erik lundegaard

Friday August 27, 2021

Day 2: Across 110th Street

A heroic statue of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. on 125th Street. 

Lesson of the day: If you want to avoid crowds on the subway in the middle of rush hour, and in the middle of a pandemic, sit in a non-air-conditioned car. On the 6 local, uptown, it was just me, Patricia, and about five black women. At various stops we'd see people step in, feel the heat, or the lack of cool, and step out again, running down the line to find one with AC. Another plus: When you make it back to the surface, the mid-day temps actually feel cool. It's like Blanche DuBois and her hot baths in summer. 

We spent the morning walking around Harlem, which neither of us had ever done before. We're staying at basically 102nd and 5th Avenue, so we started out in Central Park—the Conservatory Garden and the Untermyer Fountain, where it was us, joggers, and women pushing strollers—and then around that lake in the northeast corner of the park and onto 110th Street. Thus the movie and the song.

Walking up Malcolm X Blvd., we noticed a couple of great taglines in businesses along the way: a funeral parlor, for example, “where beauty softens your grief.” Turns out the New York Times wrote about this guy back in 2003. Then there was the ATLAH Church, whose sign out front softened nothing:

D.A. ALVIN BRAGG SAID HE WAS STUCK UP 6 TIMES IN HARLEM, ADD 1 MORE THE WHITE LESBIAN & GAYS ROBBED HARLEM FROM ALL HAMITES

This church and its signs are apparently infamous—a Black, east coast version of the right-wing nutjob signs of Chehalis, Wash. At least it's had financial troubles.

Our destination was the Apollo Theater on 125th, which was open, but where not much was going on. Two women were working there. The older one was kind and chatty, the younger one behind the souvenir counter was bored and not. Patricia admired the chandaliers. We bought postcards of bills promoting old Apollo shows.

Walking back to the apartment, I asked Patricia how comfortable she felt in Harlem. “Pretty comfortable. Not too uncomfortable.” Pause. “You kind of stick out.”

I've stuck out before, of course, living in Taiwan for several years in the 1980s. But there you stuck out in a mostly positive fashion. You were a symbol of your race, which felt positive: America, ESL, Hollywood. In Harlem, you felt like you were a symbol of your race that felt negative. But it's all “felt”; you don't know anything. And at the end of the day, you assume most people don't give a shit. Everyone's busy. But yes, I felt we stuck out, too. It's not a bad thing to feel. To feel some aspect of what it's like.

After a lunch of the previous day's Zabar's purchases, we took the subway down to the Strand, spent about an hour and no money there (they didn't have any of the movie books I was looking for), then walked the neighborhood in search of coffee and maybe air-conditioning. Tough enough being a tourist in New York City in August; the pandemic adds another layer of difficulty. It's better to sit outside in a pandemic, but it's not better to sit outside in New York City in August when it's sunny and 95. Either way, the few tables we saw were either occupied or in the sun, so we walked for a bit, then sat on a bench in the shade in Washington Square Park. A few shops in the neighborhood were closed. Most seem to have survived the pandemic. 

Posted at 05:19 AM on Friday August 27, 2021 in category Travels  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

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