Sunday in New York City

Strolling through Greenwhich Village,
Central Park and Times Square.

Click on any image for an enlarged view.

Greenwich Village
We woke up Sunday morning to absolutely beautiful weather. The sky was blue and the air was cool and dry. I had talked to my old friend Bill the day before leaving Atlanta and we had arranged to meet him for brunch in the village.

Bill and I had met when we had both lived in Orlando. I had grown up there, and Bill was on exile from New York City, dabbling in the real estate market in Central Florida. Bill was also a partner in a theater company there, which produced the first play I wrote. That's how we met.

Bill's favorite story to tell friends of mine when he meets them for the first time goes something like this: "I was running a theater company down there in Orlando, you know the town? Well, it was near some woods, trees and things, the way they have them down there in the south. One day this savage looking young man wandered from the woods, no shoes, have starved, making grunting noises. So we took him into the theater, fed him, cleaned him up a bit, and put a pencil in his hand. He scribbled and doodled for a while, and then wrote a funny little play. And that's how Skip got involved in theater."

Bill is so funny. He was also rather sick with a nasty case of bronchitis when I spoke to him last, and I had doubts if he'd be in any shape to go walking around the city. But by Sunday morning he felt well enough to meet us (he'll survive great hardship when a free meal is involved), so Niki and I grabbed the subway down to 4th Street in the Village.

We had lunch at a great little place with tables outside, and a beautiful view of the city. My romantic feelings for New York were deepening by the minute, and I was wondering how I'd ever be able to leave this place. I was anxious to get started on our little walking tour, but Bill insisted on ordering desert, even after I pointed out how he'd gotten a little paunchy since I'd last seen him. This observation resulted in a rather terse little remark I probably shouldn't really repeat here, and Bill ordered a cheesecake or something.

Over desert Niki found the story of the woods in Orlando, and my first play, very amusing.

Now I'll go ahead and tell you I really regret, and apolgize, that I don't have more pictures of Greenwich Village to show you. It really is probably the most beautiful part of New York City. It's fairly peaceful, as big cities go, and looks to me like probably the best place in the city to live, and the rent probably reflects this.

Greenwich Village is a little more mature and calm than the rowdy East Village, its neighbor. Great shops and restaurants are plentiful, and you can walk around all afternoon just taking in the beautiful architecture and interesting sights.

One of the oldest building in the Village.
According to some local history I read, Greenwich Village was actually settled by wealthy families fleeing north to escape a smallpox epidemic in the early 1800's. Around 1850 the Washington Square area in the Village was the place wealthy and successful merchants built grand townhouses. This influx of wealth changed the place from a small country village into a bustling town of its own.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the wealthy began to move uptown to more fashionable parts of town. This left many of the buildings in the Village in various state of disrepair and neglect. As property values and rent dropped, artists and intellectuals began moving in, thus setting the tone for a new lifestyle in Greenwich Village.

This trend continued through the 1950's, and the days of the Beat poests. However, by the 1980's many people could no longer afford to live in the Village and many moved over into the East Village, today dominated by the under thirty, Gen-X crowd.

Through all of this evolving culture, Greenwich Village has maintained a style of its own, and now boasts a mature and stylish atmosphere. Jazz clubs, coffee shops, and sidewalk cafes line the streets.

Greenwich Village quickly became my favorite part of New York City, and its world famous status and reputation is well deserved, in my opinion. I'll be back to visit New York often in the future and a stop in the Village will always be included in my travels.

It's easy to see why Bill calls the Village home, and now I understand why he complained so much about Orlando. We would often walk down Orange Avenue after a rehearsel and search for a place to have dinner. But on a Sunday afternoon in downtown Orlando, most places are closed and the streets are practically deserted. Bill didn't adjust well to these conditions. In fact, a couple of times he had a small nervous breakdown, right in the middle of street.

"If I was in the Village," he'd cry, "There'd be an Indian place over here, an Italian place here. I could find anything, absolutely anything within two blocks! But here, here in this... ridiculous place... Oh, God, why I am here? Please, please take me back to New York!" And then I would have to lead him by the arm, sobbing, to some little sandwich shop and console him while he ate pastrami.

A view across the lake in Central Park.
We headed uptown for a stroll through Central Park. Bill's bronchitis was better but Niki and I determined, with the aid of a stopwatch, that Bill averaged eleven minutes and thirty second intervals between telling us how sick he was just a day before, and what a great sacrifice he was making by being outdoors with us. I got the impression that Bill felt lunch was not quite restitution enough for his valiant efforts, and dinner was somehow in his plans.

Central Park is a big place. While mostly used by New Yorkers as a place to relax, bicycle, walk or rollerblade, the park also hosts a zoo, skating rinks, theaters, restaurants, and more.

We bypassed most of these other activities and spent our time walking along the big loop road that covers over six miles in the park. As a matter of fact, I think I walked more this day in New York than any of the days I spent walking around Moscow or St. Petersburg, later in the trip.

I had a bought a new pair of sneakers just before leaving Atlanta, anticipating a lot of time spent on my feet. However, I realized after all the walking I had done in New York that they were a bit small for my feet, and not suited well to long walks. Soon my toes and arches began to ache to the point I was practically complaining about my feet as much as Bill was complaining about his bronchitis. Between the two of us, Niki was probably beginning to think we were a couple of old ladies from Queens. However, I was to remedy my sneaker problem the next day, before boarding the plane to Moscow.

After exploring the park for a while, we had to head back south to Times Square and see about getting tickets for a play, Andrew Jackson's House. Bill had scoured the Village Voice for a show we could catch my last night in the city, and decided this one would be good. It had gotten rave reviews and a writeup on the front page of the New York Times. I imagine the playwright was not disappointed.

The world famous Gugenheim Museum.
Exiting the park, Niki said he had a craving for a strawberry margarita. We headed out onto the streets, turned a corner, and lo and behold there was a little Mexican restaurant and pub. Sunday featured specials on margaritas. Bill is right; you really can get anything in New York City. I would think of this fact many times while in Moscow, but that's for a later story.

Niki had never had a frozen margarita before he came to the states, and once he discovered them they quickly became his favorite drink. I got a few laughs out of watching him freeze his head by drinking them too fast back in Atlanta. However, here in New York, he understood the dangers involved and sipped his slowly, always keenly aware that one sip too many, at just the wrong time could result in a debilitating case of 'popsicle head'.

After our drinks and a basket of chips and salsa we grabbed a cab and headed for the ticket outlet in Times Square. It seems tickets to the more popular shows can be pretty tough to track down. Niki and I let Bill handle this job while we checked out Times Sqaure.

Probably many people have heard about the recent efforts to clean up Times Square, and the area we were in was surprisingly clean. Of course, Disney moving in with its big Broadway hits hasn't hurt the area any. It is probably the most congested and bustling section of New York City, with bright lights towering far into the sky, while flashing displays surround you on all sides.

We got our tickets to the play and headed over to the American Place Theatre. Considering the amount of publicity the production had received I was surprised to see that the house only sat about 99 people; this may have been the theater's smaller second stage, or something like that. Often theater companies will two spaces, the mainstage and a second stage. The first for big commercial numbers and the second for lesser known, or experimental, work. This play, I think, had taken everyone by surprise, and was now showing on an extended run. Kudos to American Place Theatre!

The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Niki on the steps looking like Karl Marx, (center).
After the show we began searching for a place to have dinner, and coincidentaly, Bill began complaining about his bronchitis again. After considering a myriad of different restaurants we settled on a little Indian place near the East Village. It was a small place, about fifteen feet wide and fifty feet deep. However, the amount of food they kept bringing to our table could have filled a banquet hall. It was a great meal, and not just based on quantity.

When the check came Bill demonstrated one of his famous, amazing magic tricks. Somehow, and I've never been able to figure this out, by fixing his gaze into your eyes while discussing any subject at all he can make the check slide across the table until it is right in front of you.

It does absolutey no good to slide the check with your hand back in front of him, either. Somehow, it always comes back to your side of the table. It's very similar to the property of magnetism, where you push two magnets of the same polarization toward one another and they repel. Bill is polarized to repel dinner checks.

The waiter happen to set the check down in front of Bill. Just then he began explaining how the symbolism in Andrew Jackson's House was very similar to his own struggle to give up cheesecake. A moment later I noticed that the check was now right in front of me. I pushed the check back in front of him, but almost instantly it slid across the table again, along with several plates and the flower arrangement. Niki noticed this too, and later told me about a gypsy woman back in Bulgaria who could make valuable copper telephone wiring disappear.

Times Square.
The following day Bill agreed to meet me and help me find a new pair of sneakers somewhere. By now his bronchitis was much better, but my feet were in absolute agony. It hurt to look at them.

This was Monday, so before I could meet Bill I had to go to the Russian consulate and see about getting my visa extended. Without going into details, there had been a mixup about my date of departure from Moscow and I ended up with a visa that was scheduled to expire at the end of the June, while my plane ticket to return to Atlanta was set to leave Moscow on July seventh. A Russian woman in Atlanta, who deals regularly with these kinds of things, said that if I went to Russia with this visa and then attempted to leave after it expired, it was quite possible the airline would not let me on the plane. Pondering this scenario, I decided to visit the consulate in New York.

When I arrived at the consulate I discovered about twenty people standing outside the building. It seens the Russians don't let you wait inside. What if it were raining, I thought?

Finally, I made it inside, pleaded my case to a very understanding Russian man who took a look at my letter of invitation, my passport, and the erroneous visa, and with the swipe of his pen made me a proper American tourist ready to embark on my trip to Russia. 'Thank you, Alexander!'

Another subway ride and I was back in the Village and ringing Bill's bell to go on a sneaker hunt. When we got down to the sidewalk, Bill mentioned something about being a bit hungry and could we perhaps grab a bite of lunch somwhere. He then pushed out a couple of coughs, with no small degree of effort.

On our way to the place where Bill wanted to eat, we passed about a dozen or so suitable diners and cafes. I kept saying, "Well, what about this one?" as we passed, but Bill only waved his hand and kept on walking. I couldn't help but wonder if his insistance to press on had anything to do with the knowledge of how bad my feet were hurting.

Ivan Grozny, drunk in the gutter in Times Square.
After lunch Bill pointed me in the direction of a shoe store and left me alone in the city to fend for myself. I found just the thing I needed, a pair of reasonably priced Spalding cross-trainers, about one size larger than what I was then wearing.

I decided to put them on right outside the store; why let my poor little tootsies suffer any longer than they already had? I sat down on the sidewak and changed sneakers. I started to put the old ones in my backpack, but soon realized they wouldn't fit into the already full bag. I was debating what to do with them as I looked around to get by bearings, and realized I was on Broadway. A sudden romantic notion struck me, and I left my old sneakers sitting on a ledge of the nearest building.

I headed for the subway station singing, "I left my sneakers on Broadway. Yes, my sneakers on Broadway!", and imagined some poor, homeless guy finding them, putting them on and walking away. Then, just as I was feeling so good about myself and my spontaneous charity, I imagined the homeless guy crumpling to the ground, his feet in agony. Well, intentions count for something.

Now that my feet were taken care of, all that was left to do was wait for my flight to Moscow. Niki had gone to work that morning and would be returning in a few hours to drive me to JFK for my flight. I wandered around the city for a bit, and then headed back to Brooklyn to pack.

I had a little time after packing, and waiting for Niki to arrive to take me to the airport to reflect on my time spent in the city. It didn't take long for me to be convinced that New York City would be a great place to live, provided you could afford the price tag.

There is always so much to do there, boredom would not even be possible if you tried. Many areas of the city are clean and safe, and the subway system provides a great way to get around town, quickly and cheaply. With so many great restaurants around, you'd have to be real careful not to turn into a blimp, too! Places like Prospect Park, and Central Park provide great places to relax among some greenery.

I concluded that New York City's reputation as one of the world's greatest cities was well deserved, and I was sure that it would not be too long before I was back. Of course, a return trip would have to wait, because now I was on my way to Russia!

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All contents and photos © 1997 by Skip Evans