Brooklyn’s DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) provides a cracking view of Manhattan, with a distant Empire State Building framed by the Manhattan Bridge supports.
Images taken from a certain vantage point scream New York as loudly as a hungover Audrey Hepburn jewellery shopping with a bagel in her hand.
Here’s the thing about my version of this photographic cliché, published to my Instagram account.
It’s not original nor creative nor technically ground breaking. But it does punctuate an unexpected highlight on my New York travels.
Plagued by jet lag, I’d been awake since about four in the morning the day I took my photo, finally creeping out of bed and pulling on my coat around five, before sneaking out of the room with my camera.
From the hotel lobby I scoured Google Maps for somewhere to go and noticed the nearby Brooklyn Bridge, star of countless movie scenes and social media posts.
So I pulled up my hood and activated my data to wander through deserted Bowery streets in search of the famous span.
A few old Chinese men shuffled past me as I walked, their heads down, collars up. But otherwise the streets were ghostly. Shop fronts shuttered.
Maps took me past the New York County Supreme Court building, lifeless but for a single food van on the pavement serving something hot to a security guard.
Then the bridge came into view, its familiar cables and stone towers glowing orange, and I hunted impatiently for the pedestrian walkway amid the tangle of roads leading up to it.
I walked silently across, unprepared for the quiet thrill of this solo trek and grinning like a lunatic as I waited for the monster metropolis around me to blink and shake itself awake.
A few lonely cars and trucks travelled the lanes on either side. But apart from a couple of cyclists heading into Manhattan, no one disturbed me on a walkway generally teeming with tourist traffic*.
At the midpoint, two NYC police cars, mini versions only one seat wide, parked tail to tail, poised for action.
The East River burbled below. Lady Liberty’s lights sparkled in the distance. I kept a lookout for rats.
The bridge isn’t long and delivered me to Brooklyn well before dawn.
I bunkered down in a coffee shop near the famous photo street, a tall double-shot latte and blueberry scone keeping me occupied as I watched the light turn from ink to Lavender and a trickle of tripod-laden backpacks trudge past the window.
I thought I’d timed my dawn photo shoot perfectly, but as I rounded the bend into Water Street and approached the classic vantage point at the Washington Street corner, a fire engine screamed past and pulled up in front of the brownstone buildings framing the view.
I took a few snaps, but the truck’s flashing blue and red lights marred the effect.
I abandoned my efforts and instead wandered over to chat with two men, one young and one older, huddled over a camera.
The father and son team from Hershey Pennsylvania were taking a time lapse series of dawn breaking through the bridge supports.
We talked travel and shared stories about exploring New York (they could offer more than I on that subject) before the fire truck finally left and I could take my shot.
Dawn was done and I’d missed my chance at that cherry. But the early morning light was still lovely and only one Insta Star had lingered to blight my view.
So I lifted my camera and went to work, congratulating myself on finally being in the right place at (almost) the perfect time.
As I snapped away, cursing my lens choice and lack of planning, my pocket pinged with a message from Brisbane. A friend hoped we could catch up for Christmas drinks.
“Are you around?”
“No. I’m not,” I messaged back, before taking a photo of DUMBO on my phone and sending it to her.
And in that moment I didn’t mean to gloat. I simply wanted to share my joy at being able to travel across the globe and stand on cobblestone streets and meet fathers and sons from Hershey Pennsylvania and be the one who takes the classic photo with unfamiliar cold brushing her cheeks and jet lag fogging her brain.
Life felt grand.
Consulting Google Maps again for my homeward journey, I figured a circuit would be more fun than a U-turn, and wandered off through commercial alleyways to find the second span.
Manhattan Bridge offered more pinch-me views and this time the light favoured me.
Again, I had the pedestrian walkway all to myself and could stop at will to capture the apricot city skyline, glowing now as the sun bounced off glass facades.
In some places, sections of the bridge’s mesh fencing had been cut and pushed outward and I imagined photographers before me with fat telephoto lenses taking to it impatiently with pocket knives.
Subway trains rumbled past, enjoying their final moments of fresh air, forcing me to brace myself and use faster shutter speeds.
On the Manhattan side of the bridge I looked down on dirty streets and dog walkers, clutching their coffees and breathing out fog. Riotous graffiti decorated red brick buildings, reimagined as six-storey canvases.
My impromptu adventure ended at a Greek revival arch and colonnade, an incongruous dovetailing between the Manhattan Bridge and Chinatown and a fitting finale to my grand tour.
Back at my hotel, The Husband sat on the end of the bed, freshly showered and watching the morning news.
“Hi. Where’ve you been?” he asked without looking up, possibly more intrigued by the weather forecast than my absence from the marital bed.
“Just walking,” I replied, too busy uploading images to elaborate further. Perhaps this note serves as a more fulsome response.
I took this picture (below) of the approach to Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan at 10:30 in the morning, a week after my pre-dawn adventure. I don’t imagine the walk is as much fun with this many fellow travellers.