New York City traffic never knew what hit it yesterday (May 23). I am confident more than a few drivers (including one city bus driver) learned to never mess with a Sailor driving a large government van at speed carrying emergency media gear to a major event!
Today is the first event of Fleet Week. The ships don’t arrive until tomorrow, but the Navy Band Northeast is performing in Central Park today. The is the first event of the week.
Two of my Sailors from the Navy Public Affairs Support Element East (NPASE East) went out to cover it while the rest of my team and the team from Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic (CNRMA), set up the Media Operations Center (MOC) in Pier 92 on the Hudson River. My Sailors were going to shoot photos, get some video, and use a CNMRA Ipad to do a Facebook Live broadcast.
The concert started at noon and was going to run until 1:15 p.m.
The call came into the MOC at 11:45. The guys’ mics weren’t working. The one Sailor doing video could not get any audio. This can happen; no matter how well you “smoke check” your gear before going on a job, electronics can decide to simply not work. They had no spare mic since only one guy took a video kit (no reason to carry spare video gear in the other Sailor’s photo kit). So one of Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (MC1; she’s my Leading Petty Officer and supervising my team) pulls out a spare mic from another kit, we grab the keys and go tearing off in the van.
The two vans we brought from NPASE East are both large vans. They have to be in order to carry all our media gear, our luggage, and us. New York City streets are narrow, crowded, and one often discovers lane markers are nothing more than linear street art.
The most direct route to Central Park from Pier 92 took us through construction zones where three lanes of traffic were compressed into one. Try getting three city buses, a dozen angry taxi cabs, one black sedan with diplomatic license plates, two pedal-powered penny cabs, and an impatient chief petty officer operating a large government van to occupy the same space at the same time.
It was not a pretty sight.
When driving in New York, do as the New Yorkers do! Lane markers are suggestions. Stop lights are great and you never block and intersection…unless you are halfway through it and the entire line of cars ahead of you stops abruptly as a hotel van stops, backs up, and begins to parallel park.
That was an experience—sitting in the middle of “the box” as it’s called. Four lanes of traffic on 34th street were force-parked next to me, their bumpers nearly touching the van my MC1 and I were in, their collective middle fingers directing a symphony of their horns with all the gusto of a Broadway conductor.
It got to a point where I had to cut off taxis, other cars…I even cut off an entire city bus (I’m proud of that one!). I am not advocating unsafe vehicle operation at all. Rather it was more a situation of me having to simply accept reality and drive like New Yorkers drive…otherwise my MC1 and I were going nowhere.
We finally got to Central Park and, utilizing the privilege our special vehicle passes gave us, turned down some otherwise illegal roads and parked in a place otherwise illegal to park in. However, the event passes we have for Fleet Week allow us access to these restricted areas.
We got to the band shell in time to get our teammates back on track with working audio.
I got to see my first-ever Fleet Week event. That band was drawing in a huge crowd. Central park is wonderful; I haven’t been in it (much less New York) since 2010. It felt very good to be back, even briefly. The crowds hiking and walking and biking and sitting and enjoying a day out were energetic, friendly, and wildly diverse.
And then the short, two-hour drive back to Pier 92 was an adventure in its own right, especially as I followed two NYPD motorcycle officers out of the park…and watched them run the red lights ahead of me. Ah, New York!
Today was spent on the piers in Manhattan as the fleet came in. USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) is the lead ship and is berthed at Pier 88 right next to the World War II aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (CV 11). On Pier 92 is the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Hamilton (WMSL-753) and the Royal Canadian Navy vessel HMCS Glace Bay (MM 701). The cruisers USS San Jacinto (CG 56) and USS Monterey (CG 61) are berthed in Brooklyn. Other ships are at Staten Island and elsewhere on Manhattan.
My cell phone did incredible work today. My Sailors were covering the arrivals of Kearsarge with the big rigs—the Nikon D5s. They captured some impressive imagery (still and video). I used my phone to cover the arrivals of all three ships here between Pier 88 and 92 (Kearsarge, Hamilton, and Glace Bay). I was able to upload images to Facebook and Instagram in real team. 21st century photojournalism.
Might be going to the 9/11 Memorial tomorrow to cover the U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill team…if the weather holds. There’s a 90% chance of rain. I hope the rain stays off the island. I first saw Ground Zero in late 2002 after The Pile had been cleared and it was just a hole in the ground. Saw it off and on during visits to the city while I taught at the Defense Information School.
I’d like to see the memorial finished.