Tuesday, November 03, 2009

852. The route to Whole Foods

The usual start of my work day entails a 10-second commute to the office (also known as the front of the kitchen), followed by the Times online, blogs, coffee, a bagel. Then I'm ready to face the world, more or less. Today I added something new to the routine, a few minutes of writing. Later on I'll engage in another radical act and take a break in the middle of the day to walk east to the local high school and vote (not that it will make much difference, but I need to do it just the same). Then I'll go some more blocks to Whole Foods, my favorite store ever, although I'm as far from a foodie as my cats are from cooking dinner, the most likely scenario for a homemade meal around here. (Yes, I'm proud to be a slothful, ordering-out kind of New Yorker.)

And once again, I'll experience a kind of déjà vu. Seduced by signs that said "Borders Books coming soon!" I began to wander these streets last year out of curiosity when the Whole Foods, as well as an expansive, mall-like block of stores, started to go up. (No Borders has appeared, but I'm patient.) The mall took the place of a tired supermarket and a diner; with a few exceptions, those blocks were like a dustbowl in the middle of the Upper West Side. Now it's a new neighborhood, if somewhat pre-fab, and feels very different.

But the déjà vu wasn't because of my previous trips. The streets over there are wide, the buildings short, unlike the tall, shadowed, narrow blocks near my apartment. You can even see the sky. Not far from Whole Foods is a little police station and a public library in 50s-style white brick, low-ceilinged warrens of fluorescent lights with big windows framed by skinny poplar trees. Behind the police station, a public playground with monkey bars, squealing kids, senior citizens playing chess. The area is old, new, unplanned, messy, and alive, and reminds me of Queens. I grew up in a 6-story red brick building; across the street were wooden single-family homes with unkempt yards where I'd play after school. The massive Skyline Towers a few blocks away could house an entire city, and the between from their canyons knocked the books out of my hands every time I went to visit my wealthier friends. Our own apartment was modern and cheap, all the doors hollow (I was amazed when I moved to Manhattan and discovered that my bedroom could be sealed off and soundproofed with a solid slab of wood). The architecture and characters are different, but something about the walk to Whole Foods creates the same echo in my bones as the songs of birds who lived in the tallest tree in the world, which happened to be right outside my 4th floor window when I was a kid.

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