Escape in New York
“I know a spot in Manhattan to escape.”
I wrote that down a while back to remind myself to write about it again. The original message wasn’t timestamped, so I can’t give you an exact number, but geez, it’s likely been years now. It’s slotted somewhere after other potential, poetic-at-the-time writing topics like “Sleeping in the sun” and “Shots in the back of a Greyhound” and other random tidbits like “Hazel Paul Laurel, IA” (my grandmother and her hometown — it’s that last bit I need to remember) and “Wes Hoolahan” (an Irish soccer player whose style I really liked when I listened to his game on the radio on a bus trip from Galway to Dublin but whose name I could never remember afterwards.) I last went to Ireland in 2013, so yeah, I guess it really has been years.
This spot is in the northern section of Central Park, specifically right around The Loch in the North Woods. As you walk down from the Harlem Rink/Pool, you come down into the trees, and not far in is a small waterfall. Because the terrain slouches down to this one point and because the trees around you are just tall enough, you see no buildings. And because the water coming down the falls is just loud enough, you hear no traffic. In a city that supposedly never sleeps, most likely because it never shuts up, this is it. This is escape.
In my earlier days here, this was the lunch spot every day. The walk from my Harlem apartment was long enough to require a quick rest but short enough that it wouldn’t spoil the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich in my bag. Oh, I didn’t mention the rocks. Right next to the pool where the water collects after falling are a couple of rocks that look rather unremarkable for their parts. But two come together at about a 100-degree angle for a nice, albeit incredibly solid, natural recliner. Ahead was a walk through the Park and the Island before what was then an 8 p.m. shift between 15th and 16th on 9th. There at the Rocks and the Pool and the Falls was silence and a sandwich.
And I’ll tell you, if it’s been a few years since I wrote that first sentence, then I’ve found a few other spots to escape in the ample time since.
There’s the Inwood Hill Park, where Manhattan first says hello to the mighty Hudson. There’s the Victor Hugo section of the Strand, where I once found a copy of Les Miserables that was last borrowed from the Brooklyn Library in 1899. (I couldn’t afford to buy it right then so I promised to come back later. I’m still looking for it.) There’s the Williamsburg Bridge, where a good run on a good night makes the world click. There’s the Village after work, where the celebrity sightings are more frequent than normal but feel weirder because you’ve definitely been to that same bar they’re headed to now. There’s the southern tip of Battery Park, where you’re closest to the Statue of Liberty and closest to what got you here (the general here and, yeah sure in the long-term, specific here). There’s the new section of the High Line they just added. There’s the NYPL reading room. There’s the roof of this new Brooklyn apartment. There’s the Staten Island Ferry. There’s the spot in MoMA right in front of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. (Or to the side if you really want to see the detail.) There’s even Times Square and starry Grand Central Station, if you want to feel the rush of being anonymous and insignificant for a beat or two.
On the one hand, I’m elated I’ve explored enough to find so many places to escape here.
On the other, what exactly am I escaping from?