Volume 74, Number 19 | September 08 - 14 , 2004


Villager photo by Robert Stolarik

Police on Eighth Ave. in Chelsea who accompanied R.N.C. protesters marching from Union Sq. last Thursday night.

Chelsea march zone journal: Lockdown to W throw down

By Tim Gay

Thursday, Day 1: Ominous signs appear on Eighth Ave. parking meters: “No Parking Aug. 28 through Sept. 3.” People seem hurried yet determined. Boyfriend Neal calls with bad news: no more rental cars anywhere in Manhattan.

Friday, Day 2: Streets seem emptier by day. Early evening, there is heavy traffic heading down Seventh Ave. to the Holland Tunnel as I navigate my old Bronco up to Chelsea. Helicopters whirl above Sixth Ave. At 14th and Eighth are hundreds of police on bicycles. More threatening signs appear on the side streets: “No Parking Sunday.” Someone has placed barricades in front of my house.

Eighth Ave. is closed at 23rd St. Rumors abound that sharpshooters are positioned on the roofs of Penn South buildings from 23rd to 29th Sts.

Neal calls. A cancellation frees up the last rental car in Manhattan — a dowdy Chevy Impala.

Chelsea feels like a city evacuated before a siege.

Saturday, Day 3: Times Sq. streets are vacant at 7 a.m. Neal and I bid farewell for the week as he floats away in the Impala. I take a cab back to Chelsea. We drive past vast lines of concrete barriers and sand-filled dump trucks outside Madison Sq. Garden. Again, hundreds of police stand guard against no one.

I go to the Jersey Shore for the day. Heavy traffic in the late afternoon on the Garden State Parkway gives way to thinning traffic on the turnpike. The Holland Tunnel is eerily empty at 6 p.m. On Hudson St. I hit 45 miles per hour and make every green light. Back home on 17th St., a port-a-john joins the barricades by my stoop.

Eight p.m., and the sidewalk cafes are bare. Maitre d’s stand in doorways smoking cigarettes. The Food Bar waiters sit at the coveted table in the window and enjoy the slowness.

Calm before the storm? “Maybe it’s the calm before the revolution,” offers a waiter at Viceroy.

By midnight, Chelsea is evacuated, except for the moonlight shimmering on streets lined in aluminum police barricades.

Sunday, Day 4: “Where are the crowds that were supposed to wake me?” I wonder at 9 a.m. Looking out my windows I see few people on Eighth Ave., and 17th St. is totally empty all the way to Seventh Ave.

Chelsea looks like a scene from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

“Could everyone be at brunch? Or did everyone stay home?”

I arrive at 10:30 to meet Chelsea United Neighbors, the umbrella group for Chelsea Coalition for Housing, the West 300 and 400 Block Associations, Chelsea for Peace and Chelsea Reform Democratic Club. Our numbers grow. The emptiness becomes hundreds, then thousands.

The radio tells us hundreds of thousands are gathering for United for Peace and Justice. Jesse Jackson, Michael Moore and throngs of protesters are moving forward at 23rd and Seventh. Still we wait another hour on 18th St.

The disabled groups and unions gathered in Union Sq. L.G.B.T. groups came up from Sheridan Sq. People from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts tell us of packed early-morning trains and buses.

I see veteran Chelsea lefties like Estelle Katz and Bob Trentlyon, Doris Corrigan, Gloria Sukenick. Bob Martin and Norma Ramerez, neighbors on 17th St., organized our Chelsea groups. We take off, walking one block every 30 minutes.

Along the way, I meet self-identified Chelsea Boys and bodybuilders, mothers, teachers, grandparents, accountants, sanitation workers and one exotic dancer. Some people identify themselves as rich, unemployed, environmentalist, liberal or antiwar. Andy Dawson of 10th Ave. says this is his first demonstration since ACT UP in the late ’80s. Kate Abel’s sign reads, “My son watched the towers fall from his school. I don’t feel safer.”

Most say this is their first political march. Everyone says this time is pivotal, and all told of grave concern for the future.

Signs range from the political and antiwar to satire. One sign proclaims, “Preach abstinence. Say no to Dick and Bush.”

“We’ve laid the groundwork for the future,” says Chelsea United Neighbors organizer Bob Martin.

Monday, Day 5: Street cleaning commences during the day. Fewer people are on the streets. Protesters walking from the U.N. try to go past Madison Sq. Garden.

Eighth Ave. is now closed at 14th St. I ask a policewoman why.

“Bad behavior on someone’s part,” she says.

“Oh no, not the Bush twins again?” I ask.

“No, but it would be a lot more fun if it were the Bush girls….”

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