Walking New York: First Avenue from 66th to 17th

Our walk started with coffee at Java Girl at 348 East 66th Street. This neighborhood joint is a downtown incarnation on the Upper East Side – a few odd table-and-chair combinations set against exposed brick walls. From there, turned a corner onto 1st Avenue and started walking down. In the sixties, the area is still somewhat genteel – with several inviting restaurants and shops. In the fifties, architecture becomes downright blah, although the nondescript apartment buildings on side streets are once in a while punctuated by luxury oddballs, like the tony Beekman Regent in Turtle Bay. The forties has a bureaucratic aura – the UN building, once ultra modern, is hopelessly dated now – the building as well as the body it houses. But in the vicinity of the soulless UN, we stumbled upon an oasis of fresh air. Just a few steep steps up from the avenue, upon one of Manhattan’s rocky cliffs, lays Tudor City – an enclave of neo-Gothic buildings, huddling around several tidy and civilized little parks. The tall buildings form a cozy nook with a peek-a-boo of the East River letting the light in.
Past the UN building, (three spits over my left shoulder to ward off the evil spirits congregated inside), past a hospital and onto a rundown building that has seen better days. Grilled a guard on what this was and received an explanation that it housed “crazy people” once, and now is “a shelter for the homeless where they receive assistance in the form of a bed and three hot meals a day.” Walked back to the avenue, observed the once majestic facade, and commented at how this grand building could have been turned into a luxury condominium. A passer-by, an African American man appearing to be in his late 30’s, overheard my saying that and politely interjected: why, he said that very thing just yesterday when he was spending the night here. In the friendly chat that followed, he revealed that this was none other but the famed Bellevue Hospital, and that he has been using the shelter it had become many a time. He elaborated on the condo prospect, saying that the building was grand and had a lot of history. We inquired as to the quality of food at the shelter and were told that the food was mediocre at best and “don’t let them tell you otherwise.” We then inquired if he felt safe while staying at the shelter, and he readily confined that years ago, when the shelter was frequented by young men, he did not and that he slept then with one eye opened, but now it’s mostly an older crowd, so he feels ok. He himself is 48 at present. I complemented him with all sincerity that he didn’t look 48, to which he courteously responded “Thank you ma’am”. We expected, and kind of hoped, he would ask for money, but he only thanked us politely for talking to him and took off.
With elevated spirits following this encounter, we trotted down to 17th street with no further adventures, turned onto 17th street leaving behind the grim balk of Stuyvesant Town looming over the avenue, crossed Union Square and walked up to Laut, Malaysian restaurant at # 15, where we gobbled up a fabulous meal to replenish the calories we hopefully lost during our arduous journey.

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