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What is life like for New York residents who weren’t raised there?
1968 – Moving to Manhattan
New York City Was an Old Friend
Between the 1950s and 1970s, I had been in Manhattan hundreds of times, loved the lifestyle, and knew Manhattan is a world class business and fun city but unless you live in Manhattan, it’s a pain to get to, what with trains, buses, and subways commuting jamming people together in cattle like conditions. I had become familiar with New York City for the first time while I was in the Navy during the late 1950s. In 1957, one of my best friends, Ted Strauss, had introduced me to The Grand Concourse in The Bronx where we developed friendships with different girls. In 1957 and 1958, I ran a Sailor Taxi Service to Manhattan from Norfolk, dropping sailors off in Times Square before proceeding to the Bronx to see my girl friends. During the same period, my destroyer parked in the Hudson River by the George Washington Bridge for two “Fleet Weeks” whereby I stood Military Police duties on infamous Eighth Avenue and explored Midtown from the deck of a Police Radio Jeep. I found that the city takes care of itself, as night club and bar bouncers kept discipline rather than the NYPD. Then, while working for IBM in the 1960s, I was often in Manhattan on special assignment, or attending school in IBM’s Eighth Avenue Educational Center. In 1964, I was in Studio 41 at the CBS Broadcast center for three months preceding the Johnson/Goldwater Presidential Election. I set up CBS’s election system, the one that predicts the winner through voting extrapolation techniques. While at CBS in Studio 41, I worked with the poll expert, Lou Harris, and met all the CBS broadcast personalities, including Walter Kronkite, Eric Severoid, and Roger Mudd Down the hall was a most amusing character, Captain Kangaroo.
I loved NYC . . . There were thousands of delights, with tens of thousands of people walking about, and no question about it, the best girl watching in the world was available in Manhattan – particularly in midtown along its many avenues, lined with skyscrapers, building ledges and street cafes to sit around. A particularly good area was in the fifties on Sixth Avenues where many water fountains abounded and granite veranda patios filled with tables, chairs and sitting ledges. Whatever your fancy, blond, brunette, redhead, Asian, White, or Black, the woman of you dreams would pass by every five minutes – or oftener! And the food, just for lunch, every kind of food is available, with hundreds of Delis, street cafes, ethnic restaurants, Halal street carts, and fast food eateries every two blocks. Eat a New York pizza and you are doomed to never be satisfied for a slice anywhere else. The beautiful people of the world came to Manhattan for fame, fortune, and excitement. Careers in show business and the business world topped the list as reasons so many bright and attractive people moved to Manhattan. And for some like me, it was for freedom, escaping the segregated south to become all I could be!
Martin Luther King is Assassinated
On April 3, 1968, the day I transferred to Manhattan, Martin Luther King was assassinated. The King assassination riots, also known as the Holy Week Uprising, was a wave of civil disturbance which swept the United States were the greatest wave of social unrest the United States experienced since the Civil War. His death led some people to feel angry and disillusioned, as though now only violent resistance to white racism could be effective. The Washington, D.C., riots of April 4–8, 1968, resulted in Washington, along with Chicago and Baltimore, receiving the heaviest impact of the 110 cities to see unrest. My northwest DC neighborhood on 14th Street near the Maryland border was devastated. I lived on 13th and Iowa Avenue in a second floor flat, a mere half block to 14th Street, which was torn down all the way to K Street in downtown DC. I was a white man living in a black neighborhood and local people knew where I lived. I was told later by Mrs. King, my next door neighbor and the black couple downstairs from me, that black rioters broke into my apartment looking for an easy kill, but that morning I had left for New York. What luck on my side . . . but the whole area was torn down, burned, and all stores broken into and cleaned out.
Shortly after I arrived to live in Manhattan, an earnest young Computer Engineer turned a teacher of technology at the ‘New School’ graduate program – being a straight laced, all mid western Wisconsin chirp who just left ten years in segregated Virginia, took a hotel room at the Consulate Hotel in Midtown Manhattan on 49th Street between Broadway and 8th Ave until I found an apartment. Bettie came to see often, she was my love and I missed every minute away from her. This was Hell’s Kitchen and I learned my way around town by getting on the subway (50 cents) choosing a line and station at random and getting out and walking around. I guess nobody thought I was worth mugging. But I met so many interesting people in the process. I lived in Times Square and worked in Greenwich Village and hung around Washington Square and Union Square. I have to tell you, I never, not once, ever had bad things happened to me, even though New York had that ‘Wild West’ adventure happening thing about it, all I ever experienced were good times and great people. There was movers’ strike in New York City so all my baggage from Washington DC stayed in a local warehouse which made me stay at the Consulate for more than three months. The Consulate was an old and dumpy hotel, but was a fantastic Manhattan location for night life, or Broadways Shows, one theater is next door and another one is across the street. It was extremely close to Subway stations, Rockefeller Center, hundreds of bars, night clubs, and restaurants. I appreciated meeting many of the talented Broadway hopefuls staying there while they auditioned with Broadway producers for a shot at the big time. We would eat breakfast in the coffee shop in the Consulate lobby and get to know each other. These Broadway hopefuls came from all over the USA and all had their hearts on their sleeve for the making it into the big time. One extraordinarily beautiful black woman whom I befriend from California did make it and got a job in the chorus line of “Dream Girls.”
The New School for Social Research 66 West 12th Street – Greenwich Village
I worked for Control Data Institute and taught Computer Technology at the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village, a celebrated graduate school for advanced adult education to bring creative scholars together interested in improving their understanding of the key issues of the day through active questioning, debate, and is renowned for its teaching and being an international think tank. The New School is a Global School designed to promote economic and cultural diversity. I absolutely loved NYC, it had been my personal retreat and big city love interest for years. Living there exemplified a free expression of life, it was highly artistic and academic in Greenwich Village, full of very accomplished performing arts and creative characters from all over the world, funky and crazy beyond expression. It fit me like a glove! I lived in Hells Kitchen in the Consulate Hotel for three months and moved to Jamaica, Queens for about two years. I taught computer courses, wrote books, explored the City, rode subways all over, the A Train was best and met hundreds of interesting people. After six months there, I was promoted to a Supervisor and managed both hardware and software classes. I counseled students and got the nick name of “Father Jerry.” I also continued my National Recruiting and hired hundreds for CDC. I loved teaching Grad students, most were PhDs looking to learn the basics about computers. They were an international set, most spoke multiple languages, had written books and were just the most fun bunch I had ever come across. My hangout was in Washington Square Park, just a block away, filled with NYU students, protesters of every stripe, performing artists and crazies. I met many well known artists, producers, playwrights, authors, actors and musicians there. The artistic crowd is an interesting bunch, funny, smart, and down to earth who don’t give a shit about appearance. What a difference from the segregated retarded south!?
Greenwich Village – My home for years
New York, in fact the rest of the country, has always accused Greenwich Village of being a little well . . . different. There is definitely a personality type that inhabits the area. You need to have an open mind and be someone’s who’s bold and independent and doesn’t mind going out of their way to meet people or at first be out of your element. It’s great for people who adapt well to new situation, love having their hands full, making connections and have big-time aspirations and want to be able to submerge themselves into their career from the start. We tend not to march to quite the same drummer as most of the rest of the country, which may be why we have attracted the artists, writers, musicians and all the rest of the excessive personifieds to the Village for so many years. It’s not that we in Greenwich Village “draw outside the lines” – we draw within much bigger lines and use brighter colors! Fertile doesn’t even begin to describe Greenwich Village’s yield of creative genius. Abstract expressionist painters and Hollywood types like Woody Allen congregate here, as well as folk musicians and poets.
How to describe the Village? . . . First of all, be different. The Village is all about diversity. Everyone you meet here is fascinating in their own way. I was teaching graduate students at the New School and especially enjoyed the diverse academia and performing arts characters I met there and in Washington Square Park; actors, playwrights, university professors, and protesters of every stripe. Greenwich Village is all about a unique culture . . . hail, hail, the gang’s all here: a galaxy of scoundrels, artists and geniuses commingling in several key artistic scenes; the jazz and folk explosions, Off Broadway’s theater productions, where nonconformists, individualists, bohemians, progressives gather; where avant-gardes, experimenters, gays and lesbians could gather and feel at home; where actresses, poets, chorines, working girls, socialites hang out. As I walk around, enjoying espresso at the never ending street cafes and conversation with highly educated and talented people, dancing at the clubs filled with all kinds of exotic girls, hanging out with NYU students and professors in Washington Square Park, I fall in love with this counterculture mecca.
Greenwich Village long ago earned a reputation as a magnet for bohemians and intellectuals. Generations of artists and writers gave the neighborhood its freewheeling identity, and radical thinkers from Upton Sinclair to John Reed have held forth in smoky Village cafes. The neighborhood has a definite live-and-let-live, left-of-center vibe, and the Village remains one of New York’s most appealing neighborhoods, and an especially lovely place to stroll. Leafy streets, lined with Federal-style town houses and ivy-covered brownstones, meander at will, defying the symmetrical street grid pattern that brings order to the world above 14th Street. You can take the A, C or E train to Eighth Avenue and 14th Street, the Village’s northern border.
Just a few blocks from my location on 5th Avenue and 12th Street was Union Square, a favorite place for me to walk to and sit around for lunch. It is right down 14th Street on Broadway and Park Avenue South near 4th avenues. There are many bars, street cafes and restaurants on the periphery of the square, and the surrounding streets have some of the city’s most renowned (and expensive) restaurants. Union Square is a popular meeting place, given its central location in Manhattan and its many subway lines underneath the streets. Many buildings of The New School are near the square, as are several dormitories of New York University. Union Square is, and was, a frequent gathering point for radicals of all stripes to make speeches or demonstrate. Many different type of markets are held in the square, the best-known of these is the Union Square Greenmarket, where 250,000 customers per week can purchase 1,000 varieties of fruits and vegetables, which is bigger variety of produce available than what is found in a conventional supermarket. Then it was a short walk to Washington Square Park which was on 5th Avenue in the in the center of NY university buildings. Washington Square Park (WSP) is affectionately known as the place where all NYU students go to get away from their dorm mates when they’re getting busy in between classes. It’s a very calm area with some cobbled streets and old houses. A street away on 6th Avenue there were four blocks of outdoor vendors and artists selling their bargains and paintings.
Washington Square Park (WSP)
Washington Square Park is the colorful center of Greenwich Village activity, punctuated by the Washington Memorial Arch at the square’s north end. Historically, Washington Square Park hasbeen a parade ground, as well as the site of public executions, but today its pleasures are considerably less martial. One block away from my 5th Avenue office building, Washington Square Park is my third favorite park in Manhattan (Central Park and Bryant Park being 1 and 2). There is always very interesting people playing chess, some performance artists, break dancers or some other type of entertainment mulling around looking for a crowd with lots of great seating areas so the can watch. Consequentially, Washington Square isn’t really a park – it’s a hundred music and entertainment options rolled into one. There are dozens of impressive musicians claiming a bench or corner of the park to earn a few bucks, artists making or offering things of beauty, chalk and sand artists, comedians, jugglers and people looking for a challenge at the chess board. My first time in Washington Square Park there was behind me, sitting on the grass, was a woman who had two gray parrots with her. They were both on a leash. Really. Not far away was a woman with a bright yellow sign reading, “Conversations, $1.” Not far away there was a guy banging out a tune of some sorts on his guitar and half singing and half shouting a song with lyrics such as “Before you left did you order a cheeseburger?” The fountain in the center had cold water, which was especially refreshing during a muggy summer days. Everyone at the park was relaxing or reading, so I was left in peace while I breathed in the air and chilled out for awhile. There were a few colorful characters, but they left me alone, which was good enough for me. As I left the park and headed toward Broadway, a young man was at the piano on the eastern edge of the square playing Rachmaninoff. He then proceeded to play Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” after which he asked if we had enjoyed it and added, “I wrote that one myself.”
There are thousands of delights, with tens of thousands of people walking about, and no question about it, the best girl watching in the world is available in Manhattan – particularly in midtown along its many avenues, lined with skyscrapers, with building ledges and street cafes to sit around. A particularly good area was in the fifties on Sixth Avenues where many water fountains abounded and granite veranda patios filled with tables, chairs and sitting ledges. Whatever your fancy, blond, brunette, redhead, Asian, White, or Black, the woman of you dreams would pass by every five minutes – or oftener! The beautiful people of the world came to Manhattan for fame, fortune, and excitement. Careers in show business and the business world topped the list as reasons so many bright and attractive people moved to Manhattan. And for some like me, it was for freedom! For lunch, every kind of food is available, with hundreds of Delis, street cafes, ethnic restaurants, Halal street carts, and fast food eateries every two blocks. Eat a New York pizza and you are doomed to never be satisfied for a slice anywhere else. Now you see the bold and the beautiful, the famous and discover they are just like you, scared of the notoriety and needing a small space to hide in. That is the biggest lesson you learn in Manhattan that we are not so different, all the races, colors, ethnicities and religions types are so much the same.
Nothing in the world beats the night life in New York, which includes various types of hang out places like Bars, Cocktail Lounges, Billiards, Comedy Clubs, Dance Clubs, Hotel Bars, Music Clubs, Sports Bars, Piano Bars, Jazz & Blues Clubs. Yes, in New York you can always hear any type of music, from plenty of jazz, pogoing punk to thumping hip-hop on any night of the week the live music scene very well reflects New York’s diversity. If you are looking out for some dance clubs with Caribbean, Brazilian, African tastes, or even cheesy numbers or hard-hitting drum tunes, you can get that too. Crazy things happened all the time. I bought beef jerky sticks from a street cart, an Amish man, in Union Square park on a gorgeous sunny day in Gotham after a business meeting. There were hundreds of people milling about enjoying the day as I was. As I sat eating my jerky sticks, I saw an attractive big busted woman wearing absolutely nothing above her low-cut jeans; her beautiful breasts on full display. It made my day. What a delightful vision of splendor!
All the New Yorkers pretended not to notice but, I like to smile and luxuriate in spiritual feelings so, I was most happy as she walked by, breaking up the routine of another day chasing a buck in New York. The City is good for open minded people and will stress out and even annoy closed minded people. Be prepared for everything. So here we go . . . a walk around NYC.
As a new person to Manhattan, I performed the obligatory Staten Island Ferry ride and then caught the subway to Clark St Brooklyn, as advised by others, to walk toward the Manhattan skyline across the Brooklyn bridge. The first time I walked across was with friends from the job. We caught a cab to the other side and had Grimaldi’s Pizza first, hmm mm yum. Then we began our walk. The bridge is monumental. I loved every second of it and my photos turned out amazing. On any given day visitors from all over the world stream across the walkways to spy the towers of Manhattan and Lady Liberty from high above the East River. The melting pot begins here. Visitors should know that the rather narrow walkway is shared with a large number of bicycle commuters so keep your eyes open and respect the dividing line. I would highly recommend walking from the Brooklyn side because then you have the beautiful Manhattan skyline to look at on your walk. It really was breathtaking.
The Brooklyn Bridge connects two great New York City boroughs, Manhattan and Brooklyn. When finished in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the tallest structure in America and the longest suspension bridge in the world with a span that reached 1,596 feet. Today, the bridge is often the sight of protests, marathons, and even a passage for mass numbers of commuters like during a Transit Worker’s Union three-day strike. Normally about 5,000 pedestrians and 2,500 bicyclists commute daily across the Brooklyn Bridge on the elevated pedestrian walkway. You can walk it, drive it, bike it, take a subway across or just admire it. One way or the other, the Brooklyn Bridge soaring over the East River is one of New York City’s most famous routes, both for tourists and born-and-bred New Yorkers.
I just finished walking the Brooklyn Bridge going from east to west and saw the City Hall of New York, and my tourist map said Chinatown was nearby. I asked two Chinese ladies sitting on a park bench the direction and they said just follow “Central St.” True enough, before me were several Chinese restaurants and bargain stores after a short walk. Shirts were being sold for just $2, and great caps for three for $5, but I came here for the food! I wanted to eat some beef Chop Suey like my dad got from the Chinese restaurant in Milwaukee every Friday night. It was notable that there were also lots other Asian restaurants, like Vietnamese. All the stores here target to Chinese people as customers, the newspaper and signs are in Chinese. Of course, the area isn’t just an ethnic ghetto and it is very popular among the tourists too, at least the central part along Canal Street where you can find many souvenir shops and a lot of seafood markets where old Chinese ladies go to shop some weird sea creatures that smell bad! There are also many markets that sell traditional herbal medicines (I didn’t try any) and a lot of street vendors everywhere with some strange exotic fruits. I walked for a while in the small streets and barely met with anyone other than Chinese people. I drunk something at Hon Café where nobody could understand in English that I just wanted a milkshake so I drunk something else! Then I returned back to the small alleys and visited the central park of the area which is Columbus Park. The Chinese community gather there for socializing. I noticed many ladies under their colorful umbrellas chatting and playing cards and the men in different tables playing an unknown to me domino game. Some interesting points to see here are the two Buddhist temples I saw, probably there are more but those are the ones I saw on the map. On Mott Street I found many accupressurist charging $5 for 10 minutes.
Something told me I was nearing the financial district because of all the starched white shirts in vests in pin striped suits were walking down the street. Girls in high heels and dark suits, men with ties and their hair all in place. No tattoos and dread locks on this side of town. There were a lot of voices that sounded angry, so I followed the sounds. I sure didn’t want to miss a good story. It was a group of New York Telephone employees picketing in favor of some new work rules. My next encounter was probably the most interesting of the day. Six or eight protesters were camped out on the sidewalk by City Hall.
They were angry about the upcoming budgets cuts against the have-nots, the poor, the sick, the elderly and of course they cited the budget surplus and the wealth just down the way on Wall Street. It’s an age-old problem, and I wonder if we’ll ever solve it, the ethical debate over the makers and takers. The good news is that I got on the E train going back to Queens and got off at the right station. I am getting to be a real New Yorker.
Lately I have been walking up the avenues to 42nd street to explore Manhattan. It was hot and I was sweaty and wanted something sour, I stood with a dime in my hand to buy a big sour pickle. I picked on from the barrel on 8th Avenue, then, task complete, walked out into the sunshine, extra bright after the darkness of the store, hands full of candy and a smile on my face. Across the avenue, Lanza’s, an Italian restaurant, occupied the same spot since the 1920s. It seemed so old: small white octagonal tiles on the floor, wainscoting and mirrors and pictures of Italy on the wall, bent-wood chairs at the tables. It was a little more expensive than the other Italian places I went to. It was the first place I ate Veal Marcela and I remember the sensation of the buttery meat melting in my mouth. The Italian ice place next-door was an important stop after dinner at Lanza’s on a hot day. The soothing lemon ices, smooth and tart, were served in a pleated paper cup. You’d squish it to get the ices to come up where they could be licked, I can still feel and taste them on my tongue.
What I found in Manhattan were diversity in neighborhoods, architectures, and ethnicity. Yesterday I walked uptown on Fifth Avenue to Grand Central because it was so beautiful; a crisp air bright blue afternoon sky and I love to walk the streets of New York because there is no need to be crammed and sweating in a subway car. Each time I’ve walked to Grand Central. I’ve taken a different avenue or have zigzagged my way uptown. I like to get a feel for each avenue, see how they’re different, see what’s around me. Today I took Lexington Avenue and I’m glad I did. Besides how narrow it was, compared to other avenues, it was beautiful. Old buildings, more residential on the stretch I walked than other avenues. But the main reason I was so happy to be on Lexington was because, as I was stopped at a corner waiting for traffic to pass, I heard a little voice call out, “Mr. Luenzmann?” Had I heard the voice say, “Jerry” I probably wouldn’t have turned around because no one yet knows me by my first name in New York City outside of the New School. But because my ears are so trained to small voices calling me by my last name, I turned around immediately and there in front of me was one of my students. She was getting out of a cab with her mother right where I was, and after a few surprised seconds, they invited me up to their building’s roof! It was the first rooftop I’ve been on in my life in New York, and I couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful vista or two more lovely people to be up there with. The building has a view of the East River, where Macy’s 4th of July fireworks explode before their eyes, and, better yet, the Empire State Building basically leans over them. We were so close I could almost see the people in the building’s offices. I exaggerate of course, but the view was really beautiful.
One day I met a young lady at Trader Joe’s, a sweet eyed, brown skinned vixen from Tunisia. She wanted to go dancing. New York City is full of immigrants, who left their nation(s) and culture to pursue a better life in the Big Apple. I wondered about the millions of immigrants who come here for some freedoms, whether religious or economic. I wonder about the societies they come from and whether they do a better job of handling all of these emotions we do battle with every day. But I do find it ironic that we, this nation of ultimate freedoms, purports to allow all pursuits of happiness and inclinations (in the north), yet so many of us seem so uncomfortable with some of our most basic instincts: to challenge, to create, to run and play, to sing and dance, to be truly who we are even when it doesn’t fit in with someone’s expectations.
I went to the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade when the streets came alive with the sights of zombies, witches and super heroes. Several hundred revelers lined Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue to watch the steady stream of masked characters and floats jammed with singers and dancers. Open to anyone in a costume, the event prides itself on being an anything-goes spectacle. I loved the Village, regarded as an artists’ haven, the Bohemian capital, the center of the Hippy movement, and the East Coast birthplace of ’60s counterculture movements. And I was there for all of it!
Cruising Times Square
Times Square – iconified as “The Crossroads of the World” and the “The Great White Way” – is the brightly illuminated hub of the Broadway theater district, one of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections, and a major center of the world’s entertainment industry. I got my start there in the 1950s when I was in the Navy spending many weekend liberties in Manhattan. For a sailor from Milwaukee stationed in the segregated and dismal 1950s south, Times Square was an euphoria of delight, a paradigm of exoticness coupled with the world’s diversity of peoples and life styles all wrapped in one package. During our annual ‘Fleet Week’ when my Battle Group visited New York City and my Destroyer anchored in the Hudson by the George Washington Bridge, I stood Military Police in Times Square before we were deployed to the Med for six to eight months. Compared to dismal Norfolk, Manhattan was like comparing Paris to Calcutta.
I fell in love with the Big Apple back then and again when I worked in the Big Apple throughout the 1960s with IBM. Yes, it was a rough environment and not for pussies, but I had been around the block a few times (African and Middle East 3rd world, Islamic and communist countries filled with insurgencies and the violent Civil Rights battles in the south) and could handle myself well in any situation. It was a time when sex shops were legalized and compounded by Times Square’s accessibility and central location and the world’s most infamous Port Authority bus terminal at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue.
In the 1960s, Times Square was a breeding ground for crime, drug addiction, and plenty of X-rated peep shows. Times Square was lude, rude and vicarious, filled with live nude shows, sex shops, erotic bookstores, X-rated movies that attract dare devil voyeurs and perverted paramours. Hundreds of dance and night clubs dotted the area, providing live entertainment to supplement the revivals and spectacles on Broadway. Times Square also has Jazz Clubs, Art Galleries, with hundreds of restaurants and hotels. It is the most exciting and depraved place in the Unites States.
Even with all its sleaze, Times Square has to be the neon sign capital of the world, and there was something magical about the way thousands of neon lights blink incessantly that cast a eerie glow over all the bejeweled and exciting creatures of the night walking about, including such nefarious characters as prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts, paramours on the prowl and tens of thousands of curious tourists looking for a thrill. To top it all off is the filth of the Port Authority bus station – also known by commuters as the ‘asshole of the world.’ Across the street was the grimy street character enclave Terminal Bar, a classic dive bar Juke joint, with dancing to the Top 40, Merle Haggard and Fats Domino on the saw dust covered floor, but it did have its good points. It conferred dignity, nobility and grace on those who had been diminished and marginalized skels until they found their place at the Terminal Bar. Both the Bar and Bus Station were filled with drunks, merchant marine sailors, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes that hung out at what was considered to be the roughest bar and street corner in NYC. Ex boxers, wrestlers and famous entertainers who fell on bad times were the standard bearers of the place – they had a few bucks for the watered down drinks. It was mind your own business and keep your mouth shut territory and don’t get on a political or religious soap box about anything!
Since I enjoy the weird and unusual and while walking 8th Avenue at 42nd Street, poked my head into the Terminal Bar once in a while, its notoriety drew artists and punks and the curious. I like that no one took any crap, bigots and perverts were promptly deposed of. Judgmental religious missionary types were the worst, but Priests who came to have a drink with the boys and consult were welcome. You could always find lost teeth on the floor that been knocked out from fights. When I did Military Police Jeep Patrol, I made some stops at the Terminal Bar to keep unruly sailors out of the hands of the efficient and no nonsense NYPD who would lock them up in an over night drunk tank along with Times Square perverts. I found that straights like businessmen in pin striped suits and high class women in furs and high heels went there to experience the ‘other world’ once in while, to get dirty and hang out around 3 a.m.
But, it wasn’t really welcoming to slumming business engineering hipsters like me or bush league adventures looking to make nice with Terminal bums. You needed tattoos, earring, being unshaven with long hair, having a worn out – been through a war and barely survived look – to enter without provocations coming back at you. It was still an enclosed society with it’s own brutal code, not easily cracked by the voyeuristic aesthete. After slumming and nightclubbing all night, skulls like me had double eggs and bacon breakfast around the corner at the 11th Avenue Diner with its sing waitresses and where Mickey Spillane and Jimmy Breslin got their story book characters from. Yes, back in the day, Times Square was dirty, grimy, laden with pimps and prostitutes, but, man, was it ever fun for a voyeur like me! You could pick and choose our dirt and go for it. I was enamored with it and it touched parts of my soul. I am a writer and there were thousands of stories to tell. It had everything and every type of person you could imagine. I like weird and got along so well there. I loved the Big Apple. It was all about freedom, opportunity, acceptance of everyone emboldened within neverending exciting adventures. I decided not to walk Manhattan in an orderly manner but, rather, to walk wherever I happened to be in the city on a particular day or what appealed to me according my mood. If I felt like open spaces, I would walk the upper part of Manhattan; if I wanted streams of people milling around, it would be midtown or lower Manhattan. I didn’t skip any streets because I learned from my first few walks that you never knew what was around the corner. When walking around Manhattan, you learn the city’s quirks and niches, the things that make New York what it is. This is great if you have never been to NYC, or if you have been to an area and never truly explored it. I learned this my first day out: Why do Brownstones have tall stairways? To avoid the smell of manure before the car was invented of course!
A few days ago I walked down to the Wall Street area. Leaving the West Village, heading south along Greenwich Street, I could see a change in architecture . . . the pretty brownstone streets were soon replaced with rows and rows of old warehouses. Real old ones, the kind that are begging to be restored into vibrant, new loft spaces young people would inhabit. I’ve always wanted to restore an old warehouse. On I walked as the landscape transitioned again. Taller, newer buildings sprung up amidst the old ones. I stopped for lunch in Tribeca and had my first real street meal today from a Halal [i.e.: Muslim] vendor. For $5, which include a coke (I mean a soda), I had one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in a long time. REALLY! It included something that resembled a hush puppy, but it was seasoned totally differently. I was enjoying my meal until the pigeons arrived. And folks, let me tell you, these New York pigeons are REAL aggressive. That bird came within six inches of my lunch and would not back off at all.
Walking Harlem on Sundays was very uplifting as you could hear singing in the air from all the churches. There are dozens of them in Harlem, some large, some as small as a one-door garage. One time when I had gotten off the train at 125th street, I stopped outside the station to stretch my legs before beginning a long walk downtown. A man in a wheelchair rolled over to me and asked if I was O.K.. When I told him I was just stretching my legs, he said, “O.K, as long as you’re alright,” and rolled away! On another occasion, a young African-American was sitting in front of a brownstone next to it and as I passed him he asked me if I was going to buy the house. I told him I wasn’t but that if I were his age, I would seriously consider it. Manhattan has so many kinds of people experiences I wondered what kept me so long from enjoying them. There was always a show to see in Manhattan whether it was the sidewalk stores in Washington Heights, the quaintness of Greenwich Village, the “busyness” of Chinatown and the lower East Side, or the multitude of activities going on at Harold Square, Columbus Circle, Union Square, or Madison Square Park.
People want to know what area I liked the best and I always have to dodge that question because I had no favorite. Manhattan is like twenty different countries – you appreciate each one for what you learn from it whether it’s the Latino influence in the north or the Chinese in the south. I guess my favorites are Times Square for its grittiness and exhibitionism of neon lights and people and Greenwich Village for its intellectual contents and people. In looking back, I realize that the walking was mentally stimulating as it motivated me to get out of my comfort zone each week. Walking in Manhattan was like living in the moment, very spiritual on many levels as you were alone with the world without being alone.