Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lost in History vol. 82: Long bike rides, useless Queens forts, suburban hoods & delicious foods.

Every so often, one needs to forget the plans. drop the job, ignore the bills, get on a bicycle and ride off, into the horizon, like the superlative urban cowboy. No, not that type of urban cowboy, more like a two-wheeled adventurey explorer, armed with water bottle, bike map and camera, a little bit of spending cash and balanced atop a trusty steed, ready to take to the roads of eastern and suburban New York City. However, you'd be surprised how many friends found the notion of a long leisurely bike ride a no-go. My arguments fell on hungover ears.
30 miles round trip, to the northern-eastern end of Queens and back!
To see a historic Fort built during the Civil War but never used!
Just us and bikes and the vast private driveways and detached houses of eastern Queens!
Leave me alone.
I almost had to roll by myself. Right up until t-minus one hour, when good buddy / food writer / avid cyclist Josh Bernstein decided to tag along. Noon o'clock hit and we were off!
We took a circuitous route, that started us zipping through subway-accessible 'nabes, like Ridgewood and Glendale (the M train); Forrest Hills Gardens (the G, R and V trains); and North Jamaica Hills (the F and E trains), which is where we found this
awesome art deco power station, across from the Queens Hospital Center, on Goethals Blvd, related in name only to the Goethals Bridge, in Staten Island.
After North Jamaica Hills however, it was suburban Queens with generic hood names to the max. Before getting lost in the bland, we figured it was snack time - on the corner of Utopia Parkway and Hollis Court Blvd we charged into D'Alessandro's Meat Center, since 1957, for some protein based munchies, like sausage and cheese stuffed antipasto, and some fresh mozzarella balls in a spicy olive oil.
Finally upon reaching Fort Totten, we were a) amazed at the sheer size of the park and b) totally lost in trying to find the Visitors Center and historic fort at the center of it. All we could find was the FDNY training facilities, picnic grounds, decaying Victorian houses, and lots of construction cranes and fenced off areas. After asking a few locals we stumbled upon the Visitors Center, and, lo and behold, were a few short minutes from the next public tour! What luck!
Fort Totten was built as the Civil War was getting under way, (the very pleasant and dorky-cute NPS Ranger informed us) but midway through the War, rapid advancements in technology rendered the Fort completely unusable.
In 1862, after finishing 2 out of 5 walls to the (ultimately incomplete) Pentagon-shaped structure, the US Army field-tested a new type of cannonball. This pointed-tip rifle-shot projectile had a much better aim, and whats more, did tremendous damage to the interior of the Fort. Whereas a basic projectile would ricochet across the granite room, causing few dings but not much structural damage, this new rifled weapon lodged itself deep into the Fort and knocked whole chunks of masonry off the walls.
This test projectile, circa 1863, is still lodged deep into the walls of Fort Totten. This meant that if the Fort couldn't stand against one basic (massive) bullet, there's no way it would survive an artillery shelling, and the entire structure became totally obsolete as a defensive post. USA! USA! USA!
Once we were all swole up with national pride, it was time to stuff our stomachs. After getting a little lost and ending up in Douglaston (which is almost as far away from everything else in NYC as one can possibly get) we found a nifty little Deli with old school signs on the inside and outside. We got two massive heroes - a homemade Roast Beef and another homemade Roast Turkey, plus some North Carolina style slaw (apple cider vinegar!) chips, drinks, and custard.We found our way (after getting lost once or twice more) to Alley Pond Park, sat on a bench, and scarfed some serious hoagie. An unmitigated Sunday success, Josh and I biked our tired legs, full stomachs, and sun-scorched heads back to Brooklyn.

1 comment:

Fleepy said...

Yay Fort Totten! That's my fellow Urban Park Ranger Beth (sadly we're not NPS, We're technically NYC Urban Park Rangers). She is indeed a cutie-pie. Glad you enjoyed the tour!