Friday, September 25, 2009

Day 1, continued. The backside of America

New Rochelle has a sweet funky municipal marina, with buildings in that cool Thirties ocean-liner style. (Of course I forgot to take a picture, which will also be a recurring theme here.) There is a restaurant in the marina, and I decided to go have dinner there.

This project proved more difficult than you might expect. I couldn't find the entrance. I could see the windows of the dining room on the second floor, facing out onto the water, but there was no stairway up to it, and no door. I walked around to the street side of the restaurant, which turned out to be a blank wall with a small door -- obviously a service entrance to the kitchen -- where several busboys were lounging and smoking cigarettes and conversing in languid drawling Portuguese.

Finally, after about 20 minutes of fruitless prowling around the perimeter, the light dawned. There is an elevated parking garage next to the restaurant. Another trip back to the street and then down the ramp into the garage and voila, an awning and a double door and a sign and a board with the day's specials.

Moral: If you want to find the front of anything in America, pretend you're a car.

The water side of the restaurant -- and this is true of most waterfront structures in America -- presents a gaze but not a face. It is a place intended to be seen from, not to be seen or approached. It has no expression, no iconography, it makes no sign to you, conveys no message of welcome or grandeur or menace. It is not expecting you to be there, and you always catch it unawares -- en déshabillé, so to speak.

As for the actual street frontage -- since the building is right on the street, there's no room for a parking lot in between. Now the public face of any American building must give onto a parking lot. This is literally the law. You will approach in a car. You will no more approach on foot than you will approach in a boat.

There are alternatives. Here's Dublin:

Here's Venice:

From a boat, as from a train, you see the backside of America, in all its unsuspecting bare-assedness.


  1. From trains -- same story, but maybe even funkier. Back yards, laundry, bum camps, trash, little sheds and the stuff you put behind the shed. I always wish I was going slower and the windows were cleaner so I could use the camera.

  2. Funkier because closer, I think. Back in the day, when you could stand in the vestibule between cars by an open window, you could have tossed one of those rock-hard dining-car biscuits right into any number of such backyard midden-heaps.