A Walk on the High Line

by Joseph McKeown

It’s one of the last warm mornings in September. Fall is coming, I know, but today is hot and humid, and I’m going to enjoy it. I begin my walk on the High Line in the Meatpacking District near our office—Gansevoort and Washington Streets, where workers are finishing up construction on the new Whitney Museum of American Art building, scheduled to open in 2015. I ascend the “slow stairs” (called this because of the long and gradual ascent through the beams and structure) and enter the High Line at the Gansevoort Woodland, which has raised planting beds with greater soil depth for the Pennsylvania sedge and redbud trees that grow in this area—at least so says the High Line Field Guide published by Friends of the High Line.

Nope, don't see anyone having sex.

Nope, don't see anyone having sex.

From this spot on the High Line I can enjoy the foliage and landscape—“based on the wild, self-seeded nature that grew on the structure after the trains stopped running.” (Again, Field Guide). Or I can easily look up at the floor-to-ceiling windows of The Standard Hotel to see if there are any naked people having sex. Nope, not today. Disappointing. I haven’t seen naked people having sex at The Standard in quite a while (our office windows have a good view of The Standard, and every so often someone will shout to look out the windows.)

Down beside the future Whitney, I see Weichsel Beef ("Fresh Beef and Lamb City Cut"). It’s one of the last meat purveyors in the neighborhood, which used to house about two hundred purveyors at its peak. Those who visited our Meatpacking District office in our early years will remember the hanging meat outside the front door in the mornings.

I see the first of the featured artwork. It’s a piece called God Box by Isabelle Cornaro whose “monolithic blocks resemble sixteenth-century wunderkammer or artifacts from ancient cultures presented in a time capsule.”

Next to me is a woman leading a plant life tour. To that end, Mark Dion's A Field Guide and Handbook (different than other Field Guide) contains illustrations and descriptions of some of the High Line’s botanical highlights, including: Tree of Heaven, Chicory, Joe Pye Weed, Queen Anne’s Lace, Butterfly Milkweed, Indian Rhubarb, and Purple Lovegrass.

It also lists mammals you can see on the High Line: the brown rat, gray squirrel, meadow vole, and big brown bat. And birds: Laughing Gull, Song Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Red-Tailed Hawk, Palm Warbler, and European Starling. And insects: Honey Bee, Tortoiseshell Butterfly, Twelve-Spotted Skimmer, and the American Cockroach. 

I don’t see any these at the moment, but just listen to the traffic of the West Side Highway. And a power saw. Ah, New York—a permanent construction zone.

The tourists are out today, taking lots of pictures. Everyone here seems to be enjoying themselves. Good for them. But not every New Yorker is a fan. Jeremiah Moss, author of the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York (tagline: “A bitterly nostalgic look at a city in the process of going extinct”), calls the High Line another chapter in the story of New York City’s transformation into Disney World.” He does have a point. It's a nightmare on the weekends.

Two men are playing backgammon.

Women in white pants walk and chat. It’s after Labor Day, ladies.

Somewhere below me is Hector’s. Our office used to order from Hector’s every morning. I'd get a toasted and buttered blueberry muffin—damn that was good.

People are staring at a locked fridge filled with drinks. One bottle with red liquid lists the ingredients:

infused vodka
axe body wash
protein powder
red bull

It’s more artwork. This piece by Josh Kline is called Skittles.

I pass under The Standard Hotel. In my ten years of living in New York City, I’ve never been to the Boom Boom Room in Top of The Standard—one of my great regrets. I did though once see Lou Reed entering the Standard Restaurant. I should’ve asked him to go to The Boom Boom Room with me. Too late now.

Here’s the Diane von Furstenburg building with the glass shape on top. From this spot I can see our offices. There’s Manny’s office on the corner. I wave. Does he see me?

Hi, Manny! I shout. Hi Manny! Manny!

The sun reflects off his windows. He’s in there somewhere, I know. Hard at work, I’m sure.

People like sitting in the sun. Thanks, Diane!

People like sitting in the sun. Thanks, Diane!

I walk past the Diller-Von Furstenberg Sundeck, where people are enjoying the intense sun coming down, and others (mostly children) are across the pathway dipping their feet and toes in the thin layer of water that runs over this part of the surface. I decide it’s time for some food and drink. In the Chelsea Market Passage, the High Line has plenty of options: Blue Bottle Coffee (Protima’s favorite), People’s Pops, L’Art del Gelato (who doesn’t love gelato?), Delaney BBQ, The Taco Truck, and Melt Bakery. I decided unsurprisingly on the tacos.  The al pastor and barbacoa tacos from The Taco Shop are both dry and flavorless, with tough tortilla shells. I’m disappointed. But Melt’s Crackly Chocolate Cookies and Malted Chocolate Rum Ice Cream Sandwich cheers me up. (Another day on the High Line I get the brisket with potato salad, bean salad, and coleslaw from Delaney BBQ. The brisket is moist with a strong peppery flavor and the sides are all fresh and tasty—definitely recommended).

This is the color of the Hudson River.

This is the color of the Hudson River.

After I finish my lunch I look at Spencer Finch’s stained glass installation, The River That Flows Both Ways, consisting of hundreds of colored glass panes. To get these colored panes, Finch traveled by tugboat on the Hudson River past the High Line taking photos (one very minute) of the river’s surface. Each pane is based on a single pixel point in each photograph; they all show the changing colors of the river with variations depending on the angle of the sun and viewer. At night blue and white LED lights illuminate the space.

I press on. Here is the High Line store. There’s a poster titled Walking the High Line by photographer Kevin McDermott. It’s a naked man wearing boots. On the High Line. The naked man’s name is Micky. The “i” in "Line" is strategically placed over part of Micky’s body. Maybe Protima will let me have a similar photo of myself for this post? Perhaps a friendly tourist will take this photo for me?   

As I keep a lookout for this lucky tourist, I go onto the Tenth Avenue Square, where visitors can sit and watch directly above the uptown traffic in the mini amphitheater-like space. It’s interesting, I suppose, for those who haven’t seen much New York City traffic before. But this is my view (albeit a slightly different angle) from my apartment every day.

I pass the La Newyorkina cart, which sells Mexican ice and sweets. On my right I can see the Empire State Building. More art: Sensitive 4 Detergent by Yngve Holen, who “investigates our increasing intrigue with technology in his sculptural accumulations of every day objects.” It’s a washing machine drum and a suds container.

Hey, fellows. Let's do some stretching.

Hey, fellows. Let's do some stretching.

I go past the Chelsea Grasslands (“known for high, golden grasses and vibrant wildflower displays from mid-spring to mid-fall,” says the Field Guild), and the Chelsea Thicket where the original train tracks are embedded into the walkway. I go onto 23rd Street, where I can see east crosstown and west to Jersey. I walk over the Half King Restaurant on 23rd. I don’t like that bar. They wouldn’t let me dance there. A man walks by me with this shirt: “Stay back bitch I’m allergic to stupid.” At the 23rd Street Lawn, two men with their shirts off are flexing their muscles. Perhaps they would take my photo? No, they’re too busy talking to each other about their awesome bodies.

I imagine the High Line before all this, when it was just a wild, untamed landscape. Photographer Joel Sternfeld makes this possible with his book, Walking the High Line, published in 2001 when real estate and political interests wanted to tear the High Line down and develop the area commercially. The photos are romantic and haunting. 

Next up is the 26th Street Viewing Spur, to view crosstown traffic heading east. A girl is on her cellphone: “I’m like on the High Line!” she yells.

Onward. The Chrysler Building is to my right. I think it’s prettier than the Empire State Building. I go past the long Radial Bench and Plantings, both curving toward the Hudson River and West Side Rail Yards. More artwork: Realism Marching Triumphantly Into the City by Gavin Kenyon. This sculpture resembles a “crumbled equestrian monument from a distant past.” Perhaps appropriately, this is where the High Line used to end—until this past Sunday.

The new portion of the High Line features a minimal and sparse landscape and original railroad tracks where visitors can walk.

The new portion of the High Line features a minimal and sparse landscape and original railroad tracks where visitors can walk.

My impressions of the new High Line portion: lots of benches, exposed railroad tracks, and sparse and scattered plantings that resemble the High Line when it was wild and untamed. Also: planes landing in Newark and helicopters taking off from the West 30th Street Heliport. It features an unobstructed view of the Hudson River (cool) and New Jersey (with it's burgeoning “skyline”). Art in this High Line portion consists of The Evolution of God, an installation by Argentine artist Adrián Villar Rojas designed to disintegrate over time. In his piece, Mr. Villar integrates “organic elements such as seeds, vegetables, and other perishable components inspired by the natural landscape on the High Line as well as non-perishable items such as clothing, sneakers, and rope.” Overlooking the West Side Rail Yards filled with Long Island Railroad trains, this portion of the High Line also features the Pershing Square Beams, where the original beams and girders have been revealed and a play area created for children. There are  also movable rail switches for all to play with. The High Line curves nicely around the yards and ends on 34th Street, one and a half miles from the start.


One evening a few days later I’m back on the High Line. I go to Terroir at the Porch, the High Line outpost of the popular wine bar, and get a drink. It’s lively but not overcrowded; the staff is friendly. With an adventurous wine list and some good beers (I have a crisp Singlecut lager), it’s a pleasant way to experience the High Line in the evening. After a drink (and Terroir Fries with garlic, Parmesan, parsley, and aioli) I walk part of the High Line. The lights on the High Line (by L’Observatoire International) were “designed to gently illuminate the park’s low lying elements” (thank you, Field Guide) and they succeed. I think it’s finally time for my photo op. Excuse me, sir!