It is 10a.m. and I am at Battery Park, way at the southern tip of Manhattan. The sun is shining somewhere on this early December day, but in the shadow of these massive skyscrapers, it never touches ground. It is also slightly windy.
Today I am walking the length of Broadway (the street, not the theater district), and I should have started much earlier.
Broadway cuts through the heart of Manhattan, grazing many of the iconic New York sights and ending at 225th Street, a distance of 13.5 miles from where I’m standing on this December morning.
This shouldn’t be a tough walk, I figure. After all, I climbed a 750-foot sand dune in the Mojave Desert, and I’ve tackled some gnarly mountain hikes. I’m pretty sure there are no mountains in Manhattan. Piece of cake.
10:15–Begin the slow ascent of Broadway. I am walking through the Canyon of Heroes. These are plaques in the sidewalk that commemorate the honorees of all 200 ticker-tape parades that this street has witnessed since 1886. (Trivia: no more ticker-tape. Now it’s shredded paper.)
Wind in the face. Walk by the Wall Street bull and what’s left of the Wall Street Occupiers. Carol is there. I’ve seen her before. “There’s more room here now. I come every day.” I thank her for standing in for me.
Past the beautiful Woolworth Building that I see from all vantage points on the NYC skyline. Past the huge Municipal Building that straddles Chambers street.
Crowds suddenly mill and thicken at the corner of Canal Street. “This is where the tour buses come,” say a mother/daughter duo who are looking for the World Trade Center site. I know enough to give directions. I duck into a souvenir stall and pick up a tschotske.
I’ve stopped taking notes. Too cold. I’m just taking pictures now.
I walk through the trendy shopping area of Soho, which is the neighborhood South of Houston street. (“Houston” is pronounced HOW-ston in New York.) Cross Houston.
Now I’m in Noho. (Get it?)
At 14th Street, Union Square is abuzz with Christmas cheer and commerce. Stalls are set up throughout the square hawking everything from tea to imports. It’s too big to take in; I just push on through.
I pass the Flatiron Building at Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Built in 1902 to take advantage of odd-shaped bit of real estate, the building was originally described as “a stingy piece of pie.” Only 6 feet at the prow, naysayers bet on how far debris would fly when the building blew down. But it hasn’t. Eat it, naysayers.Madison Square Garden is to the east. Empire State Building dead ahead.
I pass an odd transition zone of small shops selling imports and very sparkly bling, and then I enter the heart of commercial madness at 34th Street. I pass through Times Square and then the Theater District wading through crowds thick as molasses.
Ridiculously, I keep losing Broadway. How can one lose a major thoroughfare? Four times I wander off as streets intersect and I follow the wrong scent. At Columbus Circle, which is yet another black hole where tourists, traffic, bicycles, and horse-drawn carriages merge into chaos, I make a pit stop and graze the southern edge of Central Park.
Now I’m entering the relatively quiet and elegant Upper West Side. Broadway turns genteel with lovely apartment buildings, markets, restaurants, and stores. People stroll rather than shove.
It’s mid-afternoon, and I’m only in the low 100 blocks. I’m starting to reassess both my plan and my endurance. I’m trying to remember where the subway lines hit Broadway–just in case. I pass Magnolia Bakery, the restaurant from Seinfeld. St. John the Divine, which is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen, is just down the street, and I mentally genuflect in appreciation.
Ipass Columbia College and Union Theological Seminary, which is celebrating its 175th year. I really, really have to pee. I fantasize about finding an abandoned building or a bush. I am cold. It is dusk.
Suddenly, I recognize the McDonald’s at 125th. I see the elevator to the 1 line. Temptation overwhelms me. I take refuge in the first rule of travel: Don’t push your limits. (Or is it the second rule?)
So I walked a moderately flat and wimpy 8.5 miles. Before I leave New York, I will go the distance. I promise.