When I lived in New York City (1970-’77) Central Park was the center of my universe. I still consider it sacred space. An environment God would be proud of, for physical and spiritual re-creation of a mass society, that was consciously created by a person, is sacred.
Hosting Megan Wood Heldman on her first visit was like seeing the Park for the first time.
The physical beauty is just the beginning. Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture, folded so many distinct environments and recreation options into a rectangle five miles long and 3/4-mile wide. It can be used by nearly a million people at a time and not feel crowded. There are places in the park where you can’t tell you’re in the middle of a vast, overcrowded, concrete city.
But it’s the people in the Park who make it a wonder of the world. On spring weekends, all the Manhattan cliff dwellers come out of their caves and recreate, alongside visitors from all over the world.
I love showing “my Park” to people who’ve never seen it. Megan Wood Heldman is so open to new things and experiences that being part of her first visit was like seeing it for the first time.
“Would you mind taking our picture?” “Of course. Would you take one of us?”
Street Performers Every Spring Weekend
The “Afro-Bats” were three African American tumblers, break dancers, and acrobats.
We came upon them late in their set, attracted by the sound of an enthusiastic crowd.
They were dancing upside down on their hands to recorded music. Then, they did some tumbling, and began setting up their finale.
While choosing three people for the final trick, they asked a lot of people in the crowd where they were from: Holland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Sweden, Brooklyn. They had an ethnic joke for each one, punctuated by dozens more about being black.
They scared their volunteers by telling them not to be scared. “Last time, a guy moved, and…”
When it looked like they were ready, they said, “We won’t do it till we’re paid. If we do it, you’ll walk away and leave us nothing.” They got the crowd built up for the climax, interrupted themselves, and passed the hat three times.
“Not a dollar. We’re not strippers. Hey, there’s $5. There’s a ten! Hey, money from black folks!”
Finally, they did their trick.
You’ll find unique live-entertainment experiences in the Park every warm weekend. This weekend wasn’t even warm.
A few feet away, in a tunnel to take advantage of the acoustics, a young woman sang a capella in a voice too clear and beautiful to describe — very difficult modern music, with a wide range, effortlessly. She was backed up by three young men.
Megan and I were fascinated. She can’t wait to come back to the park with her children on a warmer day.
Our time was very limited. We had little interaction with the local indigenous personnel.
She did have her first ride in a New York City taxicab. She was scared to death. He changed lanes every few seconds, speeding up instead of slowing down and signaling. Cars going even faster blew by on our left and right. She said it felt like Mr. Toad’s wild ride.
I explained that New York drivers, especially cab drivers, are very safe. They follow the rules, but the rules of New York City driving are different from everywhere else.
Boston drivers are dangerous because they never know where they’re going. The street layout makes no sense, and the signs are misleading, inaccurate, or non-existent.
Out-of-towners following out-of-town rules of safe driving can also be a menace on New York streets. Most don’t try.
The cab ride, and the chaos at the Carnegie Delicatessen, the world’s best Jewish restaurant, convinced Megan that New York was a nice place to visit but she could never live there. I couldn’t either after being gone 35 years. It’s too stressful.
The Carnegie Delicatessen
Megan eats very little, and thinks about food even less. But I had to take her to the Carnegie Delicatessen because I had to go there myself, to load up on Jewish food to take home. The nearest good Jewish restaurant to Concord NH is Rein’s, outside Hartford, Conn.
As the world’s best Jewish restaurant, the Carnegie is also sacred space in its own ridiculous way. gro
Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose is set in the Carnegie. A group of Jewish comedians sit around a table at the Carnegie at 4 a.m., after work, swapping yarns about hapless, unsuccessful, colorful and lovable comedian-turned-agent Broadway Danny Rose (played by Woody Allen).
Generations of real-life New York actors and comedians have sat around tables at the Carnegie after work telling stories and “topping’ one another, including Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, Adam Sandler, Jerry Stiller and Danny Kaye and George Burns in previous generations. Their autographed pictures are all framed on a wall that runs the length of the building.
We didn’t have time for a sit-down meal at the Carnegie. The waiters used to be Jewish characters and kibbitzers, part of the experience. Now the waiters are Latino. We ordered take-out to eat on the bus ride home.
Megan, who eats very little red meat and no fish, ordered perfectly: blintzes, light, fresh-made crepes filled with three kinds of fruit compote.
I was so stressed and confused by the chaos in the restaurant that I ordered way too much smoked cow. I wanted to order smoked fish on a bagel to eat on the bus, and smoked cow for my refrigerator. It took me two days to eat my pastrami and tongue on rye sandwich.
I was really proud of Megan for getting a bite of my pickled beef tongue past her brain and into her mouth. It’s a naturally sweet, tender meat that melts in your mouth. She tasted it, then took a whole mouthful.
The chaos at the take-out counter did me in. When the ATM in the cash-only business was broken, all I could think about was being short of cash for our meal that was already being made, and running down the street looking for another ATM.
As people have said about New York longer than I’ve been alive, as Megan said on her first visit, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I’d never want to live there.”