The story behind this photo is BY FAR the longest one of all my pictures, and If you've seen some of my other lengthy tales you know what a scary statement that is. But since this picture was 23 years in the making, I guess it stands to reason it would take an outrageously long narrative to tell it properly. So if that warning failed to scare you off (and it REEEALLY really should have) and you find you have half an evening to kill for some reason, read on brave spirit.
This tale probably starts somewhere in the summer 88'. I had just moved to Staten Island in the summer of the year previous, and eventually I found the need to take a trek to one of the stores all the way on the other end of the island, but lacking the free time necessary to get there by bus, I decided to splurge and take a taxi. While the cab snaked its' way through a twisting stretch of road far off any of the routes of all the buses I'd taken so far in my early stay here on the island, I had my head buried in a magazine to pass the time.
Looking up from my reading for a moment I looked off to my left out of the window and saw an interesting sight, through a deep thatch of tree trunks and branches I could see the bay spread out before me as I looked down at the north eastern coast of the island from a top of some hill, and I could see the Verrazano bridge off in the distance. " Wow" I thought to myself with wonder, "this location will make for a splendid sunrise shot in the fall when autumn turns all the trees into a rich rainbow of colors." Looking around on the constantly curving road before me I tried spotting a street sign to mark the places location in my memory but there were none, just a large occasional home would pop up to the right of the cab. Soon I decided to tuck that future photographic opportunity somewhere in the back of my brain for the moment so I could get back to my magazine. What I should have done was ask the cabbie where we were instead. But I figured with all the times I would need to take a cab in the future I was sure to come across this stretch of road again and I could do my inquiring then -- BIG mistake.
Months past and the leaves started to turn and I still had yet to discover where this particular stretch of road lay. I was not perturbed however. After all I knew it had to be on a hill overlooking the northeastern part of the island before reaching the Varrazano and it looked like there was some kind of school campus near there - how hard could that be to find?? Turns out quite a bit, as my Hagstrom map did not show elevation changes nor which roads were surrounded by trees. So on my next several trips by cab I inquired to where I might have been when I saw that sight, and for reasons to this day I can never understand, no one could surmise what exact spot I was describing. Soon fall turned into winter, and my first fall opportunity passed into history with it. The same general storyline continued in the fall of 89' then 90'.
Soon we were to discover that mom had contracted M.S. At the same time my schedule at work became very hard to predict from week to week, making bottlenecks of chores pile up around my days off, leaving little time to use some of them for my favorite hobby. As time past my many planned shots were getting backed up beyond my ever getting to. Occasionally I'd get a small free window of opportunity to shoot one of them and I would try to squeeze it into the 30 or 40 minutes I had to spare, when they honestly needed several hours of patient waiting for the right lighting conditions develop. The quality of my photo's started to tale off disappointingly. And that trend continued for so long that I started wondering if it wasn't simply the lack of proper time, but that I may have lost my delicate artistic touch which fueled my successes of the past. Finally I decided it would be best if I put away my photographic pursuits until a time later in life when things slowed down, and I might financially be able to work part time, giving me the free time I needed to do justice to the hobby I loved so much.
Forward to the fall of 2007 and my recent Island hopping cruise with my friends from work which gave me a chance to discover what fun it was to take pictures with one of those wonderful new fangled point and shoot camera's. But when I set the mini picture taking devise on one of my tripods and started taking fall scenic shots, I soon found they were absolutely no match for one of my old SLR's loaded with slide film. But my photographic passion had been reignited and I decided to use my up coming tax refund on a new auto focus Nikon and make sure the next fabulous fall season would not go by un-captured in a manner befitting it. That of course rekindled my desire to capture a shot of the bay from that yet undiscovered hill. Unfortunately looking at google maps online led to the same failure as looking at my old hagstrom ones 20 years before. As did new conversations with a whole new set of cabbies (WHAT??? Was I speaking Pig Latin when I was describing this spot?!!)
Now the summer of 2010 had come and still I had failed to find this Shangri-La despite taking special trips on every bus route along the eastern shore, as well as a trip with binoculars on the Staten Island subway which only travels above ground on the eastern coast of the island. In the middle of all this failed searching, a day cropped up in which I needed to go to the Ace hardware store near me, and since it's a quick 15 minute trip from the ferry terminal by bus, after I got off the ferry from work one day I decided I would walk to "ramp A" which only has buses that travel down Victory Blvd. That's the road on which Ace Hardware sits upon, and all the buses on this ramp pass it before branching off on their many different routes. So I looked for the first NON express bus, as it was rush hour and the express version of any of these buses would go right past the store. Having made sure I was on a line for a local bus, I simply looked in the windows for the first non crowded local bus I saw.
Sitting down I buried my face in a magazine and relaxed, then an unexpected left turn by the bus after leaving a red light made me look up. "There are no turns off of Victory by any of these particular buses" I thought to myself", "and if this detour was because of traffic work or an accident and the bus driver made no previous mention of it, why were all the other passengers acting like this bizarre detour was perfectly natural instead of cursing and grumbling to the bus driver as to where the heck he was taking us"? Then it hit me - the service cut backs by the Mayor eliminated some buses and changed the route of some others. Sure enough looking up at the front of the bus behind the driver, I could see a map and a new curving loop off of Victory blvd. that put the bus back onto Victory eventually. I just hoped it was before we reached the hardware store, so I didn't have to take a different bus back. Figuring there was no use crying over spilt milk, I went back to my magazine, looking up only occasionally at the front of the bus to see if a familiar stretch of Victory blvd. appeared before me.
For this part of the story you can choose to call it fate, blind luck, or God tapping on my shoulder as I (thankfully sitting on the left side of the bus), looked up aimlessly from my magazine for a moment just as I did on that magic cab over 20 years before. As the bus was twisting through the curving road, and my eyes adjusted from looking at my magazine, they finally managed to refocus on the distant scene before them, and what should I see but the same view of the bay I had been searching for, lo these many years. Looking up at the road I intently looked for the first sign we passed then wrote it down. Then I looked up to see just which bus I was actually on, still so excited I nearly lept through my skin. Finally I had my answer - it was Howard ave. on the number 66's bus route. Now that last sentence should be the fitting end of this already "War and Peace" length story - but SORRY it's not. (I told you this story was SCARRRY LONG!!)
The autumn colors were slow to turn vibrant this past fall, but on the first morning I had off from work after they did, I caught the very first 66 bus leaving the terminal at 6am, for that bus was the only one on the schedule that would put me by that stretch of road long enough before sunrise to set up my equipment for the shot I desired. Getting off just before the bus turned onto Howard ave so I could take my time and scan for the ideal spot along it to shoot from, I pulled out my head lamp and map of the area I scanned on my computer, to see which stretch that was likely to be. As I continued to look through my gear I heard the bus drive off in the distance. Walking down the road to my right I kept looking for an opening in the homes that matched the one I saw on that first bus earlier this summer, but after several minutes I seemed no closer. "But it HAS to be this way". But then I thought what if there was some strange short loop the bus took before getting to that spot I hadn't paid attention to. "The bus route maps don't always show every little turn for a lack of space on the maps, and I never did look up early enough on the bus that summer afternoon to see it's whole route". Still the idea seemed highly improbable so I kept on walking down Howard ave, but after another 3 or 4 minutes of walking with no opening in sight coming up ahead of me, I got increasingly uneasy. "Simple" I thought "Which direction did the bus turn onto Howard ave when it pulled out after I got off? If it was a right turn, then I was on the correct route to the hill. Left and the bus had to make some kind of short loop first. Then it slowly dawned on me, my face was fumbling through my bag for my map and headlamp, and never looked up to see which turn the bus took onto Howard. Panicking I decided to back track far enough to eliminate my uncertainty. By the time I was certain this theoretical looping left turn was indeed impossible and had managed to get back along my original course, I could see day break filtering through the trees to my left, and knew I was never going to beat the sunrise to that spot. And so, disappointingly, I had to take some shots of the early morning scene just off of Wagner College that were ok, but nothing special (and how could NO CABBIE I asked all these years figure it had to be a hill near this campus I was looking for???).
Since those plans were spoiled this morning, I decided to back track to a twisting bit of road I saw branch off of Howard ave all the way back while I was looking for that possible phantom looping road the 66 bus might have taken. Giving it's direction and location, there was a good chance it led to a hill somewhere that might overlook something, if only there were no homes occupying it, when I found it. As I walked down the steep curving street I saw numerous mammoth modern homes on this quiet and lovely street called Signal Hill road. I came across a lovely grouping of flowers at the base of a pretty stone wall, and stopped to photograph it, then continuing down the curving road till an amazing sight almost made me stop breathing for a second. It really was an open stretch of property that lead off the curving road. I didn't think such a place could exist in this choice area of the island. Walking through all the fallen autumn leaves I reached the end of the lot and saw the valley spread out before me, and it was an even better view then the spot in Wagner's college's parking lot. Rich rainbows of fall colors as well as white snow covered winter scenes danced through my head as I looked out over the valley.
This was the magic spot I could never find in my 23 years of searching. Had I actually seen which way the bus turned onto Howard and stayed on the correct course for that spot I saw on the bus that summer, I might never have walked all the way back to this spot today. I was so overwhelmed with joy, I took some test shots for composition as the dull sunrise and late time made for some so so shots. But now on my next day off I could go right to the exact spot I needed to be at just as the sun rose over the horizon. But when that morning came the 6 o'clock bus I took never made the turn off Victory blvd., and I missed any chance to beat the sunrise to that spot. By the time my next free day off came the leaves had already started falling in mass from many trees leaving them bare, and still others less colorful, and this wasn't that colorful a fall to begin with. The beautiful sunrise I had hoped for this second morning at this magic location never materialized, and no change of composition was able to compensate for it. Looking at my photo's I could see none of the shots were better than the one I got that first morning a week or two before. More disappointing to me though was the sight of numerous rolled piles of fencing. That could only mean new construction was coming to block off my only free elevated spot of the bay facing the bridge. The 23 years worth of sand in the hourglass hanging over this locale was about to run out, and I might never get the type of shot I hoped for from it. Certainly my new found hope of a stunning snow covered valley sunrise would never happen before these fences lying about would cut off my final opportunity. Now for sure I had to come here on my next day off to salvage at least my fall scenic sunrise while there was some half decent fall colors left to capture.
So on my next day off when my alarm clock jolted me out of bed at a quarter to 5 in the morning and unceremoniously dropped me face down on my bedroom floor, I started out in a bad mood (alarm clocks - grrrr). But my grumpy mood quickly evaporated when I remembered the weatherman's prediction of a clear sky for this mornings sunrise. As I started getting ready I was driven by the certainty that this time would spell my last ever chance to capture this dream shot some 23 years in the making. And no matter WHAT happened I was going to have to make this trip count...
Grymes HillfallscenicStaten IslanddawnVerrazano bridgesld1