Monday, July 04, 2005

Going to Ellis Island on July 3

Ellis Island is the kind of place I'd never visit if it weren't for out-of-town guests. So when a high school friend made a spur-of-the-moment trip to New York for the weekend and the only tourist activities she wanted to do were a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and a visit to Ellis Island, I was happy to oblige.

This isn't a post about Ellis Island. It's about what it's like to get to Ellis Island.

If you ever want to get up close and personal with your fellow Americans, this is a great trip. There was an hour-long wait in line to get tickets, followed by another hour to get into the ferry, culminating in a security check more appropriate for LaGuardia. Every time we thought the wait was about to end, there was another extremely long line. Then, the ferry was crammed with people. It was a real cross-section: we saw people in T-shirts for Michigan State and Wyandotte High School; grumpy teenagers; families speaking Hindi, Spanish, and Italian. Little kids held onto my legs so they wouldn't fall when the ferry swayed with the waves. One of them goosed my friend.

After the initial impatience, it turned into a great day of peoplewatching. It might have been the most diverse crowd I've seen in one place. The Midwestern families were crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with the Puerto Rican families, and the Hasids were scrunched next to Dutch tourists. Everyone was relatively cheerful and patient. Nobody bitched about a future Supreme Court appointee, and no one complained about all the B.O. Really, nobody complained the whole time.

It was all a little, uh, sweet and inspiring. I doubt that the Parks Services mean for the trip to be a two-and-a-half hour microcosm of the lines and bureaucracy experienced by all the old immigrants, but by the time we finally stepped foot on the island, it felt like we'd accomplished something. Then, you get to the island, and there's everybody: all the recent immigrants and all the sixth- or seventh-generations learning about the hurdles and red tape that a not entirely dissimilar collection of characters navigated a century back. It was great symmetry. By the time we got back to Manhattan, I adored my fellow citizens.

I mean, seventy percent of the time, you think about America, and the image involves B-52s dropping jesusbombs on an Iraqi village while TV's Alf takes a dump on the Louvre. Want to feel better about where we're living? Burn your afternoon and wait around for the ferry to Ellis Island.


evil girl said...

and without no ellis island, there's be no evil girl (or possibly a much less evil version). and flop would be very sad.

CrimeNotes said...

Nah -- he'd just eat a banana and some gooseberries and would be none the wiser. I, however, would be very sad.

evil girl said...

ironically, flop doesn't actually like bananas.

winston said...

beautiful. this does a lot to soothe my rotten temper about the state of the union. very nicely put, crimenotes.

(worth noting that my temper would not be quite so rotten if the little fuckers in my neighborhood hadn't been setting off fireworks into the wee hours last night.)

Flop said...

Nah, my ancestors (the non-simian ones, anyway) totally came through Ellis Island, too. I wonder how you say banana in Hungarian.

CrimeNotes said...

Winston: I love fireworks. Light some bottlerockets and Black Cat firecrackers, and your rotten temper will melt away. After all, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.


Flop said...

You know who else loves fireworks? Zombies. Zombies can't get enough fireworks.