New York is a funny town. It’s not ineffable — but it is both whatever adjective is put to it and the opposite of that adjective, sometimes simultaneously. The streets can be dirty but the parks are clean. Midtown is one neon high-rise after the other, but nearby ‘hoods are full of genteel brownstones and grand old piles, and Ditmas Park, in Brooklyn, is so leafy and residential it filled in for Iowa City, on Girls. Rent is high but avocados are going for a dollar at my Korean deli. Penn Station is an abomination but Grand Central is a marvel. On nice days, Brooklyn Bridge is a logjam of tourists looking for photo ops and cyclists yelling at the tourists to stay out of the bike lane, but the Manhattan Bridge, which does the kindness of putting the bike lane on its inbound flank and the pedestrians on the outbound one, is never crowded, and the Williamsburg Bridge, while more popular than the Manhattan, has space for anyone and the bonus chance of seeing a Hasidic man jogging in his shtreimel. The subways are delayed, again, except when they aren’t, and whisk me from Fort Greene, where I live, to my Aunt’s apartment on the Upper East Side in twenty eight minutes. On weekdays, pedestrians are in a rush, but on weekends, they amble and window lick and pour over produce same as any Parisian. People can be — not rude, but guarded, until they realize you’re just asking for directions. You might feel invisible, but you’ll rarely feel judged. And so on.
Some days, the city wears on me; more often, after all these years (eleven!), it fades into the background: I take its advantages for granted and its flaws as a matter of course. And then there are the moments when I fall under its spell every bit as deeply as I did at eighteen. Some of the moments are unique, but others are common, and easy to engineer. New York chicken soup for the soul, so to speak.
One surefire way for me to love New York is to go to Washington Square Park on a sunny day. All the parks belong to everyone, but Washington Square Park is small enough and central enough that you really feel its full gamut: veteran chess players and their greenhorn challengers, students studying and studiously strumming guitars and trying their hands (feet?) at tightroping, street performers breakdancing or staging fervent political, participatory theatre. On hot days, people and dogs wade in the fountain. On school days, the clock man acts as both traffic cop and hall monitor. On the best days, someone is playing a saxophone.
The second way for me to love New York is another destination: the undulating boardwalk on the Hudson River Greenway, just past Stuyvesant High. The boardwalk appeared my junior year of college, and initially, it was just a boardwalk, with a fringe of marsh grass, but even then it was the highlight of my runs. Now, the fringe of marsh grass is a belt of juniper and brush; from certain angles, I can almost convince myself I’m in a forest, and then the trees halt and the World Trade Center rears up. It’s bewitching, really. I love it.
The third way for me to love New York, and the last I’ll enumerate here, is to run in the rain. Rain quiets the city and it quiets me as well; when it rains, I can run without music. It’s been a rainy week and all my runs have been hushed and meditative and restorative. If you’re reading this and thinking that rain sounds like a great way to ruin a run — try it again. Gear-wise, all you need is a well-fitting baseball cap and a decent shell (I’ve my eye on this one). And a ziploc bag, if you’re bringing a phone. You don’t need to be in New York, either — but if you are, see if it binds a similar spell.