i reached the corner of avenue a, and in front of me sprawled Tompkins Square Park. its trees hung heavy with new growth, pollen sifting dreamily over the benches and grass, the dogs and playing children. bussing with laughter and motion and birdsong, it seemed more alive than anything i’d ever seen. smelling the spring that day, and in it my own unearthed history, i wanted to lift my face to the sky and howl.”
– melissa febos in goodbye to all that: writers on loving and leaving new york.
i awoke early, i mean early, on the morning on our first full day in nyc. i’m sure it was a combination of excitement and insecurity. of course, there was sleeping in a strange bed, in a strange place, in the middle of a genuine nyc neighborhood – alphabet city, a part of east village. there is a bit of a different feeling when you’re not staying into a hotel, made for tourists. living and sleeping in a real neighborhood (and one that is still working to become crime, drug, and violence-free) adds a bit of suspense, adventure, and a teeny tiny bit of uneasiness to the adventure. in my brain, i knew everything was safe and fine. it was just a new experience for me. for us. however the feeling of being a “real new yorker” for a few days was much greater than any little twinges of fear i had when i lay my head down for that first night of sleep in our 5th floor apartment.
when i woke and checked the time, i saw that it was 5:30 am. good god. why can i never sleep late when i actually am allowed to sleep late? of course, it was also my love’s 30th birthday and we were in nyc, so my giddiness did not allow me to go back to sleep. rather, i tip-toed around the apartment, taking photos outside of the windows, while my love slept peacefully. i considered unlocking all of the locks on the door and climbing the steep flight of stairs to the rooftop to see the sunrise from there, but i resisted. instead, i kept taking photos and then laid in bed a bit more, trying to rest know, knowing that by the end of this day, i’d be completely exhausted after waking up at 5:30 am.
i finally couldn’t stand it any longer. i gathered the envelope and tiny package that i had packed deep in the recesses of my carry-on bag. it was time to wake my love. i crawled beside her in bed, held the gifts in my hands, and began singing “happy birthday” to her. she stirred, opened her eyes, and beamed from ear to ear. when i finished my song, she declared, “i am 30!”. and our day-long celebration began!
not long after that, we were dressed and out the door. to where, we had no idea. that’s right, we had no plans until that evening – les miserables on broadway! but, at this early hour of the morning, we had nothing planned and no ideas – just pure joy pulsing through our veins.
first, though, a visit to the rooftop. the sun was beaming, the sky was a deep, magnificent, bright blue, and we felt so alive.
we practically bounded down the 5 flights of stairs and out the door. here we were: on the streets of new york. completely free and completely filled with that magical vibe of belonging and not belonging all at the same time. knowing that, without any plans, anything was possible as the day stretched our before us like the concrete pavement that lay ahead.
we just started walking. no map. no ideas. we wanted to soak up the neighborhood – get a feel for alphabet city, bordering the lower east side. so, we crossed streeted, walked on sidewalks, and observed the city as she began to stretch and moan and come to life. men and women sweeping the sidewalk outside their storefronts. children walking to school. homeless people waking on the park benches. hipsters carrying coffee listening the music in their ears. it was like heaven – the mix of all kinds of people in one place.
you know that rule about not looking someone in the eye in new york and keeping to yourself. screw that. i was so filled with life that i could not help but greet the people who passed with a smile, or even, god forbid!, a “hello”. but, i received smiles and hellos right back – as was our experience the whole time we were in the city. i mean, of course there are a few people who walk around with an attitude, cold and angry. but, that was not the norm.
we walked for about 30 minutes and found ourselves by tompkins square park – now, it doesn’t take 30 minutes to walk from our apartment to that park, we are just slow and i took photos of everything, everywhere. tompkins square park has been infamously known as a haven for drug addicts, a meeting place for drug deals, crime, violence, and other not so safe behaviors. however, in recent years, as the area has been cleaned up and more people have moved in, including cafes, bars, and boutiques, it is not as sketchy as before. i thought it was quite beautiful and peaceful.
we decided to walk through the park, and soak up the space. amazingly, though concrete and building reign in manhattan, there are gardens galore in this area – so many parks and tons of little community gardens squeezed in between buildings – little oases from the noise and busyness all around.
as we crossed avenue a, which runs alongside tompkins square park on the west, lina spotted a little cafe on the corner: cafe pick me up. there were people sitting outside in the sun enjoying a latte or some juice. we immediately knew that we had discovered our breakfast place.
we snagged a table on the sidewalk, after perusing the inside of the funky cafe, and sat down, both of us ordering a chocolate croissant, a big glass of orange juice, and a large coffee. we continued to watch the city wake up and come to life, people moving about more and more, store fronts opening beside our cafe. we discussed the feeling of freedom, the joys of haven know plans, but of just letting the streets and our feelings guide our footsteps, trusting that with every step, we are exactly where we were supposed to be. living fully present in each moment as it came. oh, what a way to live life. is it possible to live that way in ordinary, regular life? i believe so.
breakfast was long and leisurely. it was scrumptious and filling. with our bodies now renewed by sleep and food (and caffeine!), we are ready to continue wandering the streets of manhattan. not knowing what adventures lay ahead, but completely secure in trusting our souls and our feet to guide us…