Every night as a kid, after I was supposed to be tucked into bed, I tuned in my radio to listen to Jean Shepherd on WOR. A few years later, when I worked at WOR, I got the chance to engineer for Shepherd. Shep was always telling us to keep our eyes open. For instance he told me to stand at a certain place on 5th avenue, I would be standing on Murray Hill, which up until that time was only a telephone exchange for me. From there I could see the contours of Manhattan’s hills looking toward the Empire State Building. He also liked to remind us that New York was a seaport, a fact that most of the people living or working in the city had lost track of. People came and went into Manhattan in a tube, the last Erie-Lakawanna railroad’s ferryboats had stopped crossing from Jersey City and Hoboken. For most people the docks were dirty, littered, and dangerous. The elevated FDR drive cut off much of the East River from the city. He told me to get to know the port. When he was speaking to me he was speaking to the converted because my Grandfather had been a seaman and as a kid we visited boats on the docks and took as many ferries and excursion boats as possible, but I took Shep’s point.
Today most of the docks have moved to Jersey, at the Port Authority container facility at Port Newark next to the airport and to Brooklyn. The loss of the docks has made the waterfront more accessible to the public, with parks, marinas and the return of ferry service, many small catamarans (some built in Sitka) again link several points in Jersey with several points in the City. Two routes even cross the Raritan Bay to take commuters from behind Sandy Hook into New York. The smelly Fulton Fish Market has moved to the Bronx now and is being planned for development into public space. The South Street Seaport is a seafaring museum. The ball that drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve on Times Square imitates the ball that dropped at South Street every day a 1 PM (an hour after “shooting the sun” to determine accurately high noon), allowing mariners to set their clocks. Governor’s Island will soon be open to the public after more than a century being either a fort or Coast Guard base. The same thing has happened, to even a greater degree, in Jersey City. A great way to see New York is across water, from a boat.