Friday, September 2, 2011

My Legs and a Twenty

Last week, I issued myself a little challenge.  I gave myself three hours, a twenty dollar bill, and just my legs with which to travel myself to a little adventure in New York.  I took off my imaginary blinders, threw away my agenda, turned off my phone, and set off to enjoy the presence of my own company for an afternoon. It was a sunny Saturday when I exited the stage door of the Sondheim Theatre on 43rd street and I decided I had absolutely nothing and practically everything to do.

First things first: where to go?  I turned toward 6th Ave (so as to avoid the tourists on 7th) and lightheartedly joined the sea of commuters and tourists headed uptown.  Like a moth to a flame, I was instantly drawn toward the oasis of green about ten blocks in front of me.  Peeking through the jungle of concrete and steel that surrounded me was the center of New York photosynthetic resuscitation that is Central Park.  It was, forgive the pun, a breath of fresh air.  I had made my decision.  I would attempt to get lost and un-lost in Central Park (which was surprisingly easy even though I spent months traversing its paths while training for the marathon).  I passed the old stone gates at Central Park and 6th avenue and commenced my adventure.

I strolled idly past families pushing strollers, children with painted faces, and college students playing frisbee and tried to imagine what it would be like to have an entire Saturday off.  Before I could delve too far into my somber reverie, I spied the one thing that could remedy even the worst of my melancholy moods - cotton candy.  A small man in front of me held a gargantuan cloud of pink, blue, and yellow spun sugar above his head.  If it had been balloons, he would have floated away to Jersey.  I surrendered the first two of my twenty dollars, chose the happiest color (pink), and walked contentedly toward what I imagined was north.  With the first few bites, the sky was brighter, the air was cooler, and I felt ready to continue on my adventure.  Suddenly, in front of me was a little cottage-like structure that I had never before encountered and I toted my cotton candy up the walk, a grown-up Gretel without her Hansel.  Turns out, the building housed a dairy in the nineteenth century and was now an adorable little visitor center for the park.  I walked through and leisurely read the signs.  Who knew that, well, first of all, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in 1858, and that when the did, they designated the area south of 65th street the "Children's District"?  I sure didn't.  Now the close proximity of the chess area, carousel, zoo, and the ballfields all made a little more sense.

I continued my stroll down a hill behind the dairy and ran smack dab into The Mall, a long tree-lined stretch of statues, performance artists, and, well, the obligatory greenery.  I decided to head down the lane and read the statue inscriptions as I passed.  Turns out, they're mostly literary folks, so I read, walked, and spent some quality time with the likes of Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and many other famous folks that were immortalized in bronze.  At the end of the mall, the foliage opened up to the gorgeous entrance to Bethesda Terrace, the pond behind it, and the happy people paddling around in the sunshine.  Interestingly enough, I had never taken the time to walk down the stairs and under the gorgeous sandstone structure.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  AND to make the stunning view on a perfect afternoon even better, there was a wedding party taking photographs in front of the fountain, a food truck with chipotle grilled cheese sandwiches, a cool breeze, and a picnic table that was calling my name.  I took a load off and spent nine of my remaining eighteen bones on a snack with which to watch the young lovers and their overheated wedding party.  After finishing my snack, I walked down to the pond, sat at the waters edge, and watched the turtles swim and frolic around each other in the albeit oily and polluted water.  I took deep breaths and enjoyed a rare taste of what seemed to be the ennuyeux of another age.

Eventually, I peeled myself off the rock and headed toward what I thought was downtown-ish, but the minute I knew my exact location, I took a sharp right and intentionally got myself lost again.  The path soon opened to a quiet little body of water lined by benches with a perfect view of the oddly juxtaposed perennials and skyscrapers.  I found an empty bench, opened one of this month's book club books (Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises), and enjoyed a half hour of repose and intermittent entertainment by the clueless tourists that passed.

I figured it was about time to head back downtown, so I looked up, found the nearest large man-made structure, and headed towards it.  After a short bit, I found myself on the west edge of the park right about 72nd street.  I was back on the grid.  It felt as if I had just experienced a little fairy tale of my own making.  I found a clock and realized that it had only been about two hours, but I felt completely refreshed, rejuvenated, and a little more informed on New York's history and activity-filled backyard.

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