2006-01-09

26° Hackensack Bridge

It was 26° this Saturday morning. My new year's resolution being to not allow the winter to dictate whether or not I painted. A grey wool overcoat on top of my regular coat would try to keep me warm as I painted from the Hackensack Bridge. The sun was already up and shining across the rooftops of this once famous industrial area. Now, abandoned and stolen cars outnumbered other vehicles below my vantage on this small iron bridge. The bridge's walkway was set outside the 1920's girders allowing some protection from the traffic that sped by just a few feet behind me.

The walkway was rarely used now although I had seen a homeless man crossing it some time back. Occasionally I would glance behind me as if I might encounter a dangerous criminal sneaking up from behind. It was the bullet holes that punctured garbage cans under the bridge that gave me cause to think. When I had been scouting the area earlier, I half expected to encounter a body and each piece of abandoned clothing made me consider to whom it once belonged and how it had arrived here.

My easel was set among years of debris from the trucks and cars for which the bridge was an essential part of their route between New York and Newark. Exhaust pipes, fractured hubcaps, and shattered glass slowly became coated with an oily film here as there was no one to clean and would be nobody to see it if were. Thick, paint flaked from the railing into my turpentine as I arranged my things. A man with a shopping cart stood in a gravel lot below listening to his brilliant yellow stereo headphones. He didn't see me and seemed to be going nowhere. A light wind gusted and frequently tried to overturn my canvas. My lightweight easel provided no anchor.

I painted quickly an umber sketch. Warehouse rooftops extended out from under my view and were framed by old factories and faded brick homes. The shadows cut across the long roofs and intersected with the patterns of light created by small structures. Another 1920 bridge linked the distant horizon the nearground. I found myself curling my hands in a fist inside of the glove of my non-painting hand to keep my fingers warm. Occasionally, when I could no longer feel my other hand, I was forced to stop and change hands.

With my leather gloves feeling more like paper gloves, I identified shadows and put down color reminders to fill in later. My hands trembled as large trucks shook the bridge on the way to their freight yards. I would clean the lines up in the warmth of my studio so I was not deterred. Hurriedly, I made notes of smokestacks, chimneys, and air conditioners, then warmed my hands momentarily and packed my things. I headed down toward the entrance to the bridge. Looking back, the man still stood in his lot, alone and unmoving, listing on his cart and listening to his radio.