Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wandering the Streets of NYC 1992

When I tell people about how I left home at the age of 16 and became a hustler, I'm met with so many questions in regards to what I'd do during the day since I was homeless. Honestly, during the day, I wandered on foot through the streets of Manhattan. I saw the city through the eyes of someone with nothing better to do and I really didn't have a timeline to worry about. I found some of the coolest shops and places to hang out simply by accident. I can't really say that I ever got lost since I knew the streets of New York City are like a grid, streets are numbed and go side to side and avenues went up and down. I knew I would walk south on any avenue all the way down to 10th street to get to the Ninth Circle or Julius by 7 pm and still be good for a trick or two before the sun went down.
The Ninth Circle
Most of my "down" time in NYC was relatively boring compared to my "work" time. This isn't to say that I didn't have ANY memorable experiences during the days, I just mainly observed during the day rather than experienced if that makes sense. My days were solitary and my nights weren't. I carried a backpack stuffed with my possessions that didn't fit in my fanny pack...
YES I said fanny pack and stop laughing. In addition to being useful...they were fashionable at the time. In my backpack, I carried many items that were useful...Thank you Boy Scouts for teaching me to be prepared. So in my backpack, I carried a large beach towel which used while I'd lay out (tanning) on the grassy knoll in Central Park listening to my Walkman or acting like I was while I slept. This only lasted until it got too cold to layout and not freeze or look stupid. I'll cover my backpack and fanny pack in a later chapter. So on the days that I was restless, or just couldn't find a comfortable place to rest, I would wander the city. I was stopped by a police officer only once during "school" hours, the second I opened my mouth and he heard my southern accent he knew I didn't attend a school in New York. I usually had a few bucks in my pocket for the train just in case it rained and I didn't want to walk thirty or more blocks to 10th Street in the rain. I avoided eating during the daytime hours aside from a hot dog from a street vendor.
Central Park Grassy Knoll
I loved wandering through stores, it's something I enjoy to this day. I had no money to spend and I guess it was considered "window" shopping but up close and in person. I found that Barneys was uncomfortably boring and the only thing entertaining was the fact that the price tags were usually facing away from the aisles or tucked into a spot that's sort of hidden. Bloomingdale's was also boring to me, I remember watching The Facts of Life and remembering how the character Blair always talked about it but I concluded not only was it overpriced, Bloomies was boring. FAO Schwartz was good for a few visits but it was usually filled with parents that had kids that would now be considered ADHD. Macy's on 34th Street was my mainstay thanks to my mom's Christmas insistence to watch A Miracle on 34th Street every time it was on TV when I was a kid, Macy's is still one of my favorite stores and A Miracle on 34th Street is one of my favorite films to this day.

One day, I somehow happened upon A & S Plaza, which was a multistory mall on 33rd 13 stories tall...set on the site of the famous rival of Macy's in A Miracle On 34th Street, Gimbals. The anchor stores were Sterns and Abraham & Strauss also known as A&S.
There was a corridor in the basement that led to a subway station, which was REALLY one of the coolest things about this mall. The mall was pretty much a financial failure though, too many of the same stores and I remember the elevators took forever to wait for and the escalators were situated where you had to walk more than you rode. The mall is now called Manhattan Mall and most of the floors used for retail space have been converted into offices and the two anchor stores, Sterns and A&S, are long out of business. A J.C. Penny is in the space formerly occupied by Sterns. I could pretty much move about this mall, unlike the "homeless" homeless people, because I didn't look homeless or ratty which allowed me to blend well with the crowd. If I got a little hungry, I discovered the food court vendors always had samples. Being that I was so small then, it didn't take many samples to fill me up. I always had an Evian water bottle with me, every 3 days or so I would buy a new one from the A&P near Union Station. Those bottles always contained the Hudson's finest tapped inconspicuously from a drinking fountain in the A&S Plaza...The mall featured several bookstores with B-Dalton & Waldenbooks. Several music stores, Musicland and I want to say that I remember two Sam Goody's were here on different floors. I wandered and sat in this mall for many hours a day. A&S Plaza was really like my own daytime home on those days that were way too cold to wander the city or if it was raining. I did find that this was NOT the place to poop at all, the privacy level was sketchy. Someone could push sort of hard on a door and it open. If I had to poop, I'd make the trek to the Marriott Marquis in Times Square which had a large restroom at atrium level with particular cozy stalls for that.

Sometimes my wandering brought me into stores that I still consider rare gems even though two of my favorites are no longer open. Footlight Records on 12th Street carried an amazing collection of musical theatre music from around the world, it sadly closed in 2004. Colony Records in Times Square, a store seen in many popular movies, was a place I spent many an hour in flipping through records and drooling over CD's in glass cases I couldn't afford. Sadly Turk, the owner of Colony closed it's doors in 2012. Up on 48th Street I found great little musical instrument stores that seemed like candy stores for me, Rudy's Music Stop, Manny's Music and Sam Ash. While writing this, I have been doing a little research to double check my memories and I've discovered Manny's is now closed.
Colony Records Times Square
Footlight Records CLOSED

Rudy's Music Shop
Sometimes I'd see Broadway show's I'd never heard of just because I was in front of the theatre at the time and they offered super cheap seats. Crazy For You, Guys & Dolls, The Secret Garden, Jelly's Last Jam, Falsettos, Dancing At Lughnasa, Tommy Tune Tonite and Someone Who'll Watch Over Me were shows I essentially stumbled into. None were as enjoyable to me as The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Miss Saigon or Les Miserables but I sat through them and liked them for being live entertainment. I did leave within the first few minutes of Jelly's Last Jam, not because of the show but because the audience members around me were obviously used to watching TV at home rather than seeing a Broadway show.
Rainy days in New York were quit difficult because I carried all of my possessions with me but no umbrella. Umbrellas are never a permanent possession in New York, the average life for one seems to be a rain storm and a half before it is chunked into a trashcan or thrown under a mailbox with it's frame bent and no longer close-able. Ratty homeless people usually salvaged after discarded umbrellas but I didn't, I had no room for them in my backpack. I never thought about how useful a vinyl poncho would have been until several years later, once I didn't need it. I did get creative with rainy days, and made a game of taking the subway and try to take the trains from point A to point B while making as many transfers as possible and never getting wet...Yes too much time on my hands made me a little crazy, I had nothing better to do and it beat hanging out in the rambles...the cruising area of Central Park.

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