Winners of an Illicit Race



Neighborhood: Staten Island

Winners of an Illicit Race
Photo by Diego Torres Silvestre

When the ramp to the Staten Island Ferry was razed, I happened to be passing, and stopped to watch, feeling a sense of loss as the crane took out the span that dangling across from Borough Hall, repeatedly smashing it, and sending large sections crumbling to the ground below.

Hurrying to catch a boat on my way to work, where I waited tables in Times Square, I ran down that ramp. I climbed it exhausted, its curved incline one last challenge, coming home. I walked it with a sense of belonging, after buying my co-op, and becoming a part of the St. George neighborhood. I walked it with butterflies in my stomach, when one of my plays was in production. I walked it in celebration on New Year’s Eve, headed into Chinatown for dinner, as is tradition. I walked it in love, cellphone pressed to my ear, my girlfriend’s voice my companion. I walked it in frustration, having just hung up from an argument with my girlfriend. I don’t remember walking it when my mother was dying, and I walked around in a daze. On occasion, when a summer breeze stirred the night, I paused midway, and gazed up at the moon. “Everyone who’s ever lived, has seen that moon,” my father is fond of saying. I stood on that ramp, connected to all of humanity.

In its absence, commuting to the city, I walked the Staten Island Yankees esplanade, which offered an up-close view of construction on the new ramp. The pillars rose, and the girders were hoisted into place. The roadway was framed in a geometric skeleton of rebar. I exchanged nods with construction workers, as they built their way up toward the street. Curing the freshly poured cement, sprinklers ran for days, the ramp dripping in a storm of creation. When they rolled out the blacktop, I felt the heat, and breathed the thick tar.

Appearing complete, the ramp remained closed, as my anticipation built to conquer it. Then, on a Saturday night, or, rather, Sunday morning, disembarking the ferry on my way home from work, my heart leapt at the discovery that the horses standing sentry at the foot of the ramp, where Manhattan shone on the harbor, had been displaced. Along with several others, dressed up for a big night in the city, and in a celebratory mood, I rushed the entrance. The virgin cement, brushed to a rough finish, loosened on the sidewalk beneath my feet.

Curiously, no traffic headed down the ramp, and as we made our ascent, it became apparent that the barricades were still in place at the top. Exchanging smiling glances, my co-conspirators and I claimed the road, gaining speed — made apparent by the clicking of a woman’s heels — as our excitement grew. We were trespassers, but more than that, among the first pedestrians on the new ramp, whatever paths it might hold. There had been a game at the stadium, and the grandstands were bathed in an afterglow of purplish light that spilled onto the ramp, adding a sense of the surreal as we entered into it, and burst into spontaneous laughter. Victory in hand, we took turns ducking under the “DO NOT CROSS” tape, like winners of an illicit race. Without so much as congratulatory hugs, the participants quickly dispersed, perhaps wanting to avoid a confrontation with the law, or, most likely, anxious to get home. Waiting to cross Richmond Terrace, to my apartment, I glanced back at the ramp, but there was no one else coming.

Sunday afternoon, I walked to the corner store in the sunlight of my day off. Suddenly, I recalled the night before, like remembering a dream, its ephemeral nature so delicate, and looked down Wall Street, which fed into the new ramp. Clear of all traces of construction, save for a “DETOUR” sign, where there no longer existed a detour, the ramp was open to traffic, now a functional part of the city’s infrastructure. Cars raced up and down, like they’d been doing it for years. Pedestrians confidently strode the walkway. I would take the new ramp on my way to work the next week. Eventually, it will be a part of my routine.

Tom Diriwachter’s full-length play, “Great Kills,” is scheduled for production at Theater for the New City in March 2015. Read his blog, Before Packing Your Bags for New York, at

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