A monthly blog about the sensory experience of New York City

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

SIGHT: The “Toast” of Smith Street

During my first year in New York City, I would take the F train each morning from Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn to Rockefeller Center, where I worked. If I happened to be standing near an east-facing window as the train descended from the elevated tracks at Smith–Ninth Street into the tunnel at Carroll Street, I would look up from the pages of The Fountainhead, where Howard Roark was constructing skyscrapers with egomaniacal glee, and look down at what I’ve come to think of as “the toast.”

Sand of varying shades has been bulldozed into five corrals at the edge of the Gowanus Canal. Apparently, each shove of a bulldozer creates slabs that resemble slices of bread leaning up against one another, or a loaf collapsing after being released from its wrapper. The dark brown sand might be pumpernickel; the beige, whole wheat; the grayish brown, rye.

Only later did I discover that my “toast” belonged to Quadrozzi Concrete Corporation—and that it would no doubt become part of the Roarkian skyscrapers of a city that, back then, I was only beginning to discover.

I tried to visit the Quadrozzi concrete yard in person on two occasions, and both times I was turned away “for security reasons.” Plus, I discovered that the toast doesn’t look quite as impressive from ground level. The magic, it seems, is in the view from above, when the hearty crusts of these unintentional loaves are set in relief against the stagnant Brooklyn canal and the towers of Manhattan sparkling beyond.