Brian Hester Reporting
Perhaps you have seen the gigantic American flag that hangs atop the New Jersey tower of the famed George Washington Bridge, (GWB), and wondered how and when does it get hung. I was curious. I also wanted to get a look at the walking path on the bridge itself as it is just one of those, “I live here and have never seen it” items. I am actively searching for public walking areas where socially distant access is possible.
"We believe this is the world's largest free flying flag," George Washington Bridge General Manager Ken Sagrestano said. "This flag is 60 feet by 90 feet. The blue field on the flag is 40 feet by 35 feet. Each stripe is five feet in diameter and each star is about four feet in diameter."
"It is not only to honor all of the veterans and the people who died serving our country, but also to honor all those people who are suffering through the pandemic," Sagrestano said. "So we thought it would be unique to fly the flag while the towers are lit for everyone to see," Sagrestano said.
The flag itself was the big item that I was looking for when I set out on Sunday May 24, the day before the flag was to be on display, to scout my location for a photo the following day. I will normally take at least a few hours to scout a location the day prior to shooting. I parked a few blocks from Historic Fort Lee Park with the intent of walking to the vista in the park that overlooks the bridge and then walking back down, out of the park and to and across the bridge.
What I found was an interesting, diverse, and dynamic slice of Americana on full display both in the park, on the lookout vista, and all along the walking/cycling path on the bridge. Within the park I found people behaving in a respectful and in a socially distant manor, most, if not all wearing masks. I observed people waiting patiently to pay the parking meter. There is only one unit to pay for parking on each lot and this created long lines of people waiting to pay, in addition, most wore no gloves, and all touched the same keypad all day. By the way this was the only drawback I saw in my visit. The park seems very well managed and extremely well cared for at this time.
I encountered a family celebrating Eid. Another pair, two sisters, celebrating a graduation. One family celebrating a son’s return from military deployment. Many others just seeking to grab a small slice of normal with a quick walk in the park. The vibe was friendly and pleasant as are most areas of Fort Lee, NJ. I always enjoy taking photos and speaking with strangers and meeting new people. This day was no different.
A small child danced in a sunlit field, with a what appeared to be a shiny, bright, new Bratz umbrella. I had seen her earlier in my walk when in I had offered to help her family line up a group photo. I snapped a few photos and approached her dad. As I came closer, the group of about 8 family members, sitting at one table overflowing with sweet treats and pastries, some of the women sporting beautiful Eid outfits grew quiet. I stopped about 20 feet away, pulled down my mask, smiled, and greeted them, “Eid Mubarak”. They all smiled and replied. I told the Dad that I had a great picture of his daughter and gave him my email. He approached me slowly holding out a cardboard box. Being from NJ/NYC area we all know this box. Pastries. Baked goods! I loved sweets. He offered me a chocolate covered cream filled pastry. While I have been battling the Pandemic Pounds pretty well the past few weeks, I know I could not refuse as it was a matter of another man’s religious celebration that I was being invited to share. Plus, it was so tasty. He told me I could post the photo of his daughter. Day is good. I love meeting people and capturing happy memories for them to have forever.
As I continued toward the scenic overlook in the park that offers the most magnificent view of the GWB, I encountered two sisters dressed up very nice and setting up a small picnic with a bright red balloon. I inquired about the reason for the balloon. Really this was just an opening for me to say Hi, how are you? What are you celebrating? The graduate seemed very happy with this picnic celebration. I offered some free photos by the bridge. They agreed. Day is good. I love meeting people and capturing happy memories for them to have forever.
Next up, the bridge walking path. From the lookout vista to the bridge is a walk of about a mile. To walk across the bridge is a little under 2 miles in each direction. Along the bridge a narrow, 8-foot-wide, sidewalk is shared by bicycles and pedestrians and is dived down the middle for two-way traffic, leaving about 4 feet on each side. The pedestrians seemed to operate very nicely. The cyclist, or should I call them Bikers? not so much. On each tower there are signs advising cyclists to dismount and walk the bikes around the towers. This is for safety and is due to limited visibility and space. None of the cyclists I observed followed this rule. Some of this bad behavior may not be the fault of the bikers as the signs are only in English and have no pictures. The bridge walk itself generally allowed for lots of social distancing mixed with a few crowded sections. The walkway and bridge are currently under renovation. When that renovation is completed one side will be for cyclists and one side for pedestrians. This should alleviate most of the congestion issues.
As I walked along the bridge, I noticed stickers. Most advertising for some band and or service. A true sign of capitalism. Just slap a sticker on some public property. Somebody even left magnetic representation of their favorite college football team. Still Americana, gotta love the hustle. As I got closer to the middle of the span, I noticed a view of the Statue of Liberty. I could bring Her into focus with a 400mm lens but way off in the distance, approximately 14 miles. I pointed out Lady Liberty in the harbor to two other photogs that were carrying long lens and they seemed happy.
The bridge itself is alive with energy. It sways and bounces with the flow of traffic and the winds remind you that you are several hundred feet above the waterway. In the river below I notice a boat ramp and recreational use of the water via jet skis and small watercraft. I zoomed in on a few of the Jet Skiers for some photos. One of the things about the New York metropolitan area that has always attracted me is the diversity of our population. Humans from all over the world all sharing one city. Getting on an elevator and hearing three or four different languages spoken. Sharing a smile with people when don’t share a common language.
As I exited the bridge all set to return the next day for my flag photo, I encountered one last person, Zee? There was an incredible reflection of the bridge in Zee’s mirrored sunglasses. I had to ask if it was ok to capture the image. Zee agreed. Day is good. I love meeting people and capturing happy memories for them to have forever.
Last shot for Sunday May 24, 2020.
On Monday May 25, 2020 I returned to Fort Lee to capture images of the worlds largest free flying America flag as it hangs high above the New Jersey Tower of the GWB. The flag is only normally displayed 11 days of the year.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
The next two dates for display will be June 14 and July 4th.
One this Memorial Day 2020 The gigantic American flag hangs not only to honor our lost military personal but also those lost to the Corvid-19 pandemic. As approached the park I encountered a man on a bicycle. He looked lost. I yelled over to him and asked if he was looking for the walkway/bike path on the bridge. He was. I had spent 40 minutes walking the wrong direction the day prior and sought to save this human the trouble. We walked and talked. Turns out my new friend had just moved to Queens from Korea a few years back and had never biked the bridge. Day is good. I love meeting people and capturing happy memories for them to have forever.
As we entered the bridge area and parted ways, I encountered a couple from the UK with bike troubles. Turns out the man’s bike had caught a piece of wire from a near bye construction site in his derailleur. I stopped to help as I always carry tools in my backpack. He was appreciative and managed to get the wire free.
As I walked a little further, I came across two Port Authority Police Officers. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is a huge bi-state agency that owns and oversee many of the regions bridges, tunnels, and the PATH transit system. Having walked the bridge the day prior for the first time in my 50 plus years on the planet I suddenly gained a new perspective on what it must take to protect the people and the busy super structure. The PAPD works closely with many other law enforcement agencies to guard us all.
As I walked closer to the flag and then underneath it and past where it hung to get views of all sides, I encountered more crazy cyclists. Again, signs are only in print English, but common sense is not all that common? I also encountered some people that appeared to just be walking home, or out for a daily walk and still others that were clearly tourist. Tourist in general are always a good sign for the economy. I shot away at the giant flag from all different directions at times forgetting about my proximity to the active roadbed. One or two horns blasts from an 18-wheeler is always a quick and effective reminder.
As I began to walk back to my car and head home, I came upon a man taking photos of his little boy underneath the giant flag. I had to snap a quick photo of this magical moment between father and son. This, this is the Americana I found. We stopped and chatted, I told him how my children are grown now and advised him to “enjoy every minute of this time”. As he walked off I had the oppurtunity to capture a few more shots of this tender time. A holiday spent walking around town with your dad. Day is good. I love meeting people and capturing happy memories for them to have forever.
One last, yes, I realize I started to leave once already, hey it’s NY, one last look around prior to heading home, I noticed two recent graduates, clad in white caps and gowns, high above the bridge on the vista that overlooks the bridge from Historic Fort Lee Park. They appeared to be taking nice graduation photos. With a cell phone. Not that I have anything against cell phone photos. I snapped a few cute candid’s, of the young women holding their own photo shoot. Ok, I thought, maybe even, dare I say, “Super Cute” photos. I thought, “hey these are cute and maybe if I walk fast enough I can get to the women before they leave the park so that I may share the photos with them as I feel like, “anything for The Class of 2020”. I walked fast and managed to catch up to them. Turns out it was a little over a mile to reach them. I gave them my business contact and asked if they would be interested in a free photo session in honor of their graduation. Again, they seemed very happy. Day is good. I love meeting people and capturing happy memories for them to have forever.
I am a good businessman. I am a great photographer. As a photographer I am a terrible businessman. Its all good. I am free to be creative. I am free to be happy. Life is good. God Bless the Women & Men that made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our freedoms. Americana.
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