August 04, 2009

Alone in A Crowd: Central Park Edition

There are too many people in Central Park. It is so magnificent that it draws residents and tourists alike to its sprawling lawns, eroded boulders and placid lake. All of its secret nooks and meditative coves have been discovered and appropriated. When you walk down a mulch-laden path or under a stone archway and hear a rustle, surely it is not a bird or a squirrel, but a photographing naturalist or a romantic couple canoodling in the underbrush.

I've never spent much time in Central Park, save for one disastrous Chase Corporate Challenge (which I walked), a few Summerstage concerts, and a New York Philharmonic picnic under fireworks. But after examining its map in search of places in the city to explore - an examination that probably contributed to my map-dominated dreams - I decided to give it a try. Feeling a little under the weather when the weather was holding up so well, yesterday I headed out to take an easy walk along the lake.

Of course its west shore was closed for construction.

But I found a nice walk along the north and eastern shores, weaving in and out of the westernmost boundary of The Ramble - the section of Central Park that most resembles wilderness.

A butterfly was about as wild as it got, but it was quiet on the paths that snaked away from the boat-filled, manmade lake. Only when I took winding paths back down to the edge of the water did I rediscover signs of the city: the skyline, and an authoritative woman's voice barking into a megaphone at the boaters, "Keep it moving!"

You can never really be alone in New York City. You're constantly on top of other people who want your seat, don't like the way you smell, wonder how much money you have in your wallet, and think you're out to get them.

But without people (though maybe not those people), New York would be stripped of much of its beauty. Trees need to be preserved. Flowers need to be planted. Bridges need to be stabilized. Lakes may not need to be built in the middle of a city as an urban oasis, but it sure is nice when they are.


As I emerged from The Ramble, I tried to appreciate those sites that most people love in Central Park: the food vendors, the street performers, the portrait sketch artists, and the zoo. But I found myself drawn to a neglected stone structure, built nearly 80 years ago and barricaded. The Naumburg Bandshell stands empty while drummers perform out on the mall, for the people, amongst the people.

I didn't talk to anyone, though I nodded in acknowledgement when I passed a bicyclist or jogger, which was often. I gave dirty looks to the women who tried to maneuver in front of me in line at The Boathouse. Chocolate frozen custard in hand, wiping its drippings off my pink t-shirt with the other, I glided through the southeast exit of the park like a ghost, unnoticed and unnoticing.

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