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Black Streets, White Steam


Ubiquitous to New York City is the towering skyscrapers, honking yellow taxis, Times Square billboards, and the massive clattering subway system.

      Add to this the sight of cars deftly dodging orange and white candy-striped chimneys in the middle of the streets that belch out what looks like smoke. Actually, it is steam and is part of the more than 100-mile-long steam system dating back to 1882 operated by Con Edison.

      The steam is a result of the condensation from colder water, like rain, falling through manhole covers coming into contact with the extremely hot pipes below the street level. Steam chimneys can be seen during all seasons.


Throughout the simmering summer months, the city scrapes the skin off of the streets and repaves them with asphalt, a mixture of gravel and hot sticky black glue, a byproduct of crude oil.

For a short time, the streets are smooth, hard, and black with crisp white painted pavement markings—until they are dug up to reach steam pipes, electrical wires, phone and internet conduits, and the sewage system. 

      New York is indeed a melting pot and the great equalizer as rich and poor alike, all ethnicities and age groups share the same crowded streets, breath the same asphalt air and navigate this city of steam. 


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