Whenever I arrive in the United States, I am never really sure just what kinds of changes I will encounter. I’m sometimes afraid I will return one day and hardly recognise this country at all.
I have to admit, however, that I am comforted by the assurance that there are certain aspects of life here that will never, ever change for as long as the troposphere allows people to survive on the planet. One of the most persistent traditions in the New York area is the traffic jam on the Van Wyck Expressway. I guess the term “expressway” was coined to convey intent rather than actual confluence. Yes, the vehicles come together…but then they stop. This 14-mile stretch of road has been home to fifty years of continuous backup. While there are times when I have been known to exaggerate a point or two, in this case I shit you not. It’s like watching decades of Blade Runner. I can’t recall there ever being a time when my car didn’t have to come to a complete standstill at least once.
The driver of the car that came to pick me up, a friendly man from Uruguay who had lived in America since the 80s and was planning on returning in October for a wedding, and it was stop and go, for a half a mile or so, while we exchanged impressions about the heat, which had been horrendous in Madrid that year. At least it was dry, I told him, and he agreed it was better. Somehow, though, he managed to thread us through much of the sluggish transit without too much delay. Then, as usual, we picked up speed and coasted by Citi Field and the New York Times. The Lincoln bobbed up and down over the potholes with muted thumps, another timeless piece of local music.
Once we got to the Whitestone Bridge, I looked left because the span affords one of the most magnificent views of the New York skyline that a person can have. Expecting to find the usual cutout of a string of concrete, iron and glass mountains at the lower end, capped by the the new World Trade Center, then blocks of foothills before the Empire State Building crowned the lofty middle of the island, I was struck by the presence of a needle-like stick towering above what I would guess to be Central Park. Towering above the city. Towering above the Empire State Building. It was so skinny, it looked as if it would blow over in a breeze.
“That wasn’t there last year, was it?” I asked in Spanish thinking he might appreciate my effort.
“No, it wasn’t,” he replied in English. I guess he didn’t share my enthusiasm, so I returned to my native tongue.
“It’s not something Trump is building,” I furthered disparagingly.
“Nope. Not this time. It was built for the Russians.”
I was supposed to be going to Russia the very next day. Only something extreme, like my father suffering a stroke, could have changed that.
“What do you mean it was built for the Russians?” Hadn’t we just sent our latest and most sophisticated warplanes over to Europe to make Putin tremble in his shoes, why would we be dethroning the city’s most famous landmark to cater to their whims? That couldn’t be right. And it wasn’t, really. 47 Park Avenue, as it has been plainly dubbed, has become the tallest residential building in the United States, and apparently the third highest overall. The reason the Russians are implicated in this all is that they are supposed to be the only ones who can afford to pay for the astronomical prices being listed, especially for the upper floors. Apparently, one flat per story. And one story per flat.
“I can’t believe anyone would even allow that to happen in that part of New York. I don’t even think Trump would be so sacrilegious.”
What Trump was doing instead was build a golf course on top of an old dump. You can see it right next to the Whitestone Bridge toll booth. It’s called “Trump Links”. Every time I think of links golf I think of Payne Stewart, the player who wore knickerbockers, a vest and a cap. In 1999, Payne’s learjet depressurized with him and four others on board. They all died, but the plane kept going in the same direction until it ran out of fuel and nosedived into a remote field in South Dakota. That’s a fairly far away place for anyone to perish. Thank God he was already dead. I guess.