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When the announcer warned that tides would be three to five feet higher than normal and flooding could be expected, Stookey was almost uncontained. "Do you realize what that means?" he said. "Tonight we may be able to paddle up a street, park our canoes and eat at an excellent restaurant."
"It occurs to me," I said levelly, "that if there is water in the streets, no one will be driving cars, and the excellent restaurants probably will not stay open to cater to passing canoeists."
All yesterday I rode with Stookey in our lead canoe called Old Grandad. Although all three canoes are classic, warped-wood, canvas-covered craft made by the Old Town Company in Maine, Old Grandad is far the oldest. It originally belonged to Stookey's father and is now in its 33rd year. When we disembarked in Pugsley Creek, I carefully hauled Old Grandad well ashore, until its stern barely was in water. I forgot that when higher water than normal is expected, the tide comes in faster. When we got back to Pugsley Creek, Old Grandad was gone. "I have goofed," I confessed to Stookey. "We are up a creek without a canoe."
By the luck of it, the wind was blowing from the mouth of the creek, and Old Grandad had taken off upstream. Fortunately also, Pugsley Creek is one of the waterways that the earth changers of New York have been filling in. If the creek still wound around as it once did, we would have had to slog a mile or more into the heart of the Bronx to recover the canoe—somewhere past Bruckner Boulevard. As it was, we had to go barely a quarter mile to find poor Old Grandad waiting for us, pressed by the wind against pilings near the present, truncated end of Pugsley Creek.
It is now the predawn of our fourth day. With a new writing pad and flashlight in mouth, I am bedded down on the cabin top of an old Gloucester schooner, Caviare, alongside a pier in lower Manhattan. The buildings of New York's financial district dwarf the old schooner. I should be feeling small, lying at the feet of giants, but I am stimulated by the heavy, wharfy odor of the East River.
We are packing our own grub on this trip, but because of the wild weather we have been forced to live off the land more than we planned. In a complicated wilderness like New York, of course, living off the land is a very broad term. Last night, for example, we ate at a good restaurant called the Pagoda in Chinatown. On sorties to Chinatown and elsewhere, we have traveled on land more erratically than by canoe. In the process of retracing our steps to pick up baggage we left behind, we have thumbed rides, taken cabs and used subway and bus. By chance as much as design, we have ended up twice in the Moby Dick, a restaurant-lounge on Throgs Neck that features topless entertainers such as Ida the Spider and Lisa the Pleaser. Although the show in the Moby Dick is well within the limits of modern, erotic decency, the proprietor, Vinnie Foley, tells me he still has problems with blue-nosed citizens in the area.
After three days of exposure to John Stookey, I am infected with his zeal. So much so that when we backtracked to Throgs Neck last night to pick up sleeping bags and whatnot, I proposed we take one canoe on the subway with us. We are the only canoeists who ever paddled under an airport. It would be fine if we were also the first to portage by subway under a river. Getting a canoe into a subway car is perhaps an impossible dream, but the transit attendants probably would have let us try. Everywhere else we have gone with our canoes—paddling or portaging—we have had entree. If we had been traveling in any craft powered by so much as an eggbeater, we would have been treated simply as another larking gang of stinkpotters. In canoes, we have been welcomed like wayward sons home finally from the sea.
In Queens, in a cove at the bottom of Little Neck Bay, a lovely lady named Aurora Gareiss—a wildlife lover, onetime sailor and antipowerboater—invited us onto her lawn for lunch. Aurora Gareiss feels all canoeists should be encouraged since they create no stink.
The six of us are using the deck of the schooner Caviare tonight courtesy of the management of the South Street Seaport Museum. One of the museum founders, a voluble ear bender named Joe Cantalupo, says we are the sort of people the city needs. (Out of gratitude I promised to donate my canoe paddle to the museum.) On the long list of generous souls we have met, I do not include the nasty kid who threw rocks at Stewart and me yesterday, shouting, "I read about you in the papers." Certainly I exclude the anonymous beast, or beasts, who dropped heavy objects in our path from 130 feet up on the Queensboro Bridge.
I feel sure we will be able to stay on schedule for the rest of this trip. Yesterday we made it safely through Hell Gale and the East River narrows around Welfare Island, where the tide can run up to five knots and the wake of a large boat rebounding off the seawall could easily swamp a canoe. In our first two days we contended only with rain and wind. Even before Doria moved in, on one leg across Long Island Sound a 15-knot southwesterly—and the chop it created—pressed so hard on our starboard bow I felt we were scraping over mud. In the words of Cal Plimpton, who got the worst of it in the lead canoe, "We swept past Kings Point at a standstill."