Stranger in Town – New York City, New York, USA

Stranger in Town
New York City, New York, USA

All I was really looking for was a happy hour.

But I seriously doubt that dude with the meth scabs on his face coming out of the convenience store wants to share one of those 40s he’s just purchased. The hunting knife slid blade-first up the jacket sleeve of his free arm is added confirmation. Or those guys sitting on the stoops of the rundown apartment buildings, with the piled up garbage bags and gushing fire hydrant in front? I doubt that look they’re giving me is saying “come on in for cosmopolitans.” No, that looks like the stink-eye to me.

Actually, EVERYONE was giving me the stink-eye as I jogged down the street. Even the cops slowly patrolling the area, talking into their shoulder-mounted microphones. This wasn’t a jogging neighborhood. This was a scene out of Law and Order or NYPD Blue!

And this sure as heck wasn’t the Midtown Manhattan entrance I had taken into Central Park on that mugg, sultry Sunday morning in July. Let’s see, I came in on 6th Avenue, and the cross street was 59th. What’s that signpost up ahead say? Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard! 113th Street! Yikes!

Welcome to Harlem!

It’s probably my favorite part of a trip. It’s the first morning in a new, strange and exciting town. Time to go for a run and kill two…get the daily workout in and get the lay of the land, scoping out possible dining, drinking and entertainment (not even remotely in that order) possibilities. I’ve always found this the best way to get my bearings in an unfamiliar area and stockpile the fitness I’ll need to counteract the coming (or preceeding) evening’s transgressions.

Yes, and sometimes in all the exceitement, I get a little lost. Okay, a LOT of times. It happens that way with me. Ocassionally it can be kind of fun, especially when you’re roaming around a scenic, hedonistic pleasure center like Vegas, Cancun, Waikiki or San Francisco, just to name a few. Eventually I’ll spot a familiar landmark, hotel, tavern or tourist trap and I’m able to re-orient myself.

Once, In New Orleans, after zigging when I should have been zagging, I joined up with a 10k race in progress. After a couple of miles, the route wound around to where my hotel was located. Thanks for the lift! Another time, in Cabo San Lucas, I followed a hoard of disembarking cruise ship passengers back to the center of town. Muchas Gracias!

This time I may have gotten in a little over my head.

No time to panic. The first thing to do was to get back to the park and the path that I was on. Eventually, after a couple of hard rights and a three block sprint (a personal best, I believe) I did just that, joining up with my fellow joggers, cyclists and in-line skaters who were out in Sunday morning force.

Running it (sorry) through my mind, I tried to figure out where I had gone wrong. According to my guide book, the perimeter of the park was supposed to be six miles, a distance that’s right in my wheelhouse. But evidently, that was the perimiter on the STREETS! Inside the park, the trails wind and weave around playgrounds, tennis courts, softball fields, equestrian areas, open spaces, more softball fields, more playgrounds and a humongous swimming pool. When my body began feeling like I had gone about six miles (I never use a watch, too un-Zen) I began looking for my 6th Avenue exit. And I found it. Only problem was, it was 6th Avenue NORTH instead of 6th Avenue SOUTH! I was only half way through the park! Boy, was my face red!

And not just from embarrasment. I still had at least six or seven miles to go to get back to my hotel on 45th and Broadway. This was NOT in my wheelhouse. Factor in the oh, I’d say 500 percent humidity, and I was getting pooped!

But at least I was pointed in the right direction. The numbers for the cross streets that entered the park began getting smaller. And when I got a whiff of the horse-drawn carriages that line up on 59th, (another thing I didn’t need) I knew I was home free. I found my exit and walked the remaining 14 blocks back to my hotel.

Dragging my leaden getaway sticks back down Broadway, I happened to notice a parked car with that quasi-ubiquitous bumper sticker, “All Who Wander Are Not Lost”. Yeah, well I’ve got news for you, Mack. A lot of us who wander ARE lost. And that’s the way we like it!

I never did find that happy hour, though.

©2005 Lee Hammerschmidt