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Culture, Destinations, North America, Travel Tips

A Day in the Park

October 26, 2017 • By

I’ve lived in New York City the greater part of 16 years and I never tire walking through Central Park. It’s my favorite spot to seek solace and tranquility in an otherwise hectic environment.

Fantasy Aisle, Central Park, the heart of New York City

Central Park, the heart of New York City

A few weeks ago with summer bleeding into fall, I explored the park as if it was my first time. I entered 72nd Street on the east side (off limits to cars on weekends) and joined the hoards of runners and bicyclists moving uptown along their respective paths. It was hot and humid and I admired the fitness levels of those zipping past me. People dressed in sponsored training attire, fathers and mothers pushing strollers, friends talking to friends and others like me making the most of a morning in the park.

Fantasy Aisle, Early morning runners and walkers

Early morning runners and walkers

The falling leaves signal the change in seasons as shady areas succumb to open patches of golden yellow and blazing red. The squirrels don’t mind because this is their territory and they out number people. They move quickly popping in and out of pathways diving into the leaves–they are not shy.

I venture off the crowded pathway into the “Ramble” where winding walkways lead to a man-made forest within a city. The sounds of fire engines and traffic disappear and I weave around huffing and puffing in silence until I spy a couple kissing passionately. I startle them. How long have they been hiding? This is the perfect place to seek shade, read a book, grab a pair of binoculars and bird watch. I hesitate but then continue with my goal to make the 6.02-mile loop around the park.

Next, I take in an adult soccer game on the Great Lawn. They see me lurking and put on a good performance before I find myself zig-zagging on another walkway to reach the Shuman Running Path bordering the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The direction for runners and walkers remains unchanged year after year and I make a mental note to voice my opinion.

Fantasy Aisle, The pesky Central Park squirrel

The pesky Central Park squirrel

At the north end of the reservoir, the city skyline comes into view. There is a slight fog obscuring the tallest skyscrapers but it provides a simple backdrop to the simplicity of the calming water and the fall foliage. I walk half of the 1.58 mile-loop and exit to a bridge I’ve crossed a hundred times. It’s an antique straight out of the chalk drawing in the “Mary Poppins” Jolly Holiday scene.

Fantasy Aisle, Gothic bridge, connecting the Reservoir to the Tennis Courts at 94th Street

Gothic bridge, connecting the Reservoir to the Tennis Courts at 94th Street

I take a quick bathroom break at the tennis courts and watch a match in progress. The courts both clay and hard are filled with people of all ages and levels. If only I brought my racquet, I could practice my serve.

My feet ache for a timeout but I push myself through the Conservatory Garden. A beckoning bench reads, “Take time to sit and smell the flowers,” useful and timely advice.

Fantasy Aisle, Conservatory Garden located on the Upper East Side of the park

Conservatory Garden located on the Upper East Side of the park

Now on the West Side of the park and the sun bearing down on me, I wipe my sweat and duck into the North Meadow walking briskly to Belvedere Castle and the Shakespeare Garden. The tourists are awake and occupy the castle’s landing with cameras and tripods. I check to make sure the turtles are still roaming freely at Turtle Pond and remember my first performance of “Much Ado About Nothing” during the 2014 season of Shakespeare in the Park.

Fantasy Aisle, Empty swings await

Empty swings await

Fatigue sets in and I’m counting the 40+ blocks I need to finish the 6.02-mile loop. The joy has vanished from my face and my walk transformed from a leisurely activity into a mission of sorts. I notice a woman on a swing and move to take her picture but pause. We exchange pleasantries and I admit I haven’t sat on a swing in ages. She tells me to give it a try and I do. I’m kicking my legs faster and faster and soaring into the air. We swing together but not in unison. She is in her 60s I guess and loves the park for the swings. She stops, waves and bids me a good day. I let my hair blow in the wind and push higher and higher until I am scared and slow my pace. A child inhabited my body and I jump off the swing making a skittish landing on the sand. I recover. That was fun.

Fantasy Aisle, A beautiful bride poses at Bethesda Terrace and Fountain (lower passage) in Central Park

A beautiful bride poses at Bethesda Terrace and Fountain (lower passage) in Central Park

Central Park serves as an open-air museum and events center to New Yorkers and its guests. There is something for everyone whether it’s catching rays of sun in Sheep Meadow, paddling a rowboat on the pond near the Loeb Boat House, pledging wedding vows at the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain or listening to the talented musicians scattered along Literary Walk, a day in the park is only the beginning.

When I bought a park map from Karina, a 24-year-old student from the Bronx, I asked her what she enjoyed most about the park and she answered, “Literary Walkduh. I finished my adventure along the Mall admiring the statues of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott and talking with Shayneh Starks, a native of Newport Beach, CA who has been visiting Central Park for the last 20 some years. She sits and listens to the magical music of Ralph U. Williams who is a talent on the saxophone. We discuss her first visit to the park with her mother when she was 21-years-old and I tell her I love zooming around the park on my bike but early on weekends before the tourists arrive. I ask her what she likes most.  She pauses and with passion and a smile answers, “The best part of Central Park is the fireflies.”

Fantasy Aisle, The Mall and Literary Walk, a favorite of many in Central Park

The Mall and Literary Walk, a favorite of many in Central Park

I agree. I thank Shayneh for the conversation and hunt for an empty bench in front of Kerbs Boathouse. The next few hours I bask in the sun reading my book and forgetting I live in a city with 8.5 million people.

My Favorite Spots in Central Park

The Pond at sunrise.  Take in the view of the Gapstow Bridge and a glimpse of the city’s skyline

 

Sip a coffee or a grab a drink at Kerbs Boathouse/Conservatory Water

Walk/Run the 1.58 mile loop around the Reservoir

Fancy a game of tennis?

Camp out all night for free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater (I usually cheat and become a member of the public theater)

Take a break at Strawberry Fields and listen to the Beatles greatest hits played by visiting musicians

Enjoy paddle boating at the Loeb Boathouse

Read a book and fall asleep in Sheep Meadow

Enjoy an outdoor lunch at Tavern on the Green

Let someone else do the driving on a romantic Horse Carriage Ride through the park

Breathe in the sounds and sights of Literary Walk/the Mall

Catch a free movie night in the Park

Plan for a Concert in the Park

Snap pictures of the Boathouse and people getting married at the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain

Fun for kids and parents

Make some figure eights at the Wollman Rink

Get dizzy on the Carousel

Pet an animal or two at the Tisch Children’s Zoo

Go paddle boating at the Loeb Boathouse and take in city views


North America

Life on the 6 Train

February 17, 2016 • By

By definition, the word travel means to make a journey through a region or to be moved from place to place. It doesn’t necessarily mean abroad, while a foreign land would be an added perk. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York Subway systems carries 8.7 million people everyday.  It moves people–lots of them. It’s an astounding statistic. I am a New York City Subway rider. I am a number on the 6 Train.

Fantasy Aisle

Gates, exits, uptown, downtown, east side, west side, taking the train to work

Every morning I am in New York City, I ride the east side green line 6 Train. It’s a routine. Leave my apartment by 7:20 AM, slide my card, shimmy through the turnstile, see the train, bolt down the stairs or wait patiently along the platform edge, hop the subway, ride for 25 minutes without interruptions, arrive at 14th Street/Union Square Station, buy my Starbucks. That’s a good day.

“This is a Brooklyn Bound 6 Train, the next stop is…”

I’ve taken to nicknaming my fellow riders. There is the professional, religious zealot, the student, mom and dad, the girlfriend, the boyfriend, an exerciser, the reader, a mobile phone/tablet game addict, the worker bee, the coffee drinker, the loud talker, the deafening headset listener, a sleeper, a pusher, the local, the foreigner, the performer, and sadly the sick person and what that implies.

Rats scurry below the platform. When the train approaches, an ear piercing rrrrrrr screeching sound sometimes causes me to cover my ears. The noise dissipates and the doors open. Passengers exit and passengers enter. The wheels start to turn and inside I make believe an old-fashioned steam engine is puffing along until I hear the dreaded voice over the intercom. It’s muffled. Passengers struggle to listen but most of us ignore it. Announcements are never positive. We are thanked for our patience.

I eavesdrop on two young men about 30-years-old dressed in scruffy business suits. They work for the Governor of New York. They are in heated conversation about a rebranding effort in Buffalo. They offer me a seat but I am too absorbed in their conversation to pivot from my perch to take THEIR seat. One young gun says to the other, “It’s a process right. It takes months or even years to form a relationship with a reporter.”  They are ambitious and I like them.  They offered a woman their seat, a rare occurrence aboard a New York City Subway.

Fantasy Aisle

Stand back, get ready, the anticipation

It’s 8:50 AM on a Wednesday. I’ve missed the window of opportunity for a hassle free commute. It’s no man’s land. Time to toughen up my belt for the boxing match that will ensue in my attempt to find space for a 5’6, 130-pound (58 kilos) woman with a 20 pound (9 kilos) over the shoulder bag wearing a ankle length winter coat. The first train arrives and there is no chance for me. I can’t squeeze onto the second train either but I am assured another train is minutes behind this one. The third train arrives and I brace myself for the fight. I inhale and like an Olympian athlete thrust myself through the doors and into or maybe even onto the maddening crowd.

“Sorry, So Sorry, S–o–r–r–y, excuse me” words most spoken by New York City Subway riders.

Fantasy Aisle

Courtesy Counts. The MTA posts these signs to remind passengers they are humans and not animals a small distinction on the subway

The doors of a subway are like the jaws of a crocodile, when I step from the platform edge into the metal moving box I never know if I am going to be eaten alive or if I will escape free of injury. We are packed shoulder to shoulder nose to nose. Sweat forms on my forehead and my body screams for air. It’s not worth removing my hat or gloves because I cannot move. My fellow New Yorkers are holding me into place, which is a good thing. Signs overhead remind us that Courtesy Matters yet we are animals, hunting our prey, a handrail or a seat, pushing, shoving every morning and night.

Fantasy Aisle

Let me squeeze in please

The train slows before the next stop and then abruptly halts tossing the standing passengers into the arms of strangers. People fortunate to steal a seat would not dare look upon other passengers in fear of shame. Embarrassed today he or she got lucky as the rest of us are manhandled like a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. There is an incident ahead and so it goes we wait and people groan. It seems impossible to remain on schedule aboard the 6 Train.

Fantasy Aisle

A man at 68th Street station plays music in the morning hours

Alas, my journey ends at 14th Street to the sounds of Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. The subway musicians at Union Square Station are my favorite performing quality music throughout the day. Sometimes their performances can ease the pain of a horrible commute. (Check out Music Under New York

Another afternoon, a 26-year-old Pakistani woman is hovered over me. I am sitting and she standing swaying as the train moves.  She holds the above handrail to steady herself. It’s possible she could fall onto my lap. We study each other and she asks what I am writing. I tell her I am working on my to do list. I lied. She volunteers that she is reading Harry Potter and a book for her driving test. She speaks three languages and divulges she really isn’t sure of her age because of the way they create documents in Pakistan but she is a New Yorker now.  She asks my name. I say, “Kelly.” She is intrigued and wants to know the meaning and I respond, “It means bold in Irish.” “Oh,” she says, “Do you speak Irish?” I giggle a bit, “A little.”  We talk for several minutes but I never ask for her name. I assume she would have provided if she wished. I hear the piped in voice, “the next stop is 68th Street Hunter College,” and I stand up, greet my friend with a goodbye and good luck and dash out the doors.

Fantasy Aisle

All aboard the 6 Train at the 68th Street /Hunter College

It’s Friday. I decide to leave the office later to avoid the 5:00 PM crowds. It’s quiet for a Friday and I secure a seat. My iPhone is dead. I read the advertisements in Spanish and English mostly about health and education.  A man in his 30s boards the train. I eye him skeptically. He is sprouting words and phrases from some sort of religious book and I decipher every other world, “Satan!” “Damned” and I can’t help myself. I look up. We lock eyes and he says, “You don’t see him but he’s here.” The doors open at the next stop and like a mirage he is gone.

I am left to listen to the sounds from above making the last leg of my journey home feel painfully long.

Please step aside and let the passengers off the train

Step all the way in please

Stand clear of the closing doors

 

Fantasy Aisle

Let me out of here. I want to go home