Archive for the ‘The Power Broker’ Category

The New York Times, on the celebration of the 40th anniversary PowerBrokerof the issuance of Robert Caro’s The Power Broker about Robert Moses, issued an interview with the author. It’s been a long time since I read the book but I do remember ‘not liking’ Mr. Moses by the time I got done. However, I don’t remember some of what Mr. Caro says below. It struck me as we look at current events, Mr. Moses’ sentiments still, shamefully have a wide audience today.

“In front of me the row of gray heads nodded in appreciation. “‘R. M.’ had built so much, created so much,” they whispered to one another. “Why didn’t people understand? Why weren’t they grateful?”

Why weren’t they grateful? As I recalled that Exedra scene in 1969, as I was trying to organize my book, I suddenly knew, all in a moment, that that question would be its last line. For the book would have to answer that very question, would have to answer the riddle posed by the Moses Men: How could there not be gratitude, immense gratitude, to the man who had dreamed a great dream — of Jones Beach and a dozen other great parks, and of parkways to reach them — and who to create them had fought, and won, an epic battle against Long Island’s seemingly invincible robber barons? How could there not be gratitude to the man who had built mighty Triborough, far-­stretching Verrazano, who had made possible Lincoln Center and the United Nations? And yet there were ample answers to that question. Did I think in that moment of Robert Moses’ racism — unashamed, unapologetic? Convinced that African-Americans were inherently “dirty,” and that they don’t like cold water (“They simply didn’t like swimming unless it was red hot,” he explained to me confidentially one day), he kept the water temperature deliberately frigid in pools, like the ones at Jones Beach and Thomas Jefferson Park in Manhattan, that he didn’t want them to use. Did I think of the bridges he built that embodied racism in concrete? When he opened his Long Island parks during the 1930s, the only way for many poor people, particularly poor people of color, to reach them was by bus, so he built bridges over his parkways too low for buses to pass. Or of the “slum clearance” projects he built that seemingly created new slums as fast he was clearing the old, or of the public housing he placed in locations that cemented the division of New York by race and class? Did I think in that moment of the more than half a million people he dispossessed for his projects and expressways, using methods that led one observer to say that “he hounded them out like cattle”? Did I think of how he systematically starved New York’s subways and commuter lines for decades and blocked proposals to build new ones, exacerbating the region’s dependence on the automobile? I don’t remember exactly what I thought of when I remembered Robert Moses’ speech at the Exedra — only that in that moment, seeing the book’s last line, I suddenly saw the book whole, saw the shape of everything.”

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TheBridgeThis is the revised edition of The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by Gay Talese, honoring the 50th anniversary of the opening of the bridge on November 21, 1964. The original book was published in 1964. As Mr. Talese says in his introduction, the book is more a testament to the men who built the bridge than it is a history of the bridge.

In the beginning, Talese talks about the 800 buildings destroyed and 7,000 people displaced in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn to make way for the on/off ramps to the bridge. I immediately thought of the portrait of Robert Moses painted by author Robert Caro in his book The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. In it, the reader gets the impression that Robert Moses cared about no one and nothing other than his projects. The fact that people would be uprooted and their lives totally disrupted, sometimes for the worse, cared little to him. I got this same exact feeling while reading The Bridge. But this is ancillary to the story.

The power of The Bridge are the stories of the men who built it. Generations of families worked construction on high rise towers, bridges, etc., showing no fear of heights, no fear of accidents that could main or kill a man. The pride that these men showed in their work seems unparalleled. Talese talked about a group of Canadian Indians who drove 400 miles home every Friday from Brooklyn after tossing back untold numbers of beers, and who then drove 400 miles back every Sunday to work on the bridge.

He talks about families who have seen accidents cripple or kill family members and their sons or brothers reporting back to work the next day, despite their loss. He talks about men who go from boom town to boom town in order to work on the next bridge or high rise. Quite incredible.

The photos of the bridge under construction add to the awe I have of those men who can work 70 stories up, whether over dry land or water. It’s a fearlessness that I never had.

Talese ends the book with a note that the next big projects are the renovation of the upper deck of the Verrrazano which will begin shortly and the new Tappan Zee Bridge, the construction of which began in 2014. He includes an artist’s rendering of the bridge. Although no one who worked on the Verrazano will be working on the Tappen Zee, you can rest assured that sons or grandsons of those Verrazano workers will be involved with the new Tappen Zee Bridge.

The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was an interesting and eye-opening book and well worth the short time it will take you to read it.

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