New York City. I cannot deny the indelible memories, good memories I have of that place. I had the privilege of living near Central Park on the Upper West side of Manhattan. To me, it wouldn’t be a hyperbole to say that I grew up considering the park to be my backyard located just hundreds of feet away from the 5 floor brownstone walk-up I used to call my home. My family lived on the third floor on the front of the building overlooking the street (between Central Park and Columbus). The Subway was only half a block away, coffee shops abound, the Deli, the Pizzeria, the laundrymat, drugstores, Barnes & Noble, the church, the library, the Museum of Natural History, all within walking distance. One word sums it all…convenient.
The UWS also happens to be where the celebrities live and by celebrities, they’re not really the A-listers. They’re more like B-C-D list celebrities who walk past the street and no one would really walk up to them. Then there’s the kind of people (probably tourists) who has to go up to them and ask for an autograph. Honestly, I was the type who couldn’t care less. I always thought they eat, sleep, and you know what just like we all do. I worked as a Barista (@ Starbucks) for a part time job on 86th and Columbus Ave. just a block away from where I lived and saw those D listers walk in and out and carry on with their lives like regular people because they are exactly just that, regular people.
I spent most of my afterschool afternoons on 72nd Street in Central Park (The Bandshell) which happened to be the Skaters’ haven. The school I attended (somewhere on 60 something street) happened to only be several blocks away and I would bring my rollerblades to school and bypass the public transportation (the school gave students a Bus/Subway Pass), to skate in the busy streets. I skated through the sidewalks sometimes but didn’t want to startle pedestrians as I zoomed along so I skated in the streets. I switched between rollerblades and skateboards depending on what I felt like using and maneuvered through the traffic without busting my butt. I was that confident. I especially liked cruising the serene UWS streets and going through the slight slopes of Columbus Ave. on my skateboard after midnight. It made me feel like I owned the streets. As you can imagine, being a skater WAS my life. I belonged in that subculture
I’m not sure if the people there, the ones I knew in the late 90’s, the Bandshell “Regulars” who were there every. single. day. (I’m not kidding on this) who stayed in the City continued with the tradition of gathering around every weekend to play music and have people dance with their skates on and skate in a round like you would in a skating rink, but out in the open. I didn’t quite catch up to the dancing groove. However, I can skate backwards with my hands extended in the air emulating a figure skater as they skate in a round with my walkman on listening to music. I dunno if that would count for dance skating. Maybe, maybe not.
On the other hand, I was into the Slalom courses that people set up by the benches toward the steps to the Bethesda fountain and Aggressive Skating (you know those people with skates who grind stairs and stuff). A few other skaters and myself would take turns going through the course with the goal of not knocking anything down; the faster one went without knocking any cone, the more it intrigued people and literally generate a crowd of tourists and passers by. All of us were doing it out of plain fun and friendly competition. We would cheer each other on to go faster and perform better. It seems I was quite an exhibitionist back in the days but it wasn’t intentional really. Looking back, it’s as if I were a completely different person and I was; my younger self that is, living in a “pre-Jesus encounter” no-holds-barred kind of life.
That wasn’t the fun part actually. It was being in communion with skaters who considered the park as an escape from their tedious day at work. There were CEOs, bakers, chefs, accountants, I.T. specialists, nurses, teachers, cops, and students all gathered together with their skates on, titles and uniforms aside and just being who they were, called by their first name, enjoying each other’s company while discussing philosophies in life. They were young, old and everybody in between. It truly was an amalgam of diversity, of ideas and nationalities. To me, the Bandshell was a place devoid of condescension, and that, I must say is one of the things I miss the most about NYC.
[Top Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons]