I was happy the cab driver took Central Park West. The park was full of people taking advantage of the last of the mild summer weather, and since I knew I probably wouldn’t be up this way again for awhile, I savored watching it out the window.
I tilted my head back and watched the street numbers pass by.
63rd, Sesame Street. How I loved that they had named a street after the show that made me want to live in the city.
66th, the entrance to Tavern on the Green. Bette Midler filmed a scene here in the movie “Beaches”, but it was her scene two years later in the movie “Stella” where she stood outside in the rain, watching her daughter get married that made me fall in love with this place. Even now I can’t walk by without getting emotional.
72nd, I don’t even have to see the street sign to know where we are. The familiar architecture of The Dakota greets me. I crane my neck to look up. I’ve never caught a glimpse of Yoko Ono, but I know she’s there. I’ve heard people wonder about why she would still live in the place where her husband was murdered. I glance across the cab to see the entrance to Strawberry Fields, and I understand why.
74th, The San Remo. I don’t bother craning my neck. I know it’s there, but the view of this iconic building is best appreciated from inside or across the park. That’s okay, I’ll take a peek from the East Side tomorrow.
77th, the American Museum of Natural History takes up the next four blocks. I’ve been here many times. I’m *almost* embarrassed to say that I’ve never been inside the museum. I’ve even had free passes. No, the reason I know this street involves cheese fries and John Lennon. Sitting on the southwest corner of the museum is a Shake Shack. It’s always hot and crowded and there is rarely a place to sit. And I never mind, because I always take mine to go. I walk the block back to the park and sit on a bench overlooking a mosaic that reads, “IMAGINE”. There are always flowers left behind by fans, as well as flowers blooming in the garden. Trees provide shade for tourists and fans, taking pictures or meditating. And there is always someone with a guitar, quietly playing the tunes that made John Lennon famous.
83rd, as high as we go. The driver turns left and I slide across the seat as we cross Amsterdam. I jump out and head into Café Lalo (made famous by the movie “You’ve Got Mail”) for breakfast and a cappuccino. Tip: If you have kids, this is a great, centrally-located spot between Central Park (check out the Diana Ross Playground), across the street from the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, and Riverside Drive (along the Hudson River). The sidewalks are generally clean, wide, and you tend to run into less “crazy” up here. It also smells pretty good. Anyway… Café Lalo has no bad seats and no bad menu choices. Go. Eat. Enjoy!
I grabbed a couple pastries to go (omg the CHOICES!), bounded down the steps, skipped down the street (okay, maybe I was only bounding and skipping in my mind, but you get it), and took a left to head south on Broadway.
I stopped at 79th to pay homage to a Banksy mural (carefully preserved under plexiglass), and after snapping a few pictures, I moved back to the corner and stood in line at a food cart for a Snapple (something about drinking a Snapple while walking through the streets of New York makes me feel like Elaine from “Seinfeld”. You know, “Snapple…made from the best stuff on earth!”).
The heat was just beginning to kick it up a notch, and tempers flared between a middle-aged woman camping in the median, yelling about her vagina (I totally get it), and a young man loudly complaining about the plight of black people and removing his shirt and putting it back on repeatedly. This drew little more than mild attention from people waiting to cross the street. Those of us standing at the food cart watched in amusement as she aggressively chased him off her median, and we giggled as he continued to run down the street. Chalk one up for angry vaginas.
As Broadway crossed Columbus, I walked over to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. In all the times I’ve traveled past, I had never stopped to walk up the steps and take a closer look. The sun was beginning to set behind one of the buildings, and the light through the fountain was beautiful. I moved closer to take some pictures, and was joined by sightseers, photographers, and a bunch of people sitting on the edge to cool off in the summer heat. I decided to join them for a moment. I closed my eyes and felt the cool spray drop the temperature around my legs. Suddenly, I was paying attention to the sounds of New York City. What was normally “white noise” became divided tracks of water, voices, music, brakes, horns, and sirens. I took a deep breath and tried to separate them even more. The voices were talking, yelling, singing, laughing. The music came from speakers in the plaza, live musicians, car stereos and radios on bicycles. The sirens were both near and far. Some of them wailing and some of them “whoop-whooping” to get through congested traffic. I wanted to stretch out on this cool edge of marble and stay like this forever. But I had a few more stops to make before dark. And pastries.
At Columbus Circle I paused at the Globe Sculpture to take a few pictures and listen to a live band. Then I crossed the street to tourist hell.
This southwest corner of Central Park is a Bermuda Triangle where Broadway, Central Park West (which becomes 8th Avenue) and 59th Street meet. This is a heavily saturated area of touristy stuff, so if you aren’t paying attention you have a higher chance of being hit by a cab, tour bus, limo, bike or pedestrian than anywhere else in the city, including 42nd Street. The general traffic laws don’t apply here. The food carts are nasty. The statue is covered in bird shit and surrounded by people who haven’t bathed since 1982, including hawkers aggressively handing out flyers. The busy bike-rental stand is patronized by people who haven’t ridden a bicycle in years, but who think that the crowded streets of Midtown would be a great place to reacquaint themselves with the sport. If you haven’t already guessed, I do not recommend this as a place to stop if you are every in Manhattan. If you find yourself here (and not inside a cab), just walk past it as quickly as you can, and realize that you will have to deal with a touch of PTSD.
On the corner of 59th there is a line of people standing at an ice cream truck. The kind of ice cream truck that rolls down the muggy streets of some suburban Kansas subdivision. I have real questions for anyone in this city who buys their ice cream from an ice cream truck. I resist the urge to grab the lapels of “Tourist #29” and shake him dramatically, all the while yelling about the overwhelming abundance of ice cream and gelato shops in this city. Instead, I turn down 58th toward 7th Avenue to get my last photo of the day.
The entire block between 8th and 7th Avenues is under construction. The scaffolding provides a unique blend of shade, and alternating air conditioning and heat. It’s like swimming in a lake. It can be refreshingly cool, until you swim through a random warm spot and try not to think about why it’s warm. The sound is muted through this area, and all I hear are snippets of conversations from people walking past.
I feel like this might be a good time to let you in on a personal observation. I’ve heard people who have never been here make comments that New Yorkers “don’t give a fuck”. Well, I’m here to tell you they give plenty of fucks. In fact, it’s impossible to walk down a sidewalk and not be struck by the amount of fucks dropped by passersby. On the phone, earbuds, airpods, or talking face-to-face. And they don’t just exclaim it… they begin, end and fill in sentences with it. They even divide words with it. Men, women, young, old… it doesn’t matter. Nationality? Nope, still handing out those fucks like candy at Halloween. It might make for a fun drinking game if you wanted to get drunk within a span of 3 blocks…
So I come out from under the scaffolding at the corner of 7th and 58th and look up. My heart sinks. The Petrossian is also covered in scaffolding. I have passed by this breath-takingly beautiful building so many times, but had never taken a picture. This time, I wanted to capture it. I waited too long. No telling how long the scaffolding will be up. I will just have to come back (I grin) and take a picture when it’s done.
The Saturday evening streets are much more crowded as I head through midtown. I have been repeatedly approached during my long walk down from 83rd Street. And while I did not stop to save the animals the children or the planet, I did donate four hot dogs to a young man conveniently perched on the corner of Broadway and Gray’s Papaya.
At 51st Street, I surrender and throw my arm up to catch a cab the rest of the way home. The driver smiles as I hop in and asks what kind of music I like. Then he hands me his phone and tells me to pick a song. I am able to play three of my favorite songs during the ride, and again I tilt my head back and watch the streets I’ve come to know and love pass by.