I walk the streets of New York.
I guess you could call me a streetwalker, but perhaps not the kind that word might bring to mind. I am looking for stories not pickups. It works for me. There is no membership required, no gear or team, no rules – sneakers are suggested, but not required. Walking related injuries are minimal; it’s healthy and therapeutic.
When I’m walking in the city I’m not eating and, instead of looking at myself, I watch others, and this is a good thing. Walking is simple and mindful. It sorts things out. City walking affords me the opportunity to do random acts of kindness just because there is so much going on and so many people, unlike walking in the suburbs where I always feel the people in cars are wondering why I’m on foot!
In Central Park the other day, I helped a lady carry her bicycle up the stairs to get to the reservoir. At the top, her husband, who was in much better physical shape, was already up there taking pictures of the skyline when the two of us sweated up the steps. He shot me a bad look – as if I helped his wife to make him look bad – but I kept on walking.
Did you know that it’s 2.2 miles to walk around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir?
On 34th Street, a FedEx delivery guy was pushing his overloaded box cart when it all came tumbling down. As oncoming traffic approached, I ran over and tossed him his packages while he frantically reloaded them into the cart. We both got out of there in the nick of time. “Thanks, brother,” he said. “No problem, man!” I said, and continued on my way.
Walkers in Manhattan rule the streets. Walkers in the suburbs make motorists angry. “Look at that crazy guy walking!” they say. They think that the only people who walk in the suburbs are either on medication that renders driving difficult, or have lost their license due to a DUI. In the suburbs, if you’re out walking without a dog after ten p.m., there is a chance that a bored and paranoid neighbor will call the cops on you.
Nobody cares in the city. Walking is a way of life here.
According to my calculations, it takes me roughly 40 seconds to walk one block, and twenty blocks is one mile, meaning I can walk a whole mile in just under 15 minutes!
It takes about 50 minutes to walk uptown from East 32nd Street to St. Monica’s Church on East 79th Street between First and York.
There are fewer people on First Avenue so I can walk faster up First. There are more people on Madison, so it takes me longer if I walk that way. I make sure to not stop and pet all the “designer dogs” – the expensive pure breeds that you routinely see. Just another example of class distinction, though I have to say, I prefer rescued mutts, in all walks of life!
It also slows me down if people talk to me, which they often do. I don’t mind if they are from out of town and lost. I’m always happy to stop and point them in the right direction. If you want to meet people in the city when you walk, then you need to walk with a dog; everyone will stop and talk to you. You will make new friends but you won’t get much exercise.
Of course, there’s lots of noise in Manhattan with the cacophony of sirens, construction, horns, whistles, helicopters, and cement mixers everywhere. People, though, for the most part are quiet and mind their own business. I hear glimpses of conversations as I pass and then fill the rest in from my own imagination. Occasionally, loud voices will attract attention, but it’s usually a dispute over a parking spot.
You have to be careful in the city, because I learned that, when violence does occur, it erupts suddenly. At times like these, it is best to move away quickly and keep walking. I once saw an angry-looking guy push a cyclist over into traffic near Union Square! When the enraged cyclist recovered, he immediately went hunting for the pusher, swinging a heavy bike security chain and lock. I happened to be standing where the pusher had been before he moved into the pedestrian flow. In an instant, the rider read my startled, fearful face and processed that I was not his attacker. While I was spared a chain across my teeth, he relentlessly tracked down the pusher, who took the bruising chain across his back. The whole thing was over in a flash, but remains burned in my memory.
Besides the parking space arguments, another, though less common, variety of street combat that I stumble into on long walks are what I call bum fights. A bum fight, like the parking spot disputes and bike chain incident, flare up without warning, sometimes right in front of your eyes. Drivers, riders, and cyclists may miss all this action, but when you walk, you see it all.
I’ve seen many bum fights, and have noticed a pattern. It usually goes something like this: There will be a few drunks on a street corner. One of the disheveled people will begin cursing and hollering, spewing out angry epithets. All heads will turn and look toward the commotion. The madness is almost always directed at another homeless person and often revolves around a territorial dispute or dereliction of duty. I heard one unfortunate homeless man accuse the other of spending all day long on the steps smoking and not doing what he is supposed to be doing– whatever that was! Another fight began over the arrangement of cardboard in a certain doorway, as one man accused another of horning in on his spot.
In the suburbs, neighbors fight over loud parties, disobeying property lines or barking dogs. The only difference between them and the bums is that the bums don’t call the cops or each other’s lawyers.
Just as I don’t stop and pet “designer dogs,” I don’t stop my walking to watch bum fights – I am too used to it. I know this is just their way of venting and getting things off their chests, but it’s best not to gawk. This is a live and let live city, which is why I love being an invisible “streetwalker.”