The Last Thing I Loved: New York at Dawn

Harry Marks shares his favorite rare moments of New York City in the morning.


There is a moment when the sun peeks above the river, and the towers along 34th Street are bathed in light and shadow, when corpulent clouds meander behind watercolor buildings. New York City and I have an appointment every morning, one I do my best to keep as long as the weather holds and my train runs on time. It is a mirage I can’t describe to friends and coworkers. None of them care to see it, which is fine. It’s more special that way.

I’ve worked here for eight years, and my opinion has changed like so many gentrified neighborhoods. What once had been a gleaming wonder from the other side of the Hudson soon became my world, and it didn’t take long for the ragged edges and bald spots to be all I could see. In a way, I’ve eroded with it, my patience lapped at by waves of tourists and construction detours. The weather grows warmer and the stench of rotting garbage and urine clings to the rising heat. It’s crowded, loud, and always in motion. Walking the streets in the middle of the day, I imagine myself a shark — if I stop, I’m dead, or at least trampled by busy commuters rushing to catch the next bus.

Image: Harry Marks.

I do get one fleeting instant, however, when the taxis aren’t honking like angry geese and the city shines brightest. It is a wisp of time passing without fanfare. There’s no switch flipping it from tranquility to chaos, no Jekyll slamming his palm against the table as Hyde consumes him. It is a line in the sand disappearing with the tide, and if I’m not paying attention, I’ll miss it.

This morning the chill tickles my nose as I emerge from Penn Station. The city has a bad habit of boiling everyone like corner hot dogs within its canyons, but at this early hour, even the heat is sleeping in. I savor the respite. Store lights blink on, aroused by the smell of coffee from carts and cafés. I buy a cup. Cabs scavenge for food along barren sidewalks. I glide by groggy pedestrians and take in the architecture, something I cannot do later when I’m stepping around yet another gawker brandishing a selfie stick. My footsteps echo off the pavement. The air is so crisp it shatters.

Most tourists haven’t slithered out from their hotels to clog the streets being hosed down before the morning rush. A small crowd is corralled at Rockefeller Center where they hold up signs for TV cameras, and an intern encourages them to applaud, which they do, waving and wooing for their friends and families back home. They’ve come all this way. I peer through the panoramic window at the hosts reading from the teleprompter and grin. Nowhere else.

St. Pat’s blossoms from below Fifth Avenue, its gothic spires reaching toward the sky, competing with office buildings and parking garages to see who is tallest. Though I don’t spend more than a few seconds on Fifth, my gaze drifts to the nearby stores. The city is in a war for its identity as glass and metal contend with bricks seemingly carved during the Renaissance.

My building isn’t much further, only a few blocks. The traffic swells under a skyline painted by Hopper. Another journey complete, I think, as I cross my office’s threshold and seal the din of jackhammers behind me for the morning. The city is something else now. Foreign. Too many people tearing it apart and leaving nothing for me.

For the next eight hours I belong to the clock, but for one New York minute, Manhattan belonged to me.

HARRY MARKS is the host of the literary podcast Covered where he interviews authors about their books and the writing process. He is the editor of Plumbago Magazine, and his fiction can be read at HelloHorror and Baron Fig.