Friday, February 10, 2006

Before the Storm

I went for a walk up the West Side around midnight on the eve of a ballyhooed snowstorm. Still in tourist mode, if a little jaded.

    10th Ave at 58th: A teenager in a miniskirt tries to convince the five guys she’s with to find a cab for their crosstown trip. They laugh at her from the comfort of parkas. It’s 31 degrees.

    10th Ave. at 61st: Receding lines of featureless condo towers, blank at street level, show me that the city's western edge can be just as bleak as its eastern one.

    Lincoln Center: Dozens of sacks of road salt heap in a wide doorway just off the smooth marble courtyard. Billions of crystals, waiting to be free.

    Broadway, in a restaurant’s public lobby: A heavyset black man in a dark coat sleeps upright in a chair, a broad-brimmed sombrero perched atop his head. Several sizes too small. And yes, made of straw.

    Broadway, in front of Fairway grocery: A barricade, easily 30 feet long and seven high, of crushed and bundled cardboard boxes.

    Amsterdam at 79th: Tall young black guy heads toward me to ask for something, but I shake my head slightly without looking at him and keep walking. I am a native New Yorker, after all. Then he says, plaintively, “Can you help me find a train?” I stop, turn, answer as completely as I can, and we go our separate ways — he to CPW and the C line, I to the south. New Yorkers are known for their helpful natures.

    Amsterdam, mid-70s: Several clusters of smokers hover loudly outside a knot of pickup bars. A girl chats casually in a shoulderless lycra top. It’s still 31 degrees. How do they do it?

    Amsterdam, behind the Beacon Theater: Stampede up ahead. My private barren avenue has turned into a horde of Deadheads evacuating the Phil Lesh show. I cross the street ASAP to avoid catching their mellow vibe. Once safely out of range, I look back to see them still flooding out via the multiple levels of cast iron walkways and staircases that cling to the theater's high brick wall. Piranesi's pachinko machine. Open doors offer glimpses of the inner hall, gleaming through the darkness like caramels in a dirty Advent calendar.

    Broadway at 72nd: An unmarked white police car, speeding, cuts the corner too close and almost nails me but swerves away at the last minute. It’s one of those rare occasions when I’m not jaywalking.

    Broadway at 71st: Several Very Serious Boots stand at attention in a shoe store window. I plan to get a pair elsewhere in the morning. It’ll be my first snowstorm in years and years.

    Columbus Circle: To my right, a horse yoked to a carriage trots briskly west toward its stable, lashed by the chill. To my left, coming off Central Park South, a fusillade of taxicabs flies at me like stars in a screensaver: some go right up CPW, some left around the circle, others straight through and on up Broadway.

    Everywhere: People walking their dogs. Italian Greyhounds, Shelties, Golden Retrievers, terriers, poodles, even a Bernese Mountain Dog. Canine couture is very big here. Very big. After all, it's 31 degrees.


No comments: