The Geek’s New York: The Unisphere

James Greene Jr. starts his tour of cinematic New York with the World's Fair exhibit destroyed by aliens in Men In Black...

Remember this scene...?

Welcome to the first edition of The Geek’s New York, in which I, James Greene, Jr., give you Brits the lowdown on cool dork stuff to check out in my adopted hometown. First up: the Unisphere, located in Flushing Meadows Park (sometimes known as Flushing Meadows-Corona Park).

The unisphere in Men In Black (1998)
Old school New Yorkers know this massive globe as the unofficial symbol of Queens, the Big Apple neighborhood that also gave the world most of the Ramones and decades of laughable Mets baseball. The Unisphere was originally constructed as the centerpiece of the World’s Fair Queens hosted in 1964 and ’65 (the only World’s Fair, it should be noted, to be held without the endorsement of the Bureau of International Expositions – up yours, BIE!). Of course, Generation Y movie buffs are probably more familiar with the Unisphere as the giant unnamed sculpture the alien mother ship crashes through in the 1997 Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones joint Men In Black.

Back when I used to have a car, I’d drive by Flushing Meadows Park and only see the World’s Fair Observation Towers barely peeking out above the trees that lined the Long Island Expressway. This led me to believe the Unisphere wasn’t all that large or awe-inspiring. I was wrong on both counts. Walking up to this junk in person is just jaw-dropping. The amount of negative space between all that curved steel really gets you. The globe is so friggin’ big you can’t even see Europe or North America. The way the whole thing’s just perched there on top of that big grey tripod, it seems entirely feasible a slight breeze could knock the Unisphere over. That would bring a grizzly and untimely end to the gaggle of teenage skateboarders who love to zip around the dried out pool that surrounds this great monument.

Flushing Meadows Park is pretty expansive, and there’s plenty of square footage to wander about once you’ve taken in the almighty Unisphere. You can trot on by the aforementioned decaying Observation Towers, take a moment to reflect by the large retention pond, or check out brand new ball park Citi Field (sure to be the host of many an embarrassing future Mets game). There’s also the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for all you aspiring Andre Agassis out there. But hey, maybe you just want to take a quiet stroll by the Van Wyck Expressway (which was name-dropped in a notable “Seinfeld” episode). It’s your call. Just watch out for those skateboarders and bicyclists. They generally don’t care who you are or where you’re standing.

Ad – content continues below

Since this is the first NYC Geek Spot article, let’s pretend you just landed at LaGuardia Airport for your fabulous and potentially very nerdy Noo Yuck vacation. Congratulations! You’re practically right next to Flushing Meadows Park, home of the Unisphere. All you need to do is hop a bus from the terminal to the nearest 7 train station (which will probably be Junction Boulevard or 90 St-Elmhurst Ave), get on the 7 heading towards Flushing, and get off one or two stops later at Willets Point-Shea Stadium*. Cross the pedestrian bridge over all those out of service 7 trains and veer right when you enter the park. You should be able to see the top of the Unisphere as you cross the bridge. Boom, baby. If for some reason you landed at JFK and you just have to see the Unisphere before checking into your hotel to shower all the gross off, take a cab. There’s no easy way to Das Globe via bus or subway from there.

Already in Manhattan? Don’t fret – directions are mad easy. Just get your bippy to Times Square or Grand Central Station, pick up the 7, and do the same junk I laid out in the previous paragraph. It’ll take you a good hour to get out there from the city probably, but at least you’ll get a bird’s eye view of most of Queens. It’s definitely one of the more scenic subway rides in the five boroughs and, contrary to what John Rocker might tell you, the percentage of purple-haired freaks/former inmates/legless cats addicted to meth riding the 7 train is surprisingly low.

Next time: one of the more fan-friendly haunts in the city – the Ghostbusters fire station.

* The demolition of Shea and subsequent opening of Citi Field may change the name of this subway stop as early as next year. Be forewarned, traveler.