Aint Your

   A Walk in the Park

Nov 1st

Union Square is an important and historic intersection in Manhattan in New York City. It is bounded by 14th Street on the south, Union Square West on the west side, 17th Street on the north, and on the east Union Square East, which links together Broadway and Park Avenue to Fourth Avenue and the continuation of Broadway. The park is under the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

It was 5pm that I got there to observe how people make use of this public space. The temperature had dropped to 30 degrees. It was a clear evening with a few specks of clouds in the sky. The subway exit brought me right to the west side of the park. No sooner had I climbed the last step of the stairways I walked into a throng of Hare Krishna devotees who occupied a small section of the concrete, singing and chanting their hymns to the much amusement of people who gathered around them one of them being me. I had much to do and the chilly wind wasn't making it any easier. On the south, right on the first couple of stairs that led to the park, a couple of vendors had put up their chessboard, challenging the pedestrians to a game. The going rate is $3, which the loser has to shell out. A little further away sat a group of high school kids from the neighborhood occupying quite a chunk of the stairway Their shrill voices accompanied by occasional laughter rose above the noise and din of the busy traffic on Broadway and 14th street. As I made my way further into the park along the west, I couldn't help but notice a small section of the park which had been cordoned off to accommodate the neighborhood dogs. A couple of dogs could be seen chasing after one another while the owners could be seen exchanging their phone numbers-talk about killing two birds with a stone. On that note getting a dog is in my bucket list.

Sitting space lined the periphery of the centre, which looked desolate except for the monument which occupied the heart of the park and a couple of squirrels running hither and thither. Perhaps it is the sense of entitlement that the vast amount of central space brings about which is out of bounds for pedestrians, the squirrels I encountered was way bolder compared to the ones I am used to in my backyard. I had to literally get closer and make intimidating gestures in order to shoo them away.

The chillness of the air didn't phase out the patrons, which could be seen in scores making much use of the sitting space. Where there sat an elderly gentleman keeping himself updated with the daily paper, just 5 feet away sat a girl in her teens lost in her world of pop music, I could even hear the lyrics of "wrecking ball" by Miley Cyrus as I passed her. Don't ask me how I know this song. The lovers occupied the far end of the seat, whispering sweet nothings into each other's ear, oblivious to everything around them. A couple of chairs away I was greeted with a very disturbing trend; Circles of smoke, reminding me of my resolution, made years ago to stay away, engulfed me. With the city bent on banning cigarettes and restricting the places people can smoke, it made sense that people turn to parks to quell their addictions. I walked past at least 10 people who basked in the serenity of the park while puffing away their cigarettes.

Further into the west, I saw a corner of the park set up with colorful tables and chairs and a couple of people sat there enjoying their sandwich while they gulped their cold can of soda. One of the patrons seemed to be sipping something from a brown paper bag, liquid courage perhaps? A line of colorful garbage bins powered by solar stood a couple of feet away. At the far end of the north-west, I was greeted by the sound of the running feet, cheering and laughter of the kids. The playground which occupied much of the north was barricaded from the rest of the park. The parents could be seen running at the heels of the kids.
As I made my way to the east, walking along the railings that fenced the playground, my eyes were met with lines of empty chairs except for a couple of homeless men who had their junks stacked up in a pile in shopping carts, next to them. As I neared them I realized why people were avoiding them like plagues. It is times like these that I lament my strong sense of smell. With much of the air taken up by the strong stench I made a detour to the periphery of the park.

Much of the outskirt along the east is covered in concrete. People used this space, along with the concrete running through the centre of the park to get from one end of the street to another. This section of the park seemed to a favorite among the bikers. With no vehicle tailing at their wheels, they rode at their leisure, some even did a little daredevil stunt by riding with their arms crossed. A quick walk with my eyes studying the fancy stores that lined the other side of the street I was right back to where I had started. The high school kids were now getting ready to leave and a couple of skateboarders waited in eagerness anticipating their departure so that they could maneuver the stairs in innovative ways.

I entered the park again not as a spectator on a mission, keeping track of the activities around me but rather to be a part of it. It is amazing that one can be just a street away from the hustle and bustle of city and yet feel so far away. As I sat there listening to the chirping of the birds and soaking in the serenity of the evening air I was reminded of a closing stanza of a poem by Robert Frost.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."