It’s a gray, humid afternoon in downtown Brooklyn. The sky is overcast, and all color has been leached from the landscape: muted grays and browns of buildings and streets are offset by sudden pops of color from passing taxis.
The pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge is deserted, but for the occasional passerby – a potbellied man pushing a stroller; a sweaty, red-shirted jogger panting by in the humid air. Cars whiz by on either side of the walkway, north to Manhattan on the right, and south into Brooklyn on the left.
As the familiar silhouette of the bridge draws near, one building is in prominent view: that of the Watchtower, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publication, a stocky building with an eager sign saying “Read God’s Word, The Holy Bible, Daily!” Walkers glance at it curiously before moving on. A digital clock atop the Watchtower building reads 6:30 pm, and the red flashing digits indicate the temperature is 22 degrees Celsius.
The pedestrian traffic picks up as the water comes into sight. There are four visible categories: bikers, joggers, casual walkers, and tourists, the latter easily distinguished by the cameras swinging from their necks and wrists. In couples, packs, or one by one, they come across the Brooklyn Bridge.
The left side of the walkway is reserved for pedestrians, the signs say, and the right for bikers, but not everyone respects the rules, particularly when snapping pictures.
“Watch out, watch out, watch out!” yells a tall black man, standing upright on his bicycle as he races past. A man wearing glasses yanks the woman next to him out of the way.
“You were about two inches from being decked with a handlebar!” he says to her. Her ponytail bobs in agreement. Just ahead, a father runs after his kid, who is happily giggling as he zooms down the walkway, helmet skewed to one side and curly blonde locks spilling out from underneath.
“Stop, stop! Slow down,” the dad shouts in a thickly accented voice, as his brow furrows.
A couple behind him laugh as they hold hands. The girl is wearing an all-black outfit, and her apple-red, bowtied galoshes stand out like the taxicabs on this gray day.
The Manhattan skyline looms nearer, and the tips of the skyscrapers fade into the clouds and are lost to sight. There is the constant low roar and rumble of traffic on either side; a sea of red tail lights heading on the right, and another stream of white headlights on the left.
There’s a lot of construction taking place on the bridge, to the chagrin of those hoping to enjoy the view. A good part of the walk is obscured by a white tarp covering the top and one side of the walkway. As it gets darker, the gray sky takes on a bluish tinge and quickly fades to midnight blue. The headlights of bikers light up the walkway.
At the center of the bridge, dozens of people are gathered in the twilight dusk as the main structure of the bridge looms above. Some are chattering, jostling for a better picture in front of the camera. Other, quieter souls are silent, plugged into their headphones, staring out at the sea and the lights of boats making headway across the water.
On one side, Manhattan’s skyscrapers light up the horizon; on the other, smaller and slightly less luminous, are Brooklyn’s. The group is clustered in front of the Manhattan skyline; the Brooklyn side is bare. Yet of all the people heading across the bridge tonight, the vast majority are heading south, into Brooklyn.
A petite blonde photographer with a gelled pixie cut stands by the railing, taking long exposures with a camera mounted on a tripod. Next to her stand a group of Italians, reeking of cigarettes. A multitude of languages make their way through the air: Russian, Spanish, Japanese.
After the brief glimpse of skyline, more construction: two aluminum panels flank the walkway, obscuring everything but the dark, starless sky above.
“Is it going to be like this the whole way down?” One woman worriedly asks, eyeing the distressing lack of landscape. Yet there is plenty to admire, if one looks closely: the metal siding is held together by wooden planks littered with graffiti. There are the standard declarations of love (“Pasquale loves Kerry,” “MF hearts CF”) and gratuitous expletives. There are numerous Twitter, instagram and Tumblr handles, political exhortations (“END THE FED”) and nonsense remarks (“Mr. Teeth will eat the whole world!”). Thousands upon thousands of signatures, tags, and drawings span the length of the bridge from the Manhattan side to the midpoint.
A woman pauses in her perusal of the graffiti to look at the man beside her.
“You okay?” she says. .
“Yeah,” he answers, not so convincingly.
“I think this is the point of no return,” she says. They’re about a third of the way across. The Watchtower clock reads 7:35. And still, people are pouring into Brooklyn.