Scenes of a city's grandeur and need
On Wednesday evenings I drive the Coalition for the Homeless van through the streets of New York City.
I meet my fellow volunteers at 7 p.m. at 51st Street. We're a diverse lot: lawyer, designer, playwright, and doctor. The van is loaded with homemade chicken-vegetable soup, donated bagels, milk, and oranges; enough to serve several hundred people.
We proceed down Park Avenue past St. Bartholomew's Church, the Waldorf-Astoria and skyscraper corporate headquarters, turning east at 46th Street. For security reasons, at Second Avenue, in the area of the United Nations, the side streets are blocked by concrete barriers and sanitation trucks filled with sand.
Our first stop is at 34th Street by the East River. Here, homeless men from a nearby shelter gather each night. They are a lively group, chatting with us and among themselves. The fact that it is not too cold tonight encourages conversation.
We continue on our way, past the dark swirling waters of the East River and splendid views of the Triborough Bridge and Queensboro Bridge at 59th Street.
We go onto FDR Drive, passing under the Williamsburg Bridge. Then comes one of my favorite sights, the magnificent Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, side by side, spanning the East River. A "W" train travels slowly over the Manhattan Bridge toward Coney Island and the sea.
Coming off FDR Drive, we see more concrete barriers and trucks filled with sand. These protect police headquarters, the Metropolitan Correctional Center, and the United States Court House.
At Centre Street, in a parking lot surrounded by the three city courts serving mostly poor people - Family Court, Civil Court, and Criminal Court - we provide food to homeless men and Chinese grandmothers.
The grandmothers live in nearby Chinatown and come to obtain food for their grandchildren. (In warm weather, the grandchildren accompany them.) The children's fathers likely work as waiters in Chinatown restaurants and the mothers in garment factories. The grandmothers are both caregivers and foragers. They prefer milk to soup for the children. Tonight we have extra milk.
We continue down Broadway past City Hall and St. Paul's Chapel. Here George Washington came to pray following his inauguration as president at Federal Hall.
Close by, under the glare of powerful lights, is ground zero. Work continues night and day.
Our last scheduled stop is the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan. It is always the coldest spot, with winds whipping off the harbor waters. Staten Islanders rush by to catch the ferry.
After being served, the homeless men return to the ferry building, where it is warm, or travel back and forth on the boats.
Across the street is a bust of Herman Melville, honoring his birthplace at 6 Pearl Street. Melville, in his short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener," and Charles Dickens in "David Copperfield," eloquently write of the "houseless," the term Dickens uses.
If food remains, we deliver it to flop houses on the Bowery. I return the van to a parking lot at 63rd Street and 11th Avenue.
New York. City of bridges. City under siege. City of rich and poor. City of joy and suffering.