“new york city is filled with random, quirky moments like this, chance collisions that just might change your life.”
– hope edelman in goodbye to all that: writers on loving and leaving new york
tummies full from chocolate croissants and coffee, we hit the streets again. it was still early in the day – mid-morning, perhaps – and we still had no plans. we were just going with the flow, deciding from block to block whether to continue straight ahead or turn down a new street.
as we came to the 1st avenue intersection, we stood waiting for the light to turn (ok. honestly, waiting until there was no traffic because we thought ourselves real, amateur new yorkers. uh huh.). suddenly a thirty-something year old man, dressed in khakis, a polo shirt, and a jacket asked us if we wanted any tips. he took off his designer sunglasses and told us that he lived in the area, had been out of the country for a few months, and was more than happy to let some tourists in on a few tips. he also asked if we could move into the shade, as he had been out late drinking the night before to celebrate his arrival back to the city that he clearly loves. he did not smell of alcohol, but was a tad bit slow in processing information – a little bit still hungover, we all three surmised and laughed together as he scribbled out some silly maps on his moleskin pocket notebook.
he proceeded to tell us about a bookstore/cafe/bar that helps the homeless and low-income housing market, a quirky little street, and a to-die-for vietnamese restaurant in chinatown. he even went so far as to write down what we should order there. needless to say, lina and i were keeping it cool on the outside, but jumping up & down inside from the awesome insider info we were getting. this is exactly what we wanted this trip to be about – little, unknown (to tourists), funky, amazing places that locals haunt.
after about 15 minutes or so – seriously folks, we became buddies, though i cannot remember his name to save the life of me – we bid farewell to our new new yorker friend, and headed off to find this bookstore he mentioned.
the first intersection that we came to, which was only about 2 blocks from the street where we were staying, was houston street (pronounced HOW-ston, not Hew-ston). this is big, main thoroughfare running from west to east across manhattan. the eastern half is eclectic, with old immigrant tenement buildings, little local shops, bakeries, and restaurants; while the western side is undergoing massive development – new store, high end stores, luxury apartments, and so on. i believe that all of that development is pushing east as well… but i’m not so sure that’s so good. in any case, this street, where the numbered streets begin that lead up to central park and beyond, is a big one. and now we were gonna walk it.
it took us forever to get anywhere because we took photos of everything. but, since it was my love’s 30th birthday, i wanted to get a cool portrait of her at some point during the day. we passed this amazing graffiti wall, and i knew it’d be the perfect backdrop for lina’s impropmtu 30th photo shoot. she’s gorgeous.
we carried on, matching our steps to the steep of the bustling crowds, feeling energized, not overwhelmed. peaceful and calm, even in the midst of homing horns from yellow taxis, music blaring from cars and storefronts, and the endless shuffle of feet. we ducked into my love’s favorite store for a little shopping excursion and emerged ready to find that bookstore again. but, not by taxi. oh no. we were going by foot. all day long – it was the challenge we’d promised ourselves – that’s how we’d find and experience all of those unexpected, beautiful moments.
following the scribbly map that our street corner friend – matt, perhaps his name was matt – gave us, we found crosby st. an alley lying off of houston and between layfayette and broadway. and, sure enough, the bookstore was right there. so we climbed the stairs, opened the door, and found a funky little slice of two-story book heaven. tucked in the back left corner was a bar/cafe. hanging from the ceiling were filming and stage lights. and flanking the shelves were books of every genre. i think we could have parked ourselves here for a while, but we decided to move on after about 20 minutes.
the housing works bookstore cafe is only one part of an amazing organization. everyone who works in the bookstore cafe is volunteer. all of the materials/books/merchandise is donated. there are events with celebrities that fill the calendar. all of the money made goes directly back to the main housing works organization. their mission statement, posted on the wall of the cafe, reads:
“Housing Works is a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Our mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts…
In 1990, four members of the legendary AIDS activist group ACT UP—Keith Cylar, Charles King, Eric Sawyer, and Virginia Shubert—decided to dedicate themselves to serving one of New York City’s most neglected populations: the tens of thousands of homeless men, women, and children in New York City living with HIV and AIDS. The activists called their new group Housing Works because they believed that stable housing was the key to helpingHIV-positive people live healthy and fulfilling lives and to prevent the further spread of the virus.”
while we didn’t stay very long, i felt touched and inspired by such a fabulous organization- and then i felt overwhelmed when i thought about how many organizations aimed to help people existed in nyc. i thought about our street corner friend, who has worked for the housing works organization, i thought about all of the smiles and hellos and tiny human connections made on the streets, and i thought: people are good.
back out on the little street named crosby, i lost lina to a furniture store that had mid-century mod chairs sitting on the sidewalk. she perused the store, drilling all over the place, and i perused the street. standing in front of a pole, i looked up and happened to notice a sign that announced that they had been filming a movie right were i was standing about 3 hours before that moment i was there. then, recalled someone somewhere telling us that crosby street is a famous street for filming nyc street scenes. and, we just stumbled upon it.
we finally tore ourselves away from the furniture and book stores, crossed over houston st. again, and headed north toward greenwich village: a place i had never, ever been, but had been on my nyc bucket list for an eternity. i needed to get to this hippie, artsy, classic new york area. of course, now, east village (where we are staying) is the more bohemian area and greenwich village has become a bit more exclusive, home to mostly upper middle class residents. everyone cool wanted to be there. and while i love cool, what i crave is authentic and artsy and boho. think: the musical “rent” – which was based on the neighborhood where we are staying in east village. in any case, greenwich village, aka the village, was the home of the poets, writers, and beat generation, alternative lifestyles/counterculture movements of the mid 20th century… so, for history’s sake (and being a girl who should’ve been born in the 60s), i couldn’t wait to be there.
passing brownstone building with fire escapes and front steps, i knew i had arrived… and then, straight ahead: washington square park and new york university to the right. i was where writers dream of living, where i had dreamed of living and writing and sitting at coffee shops and going to poetry slams. a felt a twinge of nostalgia for a place i’d never been, and yet felt so connected to, well up inside me.
we meandered through the park and plopped ourselves down on the dewy grass to cool off and soak all in. the stimulation and inspiration was overwhelming – in an “i need to write and photograph everything i am feeling and seeing down… right now” kind of way. overwhelming in the best kind of way.
drunk on beauty and high on life, we moseyed on deeper into the village, heading toward west village. pangs of hunger began to remind us to stop and eat a bit, that it had been a while since breakfast. almost immediately a tiny little pizza shop appeared on the street where we were and, without discussing or thinking, we let our guts guide us.
and we shared a little slice of new york city, cheese pizza heaven. there just happened to be a few stairs right beside the cafe, so we sat down as if we did this right here every single day. and then… the people watching. oh, it was the perfect spot to watch people. funnily, double decker, open air tour buses passed constantly; and a few times, people snagged photos of us “those real, live new yorkers eating pizza on their front steps”. hehe.
we had no idea where we were, but we weren’t lost. we were just walking. and looking. and looking. and walking. down one street, there seemed to be a gathering of people = something is going on. so we turned to see what the fuss as all about. it looked like a regular street (see below) with regular (amazing!) homes. a few pole milled about, though taking photos. as we walked up, we saw that one of the buildings had flowers leading up the stairs. my first thought was: funeral. how sad.
i asked one of the ladies who was taking a photo what was going on, and she squealed, “it’s carrie bradshaw’s home from sex & the city!!” ohhhh…. well, when in rome… i figured i’d take a few shots of it – to say we’d been there. though we had never planned to visit. but, whatever. that was cool. actually. not to mention the house was freaking amazing.
i think we walked one more block, and while we waited to cross the street, i looked up and saw a sign above my head that read “magnolia bakery”. that rang a bell in my head somewhere, so i mentioned it to lina. lo and behold, we are standing beside the famous magnolia bakery that has killer cupcakes and desserts. like, it’s a west village must-visit. again, we’d not added this to our itinerary, seeing as we had no itinerary, but there we were. so, of course we went in. cupcake time!
from the cupcake place we now had a destination – almost the first time all day. sweet holly, a blogger friend, and a few others recommended that we go to the spotted pig for food/drinks and then walk the high line. so, since we were now only a few blocks away, that’s what we did!
the spotted pig is famous for… i don’t know what. but their burgers looked amazing. they also have bbq, british, and italian dishes. it all smelled and looked delicious. but, we had now had pizza and cupcakes, so we decided it was birthday cocktail time. yes!
we snuggled up to a counter by the window and continued our people-watching entertainment while we sipped cosmopolitans. high alcohol content cosmos. but, they were yummy. and we were satisfied. sitting there, together with my love, celebrating her life, feeling so alive myself, i was simply overcome with joy. what an amazing little quiet moment to share with the one who completes me – and in the middle of such an incredible city.
a few more blocks and we were ready to walk the high line – a favorite for tourists and new yorkers alike. the high line is a park in the sky. ok. not really. it is an old railroad that went from south to north on the west side of manhattan, providing transportation for the warehouses and work yards and industrial areas on that side of the island. however, the railroad close down, and the city transformed it into a park. it a huge “natural” space that runs one mile from Gansevoort Street, three blocks below west 14th street, in the meatpacking district, to 30th street, through the neighborhood of chelsea. and guess what we did? we walked the whole freaking, amazing thing.
it gives you a different perspective of the city, a chance to slow down, and snap some pretty fun shots of streets and buildings. plus, it’s just amazing that it’s an old railroad, with part of the tracks still winding through the park.
finally, we made it up to times square. yes, we had walked from the lower east side, through soho, greenwich village and west village, up to the high line to chelsea and all the way to times square. by then, we were hot and tired. we actually were running out of time, because we had a broadway musical to get to in about an hour, so we went down into the subway and rode it 2 stops to 5th avenue and central park.
we’d been to this area of the park before on a previous trip to new york, so we are familiar with the area, which helped since we didn’t have much time. but, we wanted to soak up central park, if only for a few minutes. like i always say, “there is no time like the present.” and the weather was gorgeous that day, so we sat in the grass and just rested our now-weary feet.
a short while later, we were on the move again. the work day was coming to a close, so we crammed ourselves on the subway with five million other people and rode the 2 stops back to times square so we could make it to broadway on time. we were meeting lina’s brother and cousin, jonas and peter, just outside the theater. pushing our way through the crazy times square crowds, feet throbbing, we made it just in the nick of time. we slid into our seats, after purchasing a water (or was it a coke?) to share, with about 10 minutes to spare. one quick group selfie = an us-ie and the lights dimmed.
it was time for the amazing les miserables to begin!
tears streaming down my eyes, i followed my love out of the theater and onto the street. once we all four were out, we began taking about the play. all we could repeat was, “amazing. amazing. amazing.” geez that play is so powerful. wow. go see it, people. wherever you can. just do it.
it was still my love’s birthday and only about 10 something, so we all hailed a cab, crammed in – me in the front seat because i knew the address – and headed back down to alphabet city (where our apartment was) in east village. time for some bar hopping and a little night life in the funky boho neighborhood.
first stop: edie and the wolf. of course we did not plan that. we just walked and came across it. went it and ordered some beer. it was cozy and dark and not too crowded. the windows and doors were wide open because it was amazing out – warm, but not humid. just perfect. we sipped and laughed and toasted my love before leaving and heading to one more bar for another beer and some snacks.