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Central Park

  Central Park is a surprisingly decent place to bird thanks to its size and lack of viable options in the rest of Manhattan. Eager to see some birds in this most famous of parks, we set off for the Ramble.

We entered the park from near the natural history museum and started our way southeast. Almost immediately we came upon one of the many massive boulders in the park (Original, left in situ, or moved there from where the buildings were all built?) and Leo had to, had to, had to scale it. Up we went, and found ourselves thrust up into the canopy of the park and surrounded by a mixed flock of ruby crowned kinglets, black and white warblers, and cardinals. I geeked out while Leo hopped about and Xander slowly trundled up the boulder with mommy’s help. It was such a cool spot to bird. We were eye level with many of the birds, up in the canopy thanks to these mysterious boulders (They had to have been put here, right? otherwise the whole city would be filled with them). The birds flitted about, chirping, flapping, and just generally birding out. Up above the trees, the skyline of Manhattan peaked over the trees. Surreal.

From there we headed southeast, through Shakespear’s garden (I saw a starling, LOL, an invasive species released because some knuckleduster thought that the USA should have all the birds mentioned in the bard’s overrated work, and thus introduced them). Then we were in the Ramble itself.

The highlight of the birding was a winter wren. It’s not a particularly vibrant bird. A greyish brownish speckled floof about the size of a golf ball with a feather taped to it I was hoping to hear one sing, and was not able to, but I did confirm that the fluttering ball deep in the underbrush was in fact a winter wren, thanks to a pair of crunchy old birders.

“Anything good?” One of them asked me. One of them was wearing a vest, and both had binoculars pointed at the dirt, so it was quite obvious they were talking about birds. No one else behaves in such a manner.

This is a question that has vexed me in the past. Sometimes, the oldest and wisest (and invariably male) birders refuse to answer this question. They say, ‘the usual,’ or even worse, ‘what you’d expect.’ I don’t know if they do this because they are desensitized and can no longer find any join in the charming cap of a chickadee or the lush red of a cardinal, or if they do not wish to egg any rookies or out of towners on, and cause a false report, but whatever the reason, I hate it. I find it rude and pointless. Share the knowledge, that’s what I say.

‘We saw a black and white warbler, a pair of ovenbirds, and a brown creeper just now. There’s a wren back there, but not quite sure which one.’

They nodded approvingly, confirmed that it was a winter wren based on size and shape, and asked the question that gave me some all-American NYC pride.

“What part of town do you live in?”

My birder skills were such that these old NYC birders, thought that I was one of them.

GahhH!  So cool! Self-confidence +100

“I’m from Austin, actually. Winter wrens aren’t too common down there.”

This too seemed to impress them. We chatted birds for a couple minutes and they told me where else I could go. We didn’t have time for any of their suggestions (apparently the north of the park, north of 92nd is legit for birding) but it was a very pleasant conversation.

From there, we continued on in search of the Balto statue. Leo and I had read a ‘level 3 reader’ sort of book about the dog, and we were both smitten (neither of us are dog people, so this is kind of a big deal, I think). As we meandered and birded through the park, I kept seeing bridges and fountains from movies and TV. It was magical. One minute we were strolling along, the next: I was a down on his luck artist, Raquel an overworked power lawyer who needed to find new priorities. Or maybe I was the single dad still grieving the loss of his wife and she was the zany bartender who makes a home in my life. OK, so apparently, I’ve seen too many romantic comedies in the Big Apple. I couldn’t tell you what any of these movies were, but I kept expecting people’s dogs to tie their leashes together and almost kiss. A lovely feeling.

We found so much in the park, and I can hardly explain it all. Highlights included:

A man playing classical guitar in a mosaiced tunnel.

Seeing a rat on a playground.

The mushroom from the Alice in wonderland statue having a patch on it, presumably from where millions of kids have stepped or sat.

Eating honey roasted peanuts.

A man with a voice like chocolate ice cream crooning from a bench with a guitar.

After a quick lunch, we ended up at the Met, which we also loved.

My favorite part was the musical instruments collection, especially the horns display. We also loved the impressionist paintings (it was our first time going to an art museum in years, and both Raquel and I could recognize most of the impressionists. It was very romantic to relearn this about each other.) Too bad that the kids were already out of steam and were not at all interested in looking at blurry pictures.

We left and sat out front where they could enjoy the fountain.

At this point, we were all quite exhausted.

We had been walking all day, pretty much nonstop, and we still had to make it to Hoboken, across the river, to get picked up my hopefully still intact truck.

“Maybe we should call it a day?” Raquel asked, half pleading.

She had a point, but there was just one more thing I wanted to do.

I checked my phone, saw that tickets were available, and bought them.

“Come on, we’re going back downtown,” I told the family and got them all moving.

“Where are we going?”

“Taxi!” I waived eagerly at a waiting cab.

We climbed in and I proclaimed, like the tourist I was:

“To the Empire State Building!”

The cabby nodded, and proceeded to drive just the way you want a cabby to drive. A little faster than the risks he’s taking are worth.

We made it down 6th Avenue (it was literally a straight shot, which I thought to be hilarious) and got out, then we went inside the Empire State building, and took the elevator to the 86th floor.

There’s a museum down below which was pretty great, actually, and lots of information that you can get if you go there, but all that is written somewhere else in a more informative way.

All I can tell you is how it felt standing there at the top of the world.

The first thing I noticed was how quiet it was.

I had expected to hear the sounds of the city (New York is loud, though not as loud as DC) but no, we were too far up.

Despite their being plenty of tourists up here, it felt intimate, a personal window into a city that could feel as impersonal as anywhere. There was World Trade building. And on the other side was central park, a carpet of green hidden behind buildings. I saw the Chrysler building from above (it’s always been my favorite building) which was stunning, since I could see the crazy eagle head gargoyles it has on it through my binoculars. I could see everything. I was the top of the pile. The king of the heap!

We lingered for as long as we could, then went back to earth.

Going to the top of the Empire State changed the scale of the city for me. It had been big before, but now… now it was otherworldly. Edificial, I want to say. Or Empiric perhaps. Unreal, is what I’m trying to say. All these people, struggling to survive, going to work, going home, eating, sleeping, shitting, losing their minds, falling in love. Here on the street and high into the sky.

It boggles the mind, what we humans have accomplished so that we can be closer to each other. There’s an energy to cities, to crowds, that I think we can all feel (not that we all like it) and New York had it more than anywhere else, except maybe Tokyo. But unlike Tokyo, or Bogota, New York is mine.

I grew up watching it in the movies, we all did, didn’t we? We’ve all seen King-Kong, or spiderman, or a Seinfeld. I’m especially lucky because I can visit without a passport, but New York City really does feel like it’s the world’s city.

The most famous city of all time, I like to say. It’s known the world over, is visited by the world over, lived in by the world. It’s a place for everyone, for anyone, for everything and anything.

And the only thing better that seeing it from the top of its crown jewel is to see it from Hoboken, near the train station on the Peir 3 park (I also saw brant fly overhead,). From here, none of that energy can be felt. It’s dampened by the river, maybe, or the distance.

But you can see it all. From the very southern tip up past the park. Like a city in a globe, it stands there, towering above everything, cramming into itself in this tiny place.

Already I could feel the sense that it gave me leaving, fading, seeping back into the city that I had taken it from. I had coming wanting to hate New York City, and I failed spectacularly. I loved NYC. I think the city feels like a being in and of itself and is something that I hope everyone who wants to grapple with this beast can do lube up and spend a round in the ring.

I want to live there, to play there, to get a fancy job and bump into Raquel in the park and fall in love again. I want to go to the top of every building, find every smoky bar, spend more time staring at Van Gogh and Gaugin in the Met. We got about sixty hours, and that was enough, but also not even kind of close. We didn’t see that much, not really, not in a city of that scale. We never even left Manhattan! But it still left me believing every song, every movie, every lyric. I guess, what I’m trying to say is

It’s the greatest city in the world! 

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