bus map with me, didn’t have any literature about Staten Island, so didn’t know where we were going or what the major destinations were on the island. So we got on the #46 bus without any idea where we were going or how long it was going to take. (I guess I figured how big can the island be? Well, it’s bigger than I thought…).
But we saw a good chunk of Staten Island’s neighbourhoods and there are some pretty nice residential neighbourhoods, although I had expected a more upscale, more landscaped environment. The ethnic mix in the area seemed to be very much characterized by Blacks and Latinos, at least those were pretty much the only people getting on the bus. School had just ended so a bunch of highschool kids had gotten on with us.
Well, we rode the darn bus until the end, which ended up being a non-descript shopping mall called “West Shore Plaza”, where we ended up having a sandwich and strolling around in a sports store which had amazingly good prices on most merchandise. Then finally another bus showed up and we had to run to catch it.
It was a pretty non-eventful bus ride, people of all ages got on and off, then two young black teenage boys got on, but didn’t pay. The bus driver didn’t question them and we just continued the ride. All of a sudden, I heard a big noise, like someone fists hitting another person and all the people in the bus turned around, and the two young men were beating up a young short Latino teenager. It all took just a few seconds, right before a bus stop. The whole event was too quick for anyone else to react, although I have to say, the crowd showed compassion and shock at what had happened. The minute the bus came to a stop, the two guys jumped out and ran away.
Everybody was shocked. The Latino kid was sitting there, rumpled, stunned, not seriously hurt, but had a very pained expression on his face. After he had calmed down he explained that about 8 kids were trying to extract money form him at the bus stop, he said he didn’t have any and gave them an expired transit pass and 2 of the guys followed him onto the bus.
I have never personally witnessed public violence, so this was very shocking to me and I was glad that the kid wasn’t really hurt. But I did feel very sorry for the victim and the whole event left a bad taste in my mouth, particularly since we had had the impression that New York City had felt so clean and safe. As a matter of fact we had commented on that a number of times, of how little litter there was in the street, how few street people or hustlers there were, how there was no graffiti in the subways, and how safe it felt to be taking transit at all hours of the day. We heard that former mayor Rudy Giuliani as well as current mayor Michael Bloomberg have really been cleaning up the city, and it shows. I guess it still doesn’t prevent all violence from happening.
After our return to Manhattan we subwayed it all the way up to 103rd Street and essentially walked all the way down through Central Park, admiring all the recreational facilities and the beauty of this giant green space. Further south we strolled over to 5th Avenue and then down into the Broadway Area just north of Times Square, where we had some quick Italian food at Ray’s Pizza. The evening was pretty chilly, probably only about 12 degrees or so and past 11 we headed back home on the Q train, processing the memories of another packed day and studying the behaviour of our fellow transit riders all the way back.