Everyone in the train car looked up in comic bewilderment as the E train glided past the platform of Roosevelt Island Station. “Due to police activity, the E train will not stop at this station,” the conductor announced. Confused and in a futile, panicked hurry, the passengers rushed out at the next stop to beat the growing crowd to the opposite platform; they would try again. It was already 3:36pm, and the Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom Festival was well underway.
After another wait and another cramped train, the attendees climbed up the immobile escalators and through the great bottleneck made worse by 20 police officers and perhaps four maintenance workers fixing one of the four escalators for the station.
“The Cherry Blossom Festival. There’s thousands of people here,” explained one officer in response to a disgruntled passenger.
NYPD is currently requesting that all trains bypass Roosevelt Island temporarily in both directions because of significant crowding after the Cherry Blossom Festival.
We will provide updates as soon as we receive them.
— NYCT Subway (@NYCTSubway) April 13, 2019
This Saturday, everyone had the same idea — or, at least, several thousand of them did. But no one knew their attempt at cherry blossom serenity would be foiled by everyone else who wanted the same pensive, looking-away iPhone portrait from beneath a beautiful budding bough — to adorn their Instagram feed, no doubt.
“Festival” was not the right word. Perhaps the “limited Asian food vendors” the event website advertised were on the other side of the hundreds-long line to get back into the train station. But the events — a tea ceremony, a traditional Japanese drum show — were well-over. On the north side of the train, there were no farmers-market-style tents with cooking food, no event venues, no signs suggesting where these might be. Only the Truman Show-like town, managed by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, with all its newly-built buildings and immaculately-clean sidewalks hemming in the only noticeably-aged structure on the island, the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, built in 1888.
Watch till the end where we almost got crushed at the Roosevelt Island subway escalators (@mta had 1 visible staff member, @richerryblfest & RI security had 1 staff each at entrance) piss poor planning & crowd control for 1000+ people #cherryblossoms pic.twitter.com/lbxDQBZvvG
— Larry Au (@larryau) April 13, 2019
The waterfront promenade, lined on the water’s side with plastic orange netting — to prevent the falling-in of people or the falling-out from lawsuits — was thick with bodies brandishing phones or cameras too large to be appropriate. Due, perhaps, to unseasonable weather or botanical stubbornness, not all the cherry trees were in bloom, and an atmosphere of scarcity that had wafted up from the subway permeated throughout the pinkish-white spotted orchards.
And lines. People formed lines. Not lines to the bathroom, which were generally hour-long ordeals. But lines to trees. No, not trees, branches. People in their brunch-best were eager to get access to the most ideal buds and take their perfectly pensive picture, or five, waiting for others to finish doing the same so they could do it better.
@MTA Roosevelt Island is just a mess beyond belief an event that’s on the island brought masses of ppl only for all even ppl with strollers to walk up 2 long flights of steps and nypd controlling how the escalators should run causing just ppl to be angry #fixtheproblemmta pic.twitter.com/rKhyaYSwLE
— Wasted_Elmo (@Wasted_Elmo) April 13, 2019
Bench space was also scarce but without the lines. We stopped there, had a few olives, some bread, a few moments of people watching before a walk around Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park. Then, my bowels signaling their intention; it was time to find a way off the island.
Avoiding the subway lines that stretched for a half-mile in either direction, we tried the tram; same story. Past the hour-long bathroom line at the island’s Starbucks, past the packed restaurants, more bathroom lines, and finally the last line, this one made of parents with their strollers waiting for the Roosevelt Island Bridge elevator. I carried my bowels — now temporarily constipated into a fragile stability — over the bridge towards the Long Island City Costco.
span style=”font-weight: 400;”>Besides inducing a particularly gnawing case of bubble gut, the Cherry Blossom Festival reminded me of a game to which I had been introduced only the night before, at Red Scare’s live podcast show at The Bell House in Gowanus. The game is called “Neoliberal Disaster or Neo-Fascist Catastrophe” and is based on Cornel West’s analysis of the 2016 election (i.e. choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is a choice between a neoliberal disaster and neo-fascist catastrophe).
Turns out, not only is there a ferry to Roosevelt Island, a lot of people knew about it before me, and they all came to see the cherry blossoms, too. These folks are on line to be wanded before proceeding. pic.twitter.com/wMK396xSLh
— Ellen McDermott (@HeyNell) April 13, 2019
Though the Red Scare hosts chose images like the newly-photographed black hole and Julian Assange’s arrest, the point of the game isn’t to be correct but to make light of the false choice inherent to each object in question.
As I sat on the toilet of the Mister Chicken II across the street from Court Square Station, I pondered the neoliberal disaster that was the crisis caused by underfunded public transit and the neo-fascist catastrophe that was the glut of Instagrammers crowding the the view of the already sparse blossoms with their shining, social-media-ready teeth.
In the game of attending the Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom Festival, there was no real choice between the two. You got both.