The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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The great journey: Manhattan on foot

 The great journey
The great journey

The great journey

Like most memorable collegiate experiences, the idea for the Great Journey began at a bar.

“Dude,” my longtime friend Matt said over a beer at a New York City watering hole, “We should try and walk the length of Manhattan.”

The Great Journey. It sounded so simple. In Manhattan, where we were both spending the summer as interns, 20 blocks roughly equals a mile. Ten miles walking would get us from 215th Street to Lower Manhattan, where cross-streets were named, rather than numbered. We guessed another two or three miles would take us to Battery Park, the southern tip of the island, where we could celebrate with a cold beer and a view of the Statue of Liberty.

It sounded so simple. We set the date. The Great Journey would be my last Sunday in town.

The first sign we were in over our heads came when Matty B met me at my apartment to start the trip. He was wearing Crocs. Now, I’m no podiatrist, but I know a plain bad idea when I see one. Matt’s feet would surely be rubbed raw before we made it five miles. He assured me there would be no problem.

Matt also didn’t bring his cell phone. Or a camera, his keys or a wallet. I asked him why.

“Have you seen the forecast?” He asked me. I sat down at my computer to look it up. “There’s a 50 percent chance of mugging across the island and a strong possibility of getting hopelessly lost,” he said.

Our route would take us south through some historic neighborhoods. From the 200s we would proceed down through the Heights and Harlem, and then walk along the west side of Central Park to Midtown. We would walk down 6th Avenue a ways, then cut into Chelsea. From there we would don our Marco Polo hats and hit Little Italy and Chinatown before finishing up with a final march through the financial district to Battery Park.

Simple.

We learned the moment we reached 215th street that New York City is a dichotomous place. The only stores open in this neighborhood on Sunday morning were the bodegas and the live chicken stores. The same city that boasts Park Avenue and the Empire State Building has stores that sell live chickens in cages. Chew on that for a while.

We resisted the urge to purchase an animal companion, then promptly got lost.

It shouldn’t have been hard to find Broadway, which we had planned to follow for the first few miles, except it wasn’t on our map. Most maps of New York City today don’t actually include the whole city — or even all of Manhattan. They end just above the tourist sections of Midtown. Fortunately for us, Matt had found an archaic 1950s map of the city that reminded me of an old pirate map, complete with dire warnings and illustrations.

Somehow we ended up walking along the East River (The Map: Here be the seamonsters) on the complete opposite side of the island. This was not a great place to be. We dodged dead cats on the sidewalk and considered the merits of a hypodermic needle Easter egg-hunt as we trudged along. We were grateful when a cross street dropped us into Harlem.

As an aside, I have to cop to my slight sense of terror about Harlem the first time I found myself there. I was lost, toting Bed Bath and Beyond bags and dressed like an SMU tailgater. Two nice old ladies gave me directions back to my apartment with soothing words:

“Don’t worry honey. No one will hurt you. It’s still day.”

I wasn’t comforted, but they were right. I always found Harlem to be perfectly safe after that, even for a white guy like myself. We passed through without incident.

We trudged mindlessly though most of the Upper West Side, refueling on food from vendors — pretzels, water, and New York’s famous street meat: the hotdog.

Midtown was old hat for both of us, having worked there all summer and having seen countless touristy photos in Facebook albums with titles like “NYC with the Girlz,” posted by our schoolmates.

We reached Chelsea — a very chic, very gay neighborhood – and marveled that we were still in the same city where we saw live chickens for sale. The fashionable little shops and restaurants recalled Paris far more than any other neighborhood we had seen. Matt’s feet were starting to pay the price for his choice of footwear, so we didn’t linger.

I can’t imagine the nation of China being anything like the neighborhood of Chinatown. I try to imagine a billion Chinese in cheap t-shirts with mindless slogans like “FBI: Federal Body Inspector,” but I can’t get my head around such a ridiculous image.

Except for the possibility we could buy caged chickens again, there was really no reason to remain in Chinatown. We pressed on.

In terms of sheer joy, our arrival in Battery Park ranked up there with birth and that one time Chipotle was giving away free burritos all day. We stared at Lady Liberty with wide-eyed wonder. We had survived and succeeded in crossing Manhattan. Later use of Google maps would put our route at around 15 miles. We did it in just over six hours. I field-amputated Matt’s battered feet, and we hopped a subway back uptown.

 

Garrett Haake is a journalism major at SMU. Readers may reach him at [email protected].

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