Watercolor Painting from the 238th Streeet Bridge by Noel Hefele

15. 238th Bridge over the Major Deegan

Just a day before embarking on this project, the IDA floods transformed this highway section into a watery expanse, stranding over 80 vehicles in the aftermath.

Drawn back to the 238th Street Bridge, I set out to paint from the very spot where I had captured a poignant image on that tumultuous day.

  At the outset, I knew heavier rains were expected in NYC in an abstract sense, but now I have a clearer idea of what that means within the local landscape where I live. I thought this was still in the future, but that story is unfolding now. The increasing rains will bring back water to where it once was. The only question is do we respond and prepare now? Or do we wait and pretend it won’t happen until disaster forces us to deal with it.

As for bringing TIbbetts back above ground – the cynical longtime New Yorker reaction seems most appropriate,

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

  That’s what Diane said when we talked about Daylighting Tibbetts Brook after she asked if I had seen the flooding from IDA.  She thinks it is a good idea—I have yet to meet anybody who thinks otherwise—but like a true New Yorker, she expresses cynicism that it can be accomplished.

She shared an aesthetic moment from that day when the highway was a water body littered with abandoned cars.

“Just for a few moments, I don’t know, there were no cars or anything, just the water, the sun, and the quiet. It was breathtakingly beautiful!”

I shared with her, “I experienced something similar, right over there..” pointing to where I was during the IDA aftermath.

“ I was struck by the beauty of the first bald eagle I’d seen in the Bronx flying above the highway observing the drama below.”

 She was surprised by that moment “who would have thought? In the middle of this disaster in this grimy city?!”

Mid conversation, a man with a costume that made it look like he is riding a T-Rex came gallivanting by. It was a hilarious and surreal interruption that stunned us both, and I was slow to event think to take a picture.

It was Halloween after all.

“Nice chatting with you!”

I later saw Dianne working the polls when I went to vote on Election Day and waved hello.

The woman with the elevator problem stopped by again, this time expressing concerns about safety in her building. She seemed worked up and had a drink in her hand. I asked her if she had any elevator trouble and she said “you are a good listener, you remembered!” As we finished talking, I recognized the face of the quick witted woman from the other day. She said “oh nice, you are painting the view from the other side!”

The mood on the bridge was extremely positive.  Perhaps Halloween helped. Plenty of younger kids in cute costumes strolled by, some parents held them up to look at the painting. One kid wanted to inspect my palette rather closely and I can’t help but think he was disappointed it wasn’t candy.

  I realized I should have come with my own bag of treats to hand out.
 The Halloween energy was electric, and after almost forgetting what day it was, it felt delightfully odd and ritualistic, the deep roots of the practice bubbling up in glimpses, at times outside the logic of capitalism.  

In this liminal time, before the dark days are upon us, we are caught up in forces larger than ourselves.

One older teenage girl in a costume with a group of friends passed twice over the course of an hour.  Each time she approaches and looks closely, then turns with a bright eyed smile “THAT LOOKS AMAZING!”
 It was kind of funny because it was the exact same interaction each time.

A middle-aged couple stopped twice during their shopping errands. They took a card and made me promise to post the “finished” painting on my website. They were extremely excited by seeing me painting where I was, but also a bit disappointed I think – they said “oh it looks great, I see you are not finished!”

  One woman came up very excited, “Oh this is great, you are painting nature! This is perfect. You can come out here, spend time by yourself with nobody bothering you, you don’t have to spend any money!”

  “Why don’t you add more colors besides just two?” – she asked. I was appreciative and aware lately that I lean into green and blue a bit too much.

I asked her if she wanted to make a brush stroke or two and she jumped at the chance. She delved into the blue and made a large mark in the lower right “see you’ve got some color now!”  Then she went for the yellow and made a larger mark in the upper right – “Now you’ve got a sun!”

  I laughed, ready to get the brush back, mainly because I realized I had some freshly squeezed and unset watercolor in the palette that I didn’t want her scooping that up. That would end up being expensive.

The marks came at a good time and introduced a twist, just as I was getting into the painting. In a certain way it is fun to have unexpected problems pop up.

  “Bye now!” She said, perhaps sensing I wanted the brush back, or frustrated by not enough water on the palette paints.  

“I’m an old person, I’m not in my twenties anymore! All I do is shop and buy groceries, I can’t set up on the bridge and paint like this, I’m almost 50!”

 I told her to just give it a try sometime and see what happens.

 I can work with this, I thought, checking how much time I had left.

I handed out a bunch of business cards this time, and one or two Tibbetts Brook fliers.

Another younger fellow in his 20s stopped and said “wow you are good, not like me…” and quickly produced some of his own work on his phone.

 I said I liked his work and he seemed surprised. “You think so?”

“Sure, look at those color choices and your line work! It’s really nice”

 He earnestly thanked me and I told him to keep up the good work.

Another 20 something year old came up to the easel and just said “FIRE” and gave me a pound.

 I was going to tell him “ACTUALLY, Water.”

 This painting ended up being one of my favorites yet.

 I painted the future corridor of #daylightingtibbettsbrook in zip code 10463 as part of the #CityArtistCorps! Thanks to @nyfacurrent, @NYCulture, @QueensTheatre, and @MadeinNY for the support!

And thanks to the Kingsbridge Historical Society for the incredible maps!

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