Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Last Voyage of the Enterprise (and the Gil Hodges/Marine Parkway Bridge, Brooklyn-Rockaway, NY)

The Enterprise passes beneath the raised Gil Hodges Bridge
I really don't like driving in New York City. I'd already been the day before to test drive a new car in New Jersey, and it would take a lot to get me to go to NYC twice in the same weekend.

A space shuttle being floated past one of the most beautiful bridges in a city known for its beautiful bridges? Yah, I guess that would do it.

A crowd gathered at Bennett Field to watch the shuttle sail by
The Enterprise never flew in space. It was the prototype space shuttle, and was dropped from great heights to study its aerodynamics and tune the shape for the production shuttles that followed. A letter writing campaign convinced NASA to name the shuttle for the famous starship, and most of the original cast members made it to the space plane's dedication.

The shuttle with the 500mm lens
I'd plotted out just exactly where I was going to park and where I was going to watch the shuttle -- park at the ranger station near the airfield, watch the shuttle from the Gil Hodges Bridge. I figured that would give me a nice perspective, and I could get the sea level view when it passed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge a couple hours later.

Well, traffic was awful. I was far from the only person to show up; the place was as crowded as a fireworks show, bemusing the fishermen who had set up poles on the beach, expecting to have the place to themselves. Not on shuttle season. Even the park rangers came to watch. Police and TV helicopters buzzed the shuttle on its slow journey into the bay.

Lots of people did watch from the bridge, but I elected to just sit on the beach and read a book, protected from the sun by an umbrella, until the shuttle showed. It was just a dot far in the distance, but I could see it clearly with the 500mm lens. I'd left my tripod in my car when it went into the shop. I had to use my Gorillapod mini-tripod grabbing onto my knee. Scrunched up on the beach, squinting into the camera on my knee, I took picture after picture as the shuttle approached.

Gil Hodges/Marine Parkway Bridge (sans shuttle)
The Gil Hodges Bridge, named for a famous baseball player with the Brooklyn Dodgers, connects Brooklyn with the Rockaways, a peninsula that juts out into the ocean. Brooklyn and Queens comprise the western tip of Long Island, which had me half wondering if it would be a good idea to just head through both boroughs to the Long Island Expressway and take the ferry across the sound to Bridgeport or New Haven. Rather than parking on the Van Wyck Expressway, which is what I ended up doing anyway.

When you leave Brooklyn, the sign says, "Fuggedaboudit!". Followed by a more sedate "Welcome to Queens", the more eastern borough clearly embarrassed by her brash husband (Brooklyn is in Kings County, Queens is in Queens County. Kings, Queens -- get it? Fuggedaboudit!).

If you'd like to visit the bridge, dammit, bring a bicycle. There were hundreds! The Flatbush bus stops right off the bridge, or you can park in the ranger's station down Aviation Road just before the bridge. I imagine, when there's no shuttles floating past, there's plenty of parking there. I didn't cross the bridge into Rockaway because it cost money and I didn't want to pay. Frickin' Bronx-Whitestone Bridge cost me $6.50 each way.


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