Since 2001, the city has worked on transforming a ginormous landfill on Staten Island into a public park more than twice the size of Central Park. While work continues, your only chance to see the wetlands, meadows and birds of Freshkills Park is on a free two-hour tour (by bus and foot). Last year, killdeers, ospreys and even a bald eagle were spotted, so keep your eyes peeled. Register at www.nycgovparks.org to secure a place. Meet at Eltingville Transit Center, 90 –98 Wainwright Ave at Richmond Ave, Staten Island (212-788-8277). Next tour Mar 27 at 10:30am; free
*Doo-doo...do-da-do... do-do-do-do-do-do-do...do-da-do (my alarm goes a little something like that)..."Dismiss" (why can't my blackberry just call it "snooze" like every other alarm clock?)... <alarm repeat>... "Dismiss"... <alarm repeat>... Phone, you win. I'm up. You suck. It makes me even angrier that you try to wake me up politely. I hate you.
*Author's Note: I revised the first verse of my exact alarm sound approximately 20 times. That's 30 minutes of my life I'll never get back so you're not allowed to move on until you get the tune right. Say it out loud. Some of you may even have this exact alarm! If you do, you know how bad you hate it!
I can't believe I'm actually waking up THIS early on a SUNDAY to visit STATEN ISLAND for a BIRD TOUR. I don't even wake up this early during the week for work. In my college years, I didn't even experience daylight on Saturdays and Sundays (how far I've come in life). My alarm was set for 6:30, leaving me 2.5 hours to get to my 10 am bird tour (assuming an on-time departure of 7:30) and giving me plenty of buffer time to pick up a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich along the way - vegetable bagel toasted, 2 eggs, shaken not stirred.
Google maps told me it was 1.5 hours by bus (if I take the bus leaving from Manhattan, which is more convenient but costs more). Reluctant to shell out the extra coin and given my travel expertise, I plot my own route, telling myself that I'm saving both time and money by doing it MY way.
I make it out of my door at 8:00 am (30 minutes late), catch the 6, transfer to the 4/5 and then transfer back to the 6 because of construction. By the time I get off downtown, it's now 5 minutes until 9:00 am. To get to Staten Island, I have to take the ferry, which runs approximately every 30 minutes. That means I have approximately 5 minutes to get there or else I will have to wait another half an hour for the next ferry. I sprint through the park and make it to the ferry just as it's boarding. Phew. Made it. Barely.
I fight through the crowd of young, hipster french kids and sprint off this mother$#^# boat (I'm OFF a boat!). It's now approximately 9:30 am, and the bus leaves every 20 minutes. I figured that I already missed it, but that didn't keep me from trying to make it anyhow. I make a mad dash that would've given Michael Johnson a run for his money in the '96 Summer Games over to my the bus stop. Ramp B (where my stop is supposed to be) - closed. Shit. Where do I go now? Now, I'm running around as if I'm a contestant on the Amazing Race asking everyone in sight "Where is the bus to Freshkills Park?" They look at me like I'm nuts. One guy tells me that it's behind a couple pylons. Ok? I sprint across the parking lot, and as I get to a series of buses, one pulls up right in front of me. Yes, it's my bus. Dude. Sweet. I proceed to board the metal beast, and the bus driver stops me - only disabled and elderly people can cut to the front of the line, kid. You'll have to wait your turn. I wait for my turn impatiently, knowing that I've come this far, timed everything perfectly, and I'm not missing this bus. MADE IT.
It's now a little after 9:30 am, and I've been traveling for over 1.5 hours (and according to Google maps I should be there already - had I taken the bus from Manhattan). I have to be close. All right. I've been patiently riding for 10 minutes now. I should definitely be there already. What's going on? Did I miss my stop? I can't take it anymore. Time to spring into action. I un-wedge myself from the enormous lady that keeps falling asleep on top me (yes on top of me), fight my way through the crowd of people and strollers to the front of the bus and do the unthinkable - I break the "golden rule" of commuter transit - I attempt to communicate with the bus driver WHILE the bus is in motion. How close are we to the Eltingville Transit Center, I ask. Bus driver: about 50 more stops... 50?!!? Maybe they're short stops? They have to be. It can't be that far. In my most polite Mr. Roger's voice, "Thank you, sir, and do you know how much longer that'll be?" His reply, 30 minutes. No way. Really?
I arrive at an abandoned parking lot at approximately 10:15 am (15 minutes late). No cars in sight. I missed the tour.
While I was on the bus though, I did get some local knowledge passed to me from the driver:
**Just before arriving at the Transit Center Parking Lot, the bus driver, who was really cool, asks me what I'm doing ALL THE WAY OUT HERE. My reply, I'm going to Freshkills Park (I left out the bird tour part so that he didn't lose ALL respect for me). His reply, "YOU MEAN FRESH KILLS DUMP? THERE'S NO PARK ALL THE WAY OUT HERE." Dump? "Yeah, it's the largest garbage dump in the world. There are 8 land features on earth that you can make out from outer space. You know, like the Great Wall [of China] is one. Fresh Kills dump is another one."
**Author's Note: I checked his claim, and according to earth911.com, he was right: Freshkills Park was once was the world’s largest landfill (almost three times the size of Central Park and the largest park developed by New York City in more than 100 years.) During its peak, the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island received 20 barges carrying 650 tons of garbage each day; by 2001, it was 225 feet high and could be seen from space.
What do I do now? I'm here already, so I explore of course. The only way of getting a better vantage point of the inside of the "park" is to walk up the highway (literally I'm the only pedestrian IN SIGHT at this point). As I get closer to the "park", the beauty overwhelms me...
- All right, needless to say, this place is a mess - a total dump - literally. The good news: they're doing a tremendous job cleaning it up. Transforming the largest dumping ground in the world into a park is no easy task. Someday this place will be beautiful I'm sure. Maybe there are some parts of the park that are ready for the public? If so, I didn't find them on today's visit. If you know where they are let me know, and I'll check them out sometime.
- It's not until you pay a visit to the largest landfill in the world that you realize the effects of your wastefulness. When I'm too busy to take 2 minutes to separate the recyclables from the disposables, it doesn't seem like a big deal at all to just throw everything away in the garbage. 75% of all of the garbage I saw today were plastics or other things that COULD HAVE BEEN recycled. Big wake up call. Everyone should pay a visit to Freshkills Park before they clean it up just for the shock therapy. Trust me. You will do a complete 90 degree turn and change from being a nature-dissin' jerk like me before my trip to a more eco-conscious jerk like me now.
- If you decide to go on a bird tour in Staten Island and have convinced yourself that you're a better navigator than Google maps... trust me, you're not.
- DO NOT FEED THE CATS: When I got back to the Eltingville Transit Center, I waited 20 minutes to catch my bus back to the ferry. As I'm sitting outside on a bench checking my e-mail, I glance up... there's a kitty sitting in the woods. Cute. I go back to checking my e-mail. I glance up again... there's another kitty. This must be a kitty respawning zone. Every time a kitty loses one of it's 9 lives anywhere in the world, it reappears here in the woods behind the Eltingville Transit Center. I swear it. I finish reading my e-mail. (If I look up and see another kitty, I'm going to lose it.) Here it goes... another cat! I need photographic evidence to document my theory. It has to be a sign. After I take the picture, I glance over at a shed around the corner, and there's a sign that says "Do not feed the cats." For some reason, I thought this was hilarious. Where do you even buy a sign that says "Do not feed the cats."? And why not just take the cats to a shelter or something? Isn't that easier? I snap a photo of the sign, put my phone away and as I'm walking back over to the parking lot, my bus pulls away. 30 more minutes of my life that I'll never get back, but stumbling upon a kitty portal IS a pretty rare event. This was by far the most important find of the day. I don't know how I'm going to top this one.