I Sing First Avenue

by Sara Clarke

Manhattan in a cup of coffee. Photo by Sara Clarke.

It’s no secret that I’m leaving New York in part because I’m a little bit over it.

I’ve been here for twelve years. I’ve done just about everything there is to do here. Drank in all the bars. Eaten all the food. Seen all the art. Over it. Done. My New York chapter is complete.

For the last few months, I’ve mostly been holing up in my neighborhood, writing, working, sleeping, having drinks with friends at local joints that might as well be in Idaho or New Hampshire. I knew I’d eventually miss New York, but not yet. Not for a long time, probably. I’m ready to be in love with a new city.

And then Sandy came to town.

A disaster like this is enough to make anybody rally to their hometown. So of course I felt the sense of shared dismay, the looking out for our own, the worry about the Gowanus Canal breaking its STD-contaminated banks and the destruction of brand new subway stations in Lower Manhattan. I was already a little bit back on Team Noo Yawk.

And then yesterday morning I accidentally walked to work.

I meant to walk through my neighborhood (which was largely unaffected by the storm) and over the Manhattan Bridge, and then catch a bus in Chinatown that would take me uptown to my office near Grand Central.

Walking over the bridge, it all started coming back. There’s a metal grate on the downhill slope of the bike lane that, when you fly over it, makes a loud GOOOOOOONG! sound. Alone in the dark, the noise is shocking. I’ve always thought of it as a “yawp”, as in Walt Whitman’s line from “Song of Myself”:

I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.

Remembering Walt Whitman was pretty much the end of my jaded attitude about New York City. I looked over the East River (a name I have tattooed on myself, for fuck’s sake) and into Manhattan. I could see the Statue Of Liberty far in the distance.  New York is the beginning of America. New York might not be the original city, but it’s my original city.

The East River. Photo by Sara Clarke.

When I got across the bridge, I walked through Chinatown, a neighborhood I’ve never had a lot of love for. But yesterday was different. I could have loved the South Bronx yesterday. I walked to the corner of Hester and Eldridge. Such a great corner. So full of elemental NewYorkness. It was around this point that I forgot about the bus idea — there were hundreds of people waiting at every stop.

I turned up Allen Street and kept walking.

My route to work took me past my whole history in New York City. I walked past my dad’s favorite Manhattan restaurant, the ridiculous Sammy’s Famous Roumanian Steakhouse. I walked past Bluestockings Book Store, the hub of leftist organizing activity in New York.

A Chat in Little India. Photo by Sara Clarke.

I walked past St. Mark’s Place, which has been a tourist sham version of Punk for most of the time I’ve lived here, but I don’t care. I’ve bought a million cheap “pashmina” scarves and a million falafels, taken a million “Pay What You Can” yoga classes and rented a million weirdo bootlegged alternate cuts of obscure foreign films from the movie kid mecca of Kim’s Video. Fuck the haters. St. Mark’s is the best.

On Ninth Street, I saw my favorite truck in all of New York. Yes, I have a favorite New York City truck. And it happened to be parked along my absurd walk to work.

This is my favorite truck. Photo by Sara Clarke.

I passed a restaurant where I once took a boyfriend on a nerve-wracking Meet The Parents dinner. I passed my college dorm on 25th street and a thousand landmarks from that time – this bar, that diner, the Associated Supermarket that we jokingly called ASS-GROSS-iated. It was mobbed with people fighting over the last jar of peanut butter.

For a little while I wanted to spend a day walking from Bowling Green at the foot of Manhattan all the way up Broadway to the old growth forest at Inwood Hill Park. I never did it. But I got my farewell tour, in the end. New York has ways of making you do things.

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