2007_06_arts_trek.jpgLast Monday Matt Green and Rob Moncure started out on a 150 mile trek around New York City. Performing tasks, gathering stories, keeping a blog, and most likely seeing a part of the city they had yet to experience. One didn't make it to the finish line, but once the other completed the "real NYC marathon," we asked him some questions.

Where are you both from?
I am originally from Ashland, VA and now live in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Rob is a military brat who has lived all over the US and Europe, and currently resides in Pasadena, CA.

How did the idea of walking 150 miles through New York City come to you?
Back in the winter, Rob and I were discussing possible future trips we could take. Among other ideas, I mentioned a vague desire I've had for a while to walk the length of Broadway, thinking this might spur us onto some eventual walking-related trip a few years down the line. I was thus quite surprised when he said, "Okay, I can come to New York and do it whenever."

So we started planning our trek, and quickly decided that just walking the length of Broadway wouldn't be substantial enough to justify the cross-country flight from LA, so we began to expand the route throughout the five boroughs. We started thinking about a three- or four-day trip, covering 75 miles, then 80, then 100. The total length kept increasing as we tried to include more areas and neighborhoods into the route. We finally capped it at 150 miles and five days, with the thought that it would be cool to do the trip over a standard Monday-Friday work week.

Tell us some stories from this week?
We started out around 5:45 am on Monday morning, June 4, on the beach in Staten Island. It was only lightly misting at the time, but, based on weather forecasts, we knew things were going to get worse. Within a few hours it was raining steadily and we were completely drenched from head to toe by the time we reached the summit of Todt Hill. We spent much of the morning hiking on the Greenbelt, so we were quite hungry by the time we found somewhere to eat breakfast. We stopped at a bakery in downtown Staten Island, water dripping all over the floor from our ponchos and our backpacks, and ordered a couple bagels, a croissant, a donut, and several cookies, which we scarfed down under the small overhang in front of the store. I'm sure the employees there were thrilled when we finally left. Fortunately the rain tapered off in the afternoon. Our shirts and shorts dried out relatively quickly, and we threw our shoes and socks into a dryer at a laundromat in Fort Greene while we ate lunch, which made the rest of the day much more pleasant, and we were lucky to have no more rain the rest of the week.

Night 3 was the first night I was alone after Rob had to quit the walk due to serious ankle and foot problems. I stayed in Astoria that night at the home of a guy we found on couchsurfing.com. He had previously mentioned to me that he knew a nearby rooftop I could use for the "have a drink on a rooftop" item on our checklist. So I stopped by a local liquor store on the way to his apartment to pick up something to drink on said rooftop. The only small bottle of alcohol they sold was Alize, which is a brilliant turquoise, generally a color I associate more with jewelry or the Caribbean Sea than with things I ingest. When I got to his apartment, I asked my host how exactly to get to this roof, under the assumption that I would climb up there the next morning on my way out of town. He said, "I have two bikes out back. You wanna go over there now?" While a strict reading of our rules would probably prohibit riding a bike in order to check off a task from the list, this was too cool of an opportunity to pass up. So we rode a mile or so to this place, went up on the roof, and shared a neon blue bottle of booze while enjoying an amazing view of the Triborough Bridge and the Manhattan skyline.

A nice surprise for us was all the people willing to go out of their way to help us out. Aside from our hosts each night, whom I'll mention later, we had several people make efforts to accommodate us. Michelle Stoddart of the Queens Economic Development Corporation helped arrange for the guards at Queens Borough Hall to let us in late at night to use the bathroom. She also contacted David Strauss at the Queens Museum of Art, who gave us a tour of the Panorama early in the morning before the museum opened. He also gave us Queens t-shirts, which garnered several complements from passersby later in the day. The good people at Green-Wood Cemetery arranged to have a security guard let us in a back entrance and then let us stay for a little while after closing time so we could tap out a message on Samuel Morse's grave and visit the highest point in Brooklyn. And the owner of the Pelham Bit Stables in Pelham Bay Park let me ride a horse around for a few minutes free of charge so I could check that one off the list.

We also managed to meet up with a couple interested people who read the article about us in the Metro. I met Jenn in Manhattan on day 3 and we sat on the curb of 1st Avenue talking for a while. Later that evening I met Pat in Astoria and he walked down Broadway with me and bought me souvlaki and a beer at a local Greek restaurant.

Amongst the places you lodged during the walk were a church in Bay Ridge and a Jewish center in Forest Hills - where else did you rest up at the end of each day, and how did you find these places?
One of the first issues we had to deal with in planning our walk was the question of where we would sleep. We quickly ruled out hotels as too expensive and boring. We wanted something more representative of the neighborhoods where we would be staying. We considered hostels, but, beside the fact that they are few and far between outside Manhattan, they are also no more tied to the neighborhood in which they're located than hotels are. Staying with friends was a possibility, but we wanted to meet new people. Furthermore, we hoped to design this trip so that a stranger to NYC could complete it, and a stranger obviously wouldn't have friends to stay with. Sleeping outside was another option, but we figured it could be dangerous at night, and if we slept during the day we would miss prime sightseeing hours.

Our last hope was community groups. We already knew where we would be each night, so we contacted every community organization we could find in those four neighborhoods. We discovered that phone calls didn't work too well, since they required us to explain our whole story in just a few seconds, and generally resulted in the person on the other end of the line thinking we must be serial killers. Email proved to be more effective, since it allowed the recipient to read our story, look at our website, mull things over, and then make a decision.

We found lodging for two of the nights relatively easily, while the other two required much more searching. In the end, we had a diverse and extremely generous group of people willing to host us.

Night 1: The home of a member of Christ Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Rev. Dr. John Farrell immediately agreed to host us in the church, and then found a congregant who lives nearby who let us stay with her. Rev. Farrell even took us out to dinner that night.
Night 2: A Chabad center in Rego Park, Queens. Rabbi Eli Blokh graciously agreed to host us, and provided us with food and drink (including vodka, which we had to turn down), as well as air mattresses for sleeping.
Night 3: The couch of a fellow we found on www.couchsurfing.com in Astoria, Queens. See the story above about the rooftop.
Night 4: The Society for Ethical Culture in Riverdale, Bronx. Curt Collier, the leader of this organization, offered me a futon for sleeping, a large bowl of ice water for my feet, and breakfast for the next morning.

How did the tasks you were going to perform during the walk go, can you tell us about some of these - were all of them completed?
Our checklist can be found here. We were able to complete the large majority of the items on the list, although bad timing prevented us from doing a couple. For example, we were unable to make faces at a shark because we arrived at the New York Aquarium on Coney Island a few hours before they opened. We had to substitute a nearby painting of a shark on the boardwalk for the real thing.

Probably the two most fun things on the list were eating ten different ethnic cuisines and greeting people (and receiving responses) in ten different languages.

The cuisines were (in chronological order) Middle Eastern in Fort Greene, Italian in Bay Ridge, Russian in Brighton Beach, Ecuadorian in Woodhaven, Chinese in Flushing, Filipino in Woodside, Greek in Astoria, Mexican in Belmont, Japanese on the Upper West side, and Indian in Greenwich Village.

The languages were (also in chronological order) Arabic in Bay Ridge, Russian in Brighton Beach, Chinese in Flushing, Tagalog in Woodside, Polish in Greenpoint, Hebrew/Yiddish in Williamsburgh, Greek in Astoria, Spanish in Mott Haven, Italian in Belmont, and Japanese in Greenwich Village. I tried greeting the bikini-clad hostesses at the Hawaiian Tropic Zone in Times Square with an "Aloha!" as I entered through the revolving door, but received only English responses, so I kept going around the revolving door and left.

We were able to use the bathroom in four of five borough halls. We knocked out Staten Island and Brooklyn on the first day with no problem. We didn't get to Queens Borough Hall until about 9:30 pm on day 2, but were able to use the bathroom there anyway, thanks to Michelle at the Queens EDC. There is a strange sense of satisfaction that comes with having someone make special arrangements so you can use the bathroom in their building. I hit Bronx Borough Hall on day 4, and this was the first time I had to go through security screening. They wouldn't let me go through with my pocketknife and camera, so I had to check those while I was inside. It was about 10:00 pm when I arrived at City Hall on the final day of the trek, and I was unable to convince the security guard to let me inside, so I was unable to check Manhattan off the list.

We had planned on bowling at an alley in Sunset Park, but all the lanes were occupied when we got there. I assumed we would be unable to complete this task, but I unexpectedly passed an alley on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx near the end of day 4. My feet hurt quite a bit by this point, so I asked for shoes a size and a half too large to minimize contact with my blisters. I am a terrible bowler and had never broken 100 before this game, but, 120+ miles into the walk, I bowled a 139.

We happened upon a barbershop in Corona where we decided to get haircuts. No one in the place spoke more than a couple words of English, and I don't speak more than a couple words of Spanish, so it became a fun game of charades. I was a little worried when, ten minutes into the haircut, my barber began brushing me off as if he was finished. He had spent all ten of those minutes trimming around the sides of my head, over and over, with clippers, while not touching the hair on the top of my head at all. I gestured, using my fingers as scissors, that I wished to have all of my hairs cut. He seemed to acknowledge this, but then proceeded to work around the sides with clippers again. After a few minutes an older barber came over, shooed him away, and proceeded to give me a normal-looking haircut, for which I was very grateful. Rob's advanced language skills seemed to give him an advantage here, his haircut taking only about ten minutes while mine lasted a full 25.

To fulfill the community service obligation on the list, I stopped in Washington Square Park to pick up trash. I certainly didn't expect praise from anyone, but I was still a bit surprised when a man stopped to tell me what I was doing was pointless because in two minutes there would be trash all over the ground again. I resisted the urge to empty my bag onto his head.

The last task to be checked off was performing music on a subway platform. Rob and Don (who rode the subway with me last summer) met me at City Hall and walked the final mile of the trek with me. We ducked into the Fulton Street subway station and performed "Meet the Mets" (the first song for which one of us could remember the lyrics) for our legions of adoring fans, also known as the old lady sitting on the bench nearby who was giving us the stink eye. Andrea Appleton of the Tribeca Trib, who was walking with us, refused to participate.

What other treks and adventures have you embarked on in the past?
We've traveled together several times, but the two most interesting trips were our jaunt to the Southwest, which featured a 52-hour Greyhound ride, and our 19,000+ mile journey by car from Virginia to the Arctic Ocean and back. We actually have some write-ups of our trips posted at http://www.burnsomedust.com/trips.html.

Please share your strangest "only in New York" story.
While New York is certainly a great and unusual place, I don't believe in "only in New York" stories. I think weird things may be more likely to occur here, given the tremendous number of people crammed into one city, but there's no such thing as "only in New York."

Which New Yorker do you most admire?
Only in New York (ed. note: we thought there was no "only in New York"?! see above answer.) could you find a man like James "Jimmy" McMillan. He follows his dreams, stands up for the little man, and, most importantly, is totally insane. Sure, he may be a raving anti-semite who blames the Jews for the city's housing woes, but let's not forget the joy he brought to every voter in the 2005 elections who had a hearty chuckle upon seeing the Rent Is Too Damn High party on the official mayoral ballot.

Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
Here is the list of demands we presented at the steps of City Hall (or rather yelled toward the steps of City Hall from outside the locked gates - surprisingly, the security guards wouldn't let us inside).

1) Enough talk - it's time to finally build the 165th Avenue subway
2) Subsidize the nut vendors who help mask the scent of urine on the city streets
3) More landfills in Staten Island = more jobs
4) Give cab drivers immunity to vehicular manslaughter laws
5) Rebuild Ebbets Field
6) Announce the official posthumous pardon of Boss Tweed
7) Only segways allowed on the streets of Manhattan between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm
8) Restore 1970s-era Times Square
9) Route more planes over Shea on game days
10) Lower the fine for honking - the streets are too quiet
11) Free camel rides for city residents
12) Install moving sidewalks on all city streets - no more walking!

Favorite headlines: NY Post or Daily News?
You don't read that crap, do you?

Yankees or Mets?
Rob is a Yankees fan and I am a Yankees hater.