The streets were still bustling with people during those last two days, but most of them seemed to have only left shelter to take care of some chore that needed attention: perhaps to buy a gallon of milk, maybe a prescription to pick up at Duane Reade, or perhaps, a commitment they simply couldn't get out of.
However, this lovely day had arrived not a moment too soon.
It all started as we exited the Washington Square Hotel just in time to witness the sky opening up in mid-blossom; the clouds were in the midst of dispersing to the east, like pieces of strewn-out marshmallows or white cotton candy, blowing in the wind and perpetually morphing like mysterious shape-shifting spirits as they disappeared into the cobalt blue ether.
Our fears that inclement weather might persist for the duration of our stay were finally allayed.
"Let's go get some breakfast and coffee at Caffe Reggio" I said, yawning and rubbing the sleepy haze from my eyes.
"It's only a block from here" I added, before he could respond--as if to add incentive for him to concur.
"Alright, that works. I definitely need to eat before we do anything."
I looked in his direction and nodded in that primitive, non-verbal language of men, conveying agreement in my facial gesture as we shuffled toward the cafe on the uneven pavement alongside the red-bricked townhomes on MacDougal Street. About thirty feet away to our left, were a diverse group of people in their little corner of Washington Square Park, either playing chess or observing one of the intensely deliberate chess matches taking place at that particular moment.
We crossed the street to have a quick look. On the surface, the scene was relatively subdued, but there was a quiet intensity on men's faces that permeated the air in this section of the southwest corner.
Ah, men playing a gentleman's game of chess. What a nice change of pace from the trash-talking bravado which typically follows every successful move that's played in video games, or even dominos. This is not a scene I would ever see at home. With this in mind, I observed the moment with reverence as we continued walking past the park.
"How refreshing," I thought. The thinking man's game, where fate always favors substance over style.
New York City is full of things, big and small, much of which I rarely get to see back home in su-bore-bia--and this was one of them. Hell, even the uneventfulness of walking past Provincetown Playhouse, then looking to your left for oncoming traffic once you reach 3rd Street is a life-affirming thrill, compared to my daily life in the so-called Sunshine State.
For the record, the term Sunshine State is a marketing slogan of half-truth; and you know what they say about half-truths don't you? Be careful of which half you're getting. The full marketing truth would look something like: The 'Sometimes Sunshine but Mostly Just Hot and Humid 99% of the Time' State. But that wouldn't entice tourists to visit, and it certainly wouldn't fit on a license plate.
In any case, I digress.
Just past 3rd Street, we approached the now very recognizable green exterior of Caffe Reggio across the street to our right, when I began to notice the increasing uniqueness of the cast of characters walking up and down MacDougal Street. This instinctively prompted me to reach for my camera to capture the moment. As I fumbled with the focus and composition of the shot, I haphazardly snapped a few shots to capture the essence of life in little bohemia as it was happening, un-posed and un-rehearsed.
This was one of the few shots that didn't completely suck. Most of them were blurry since I didn't have time to adjust the settings and capture everyone walking. The guy on the bottom right and the guy on the top left were particularly interesting characters.
A few photos later, we went ahead and walked inside to size the place up. Upon entering, we stopped to look around. To my right was a man with a shaggy, full head of dark hair--each strand seemed to be quite busy, desperately reaching for the sky in every direction as he read his newspaper. Beside him was a middle-aged woman wearing a traditional Muslim hijab working on her laptop.
I smiled, thinking to myself, "Wow, what a scene. This is so New York City." Upon being noticed, we were greeted warmly by several friendly faces; but as welcoming as it was inside, the cool, brisk air outside was too pleasant to pass up.
"You want to sit outside?"
"Absolutely. It's so nice out right now!"
I let the hostess know that we'd be sitting outside for lunch, then took another glance at the cozy bohemian interior to take it all in, before turning and walking outside. We sat in the maroon-colored cushion seats at the mini bistro-style table just stage-right of the front door, then I immediately ordered a double espresso before the waitress went back inside. Once we ordered and the food arrived, it was quite a scene.
If anyone were watching us, it would have been clear that we were both ravenously hungry by way we were eating--and I use the term 'eating' loosely--gorging would probably be more accurate, considering the way we were basically swallowing the food whole after barely chewing.
Yes, I'm a heathen, fine. But still, despite the unfavorable impact to our digestive systems, this 'power lunch' worked to our advantage. Afterall, we did have places to go and things to see. Plus, considering that neither me nor my friend were going to wake up to an alarm clock while on vacation, we had already started our exploration late, around 10:30ish in the morning. Needless to say, we wrapped up lunch fairly quickly since we were needlessly burning daylight hours by sitting there.
Before moving on, however, I decided to take a few more shots from across the street.
For this shot, I noticed a slender, mid-twenty-something fellow with lilly white skin and dark hair hanging around. He was wearing slim-fitted blue jeans with Chuck Taylor All-Star Converse sneakers, and a khaki satchel made of cloth diagonally across his torso, with the bag hanging on the opposite hip.
What stood out most though, was the 1950s style hat that he was wearing along with those Blues Brothers style Ray-Ban type of sunglasses.
Despite being heavily immersed in a conversation on his cell phone, he seemed to want his photo taken, as he walked in circles directly in front of me. I had been standing there there snapping photos before he arrived, so I know he saw me taking photos.
Then I noticed he was standing still, almost deliberately in the first shot I took as well. Looks like I had an 'Attention Whore' on my hands. Not that I mind though. I found his style sort of uniquely charming in a nerdy kind of way. What's interesting to me is that as I posted this, I just noticed for the first time that our waitress was actually in the shot, picking up our plates.
It's easier to see in the full sized photo. I think if you click it, the photo pops up at full size, but I'm not sure.
Anyway, before moving on, here's our little attention whore again, 'coincidentally' lingering in the area I was shooting. Ha!
Our next stop was the Highline Park, a few blocks west.
Now, I usually just 'wing it' when I walk to places in NYC. I feel very comfortable in terms of knowing where I am at all times. But, my friend was a little nervous, and he kept asking me if I was sure I knew where I was going.
"Pfft...dude, this is my shit man."
"Screw Mickey Rourke, son...I'm the friggin pope of Greenwich Village now!"
Funny how that works: half of the time, I don't even know where I am in my own home town, and I've been there nearly all my life. However, in NYC, I'm like a caught fish that's just been released back into the water. In my natural habitat, free and unfettered.
In any case, since this is a blog post and not a book, I feel compelled to shorten what could be a much longer story.
That said, I confidently navigated our path through many interesting scenes and classic New York moments, which included some poor bastard dropping his cell phone into a puddle upon exiting a taxi then freaking out, and a model shoot on some corner deep in the west Village, where the old cobblestone streets are ubiquitous.
Then, in what seemed like a New York minute, we were there. Voila! I had managed to find the southern entrance to the park. I'm not really sure why it's considered a park, per se, but it's a nice enough stretch of benches with nice botanical decor. The views are certainly quite nice in certain spots. Perhaps I'll get into them in detail in another post, or perhaps I'll just let the photos speak for themselves here:
That's New Jersey over the Hudson River in the background...
A couple taking a self-portrait in front of some very colorful garden of flowers...
The first thing I remember seeing after walking up the stairway entrance was that girl sitting on a bench, listening to music, and probably spending some much needed alone-time at the park (the first photo at the top of this post).
I also remember the Asian man with the blue hat in the same photo asking me to take his picture using his camera. I happily obliged.
There are so many little things that happen in every moment; and if you're paying attention, these captured moments in time are life, captured in a freeze-frame photograph. This is something that I often remind myself of. A life lived is really only life in this very moment, right now.
What happened yesterday has been written and is now just a collection of memories and unchangeable moments that have gone by. Tomorrow is mystery filled with hopes and dreams that may or may not come to fruition. The only thing we really have is right now.
But like many people, I sometimes get caught up in the daily grind, and certainly miss out on plenty of things that are happening in the moment. Clearly, I'm far from perfect myself; but it's sad that many people never really pay attention to the little things, and all the while life is passing them by. Which is a damn shame; because in many ways, life is often all about the little things.
I think of all the places I've been, the little things jump out at me most when I'm in NYC. And that's because this is the place where my heart is. There are so many friendly people, so many opportunities to interact, and so many things to see and do in NYC that it seems impossible to for me to ever get enough.
But you can find those things anywhere really. My preference just happens to be in the northeast region of America.
I've often heard it said that home is where the heart is. Does your heart feel at home where you live now?