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Come with me as I ride to work on the M10 bus from Manhattan's Upper West Side, through the theatre district in Times Square and emerge in the garment district.
It's a bright, humid day in July 1996. I live between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West and wait for the bus on the corner of 86th Street. It's 8 am and, as usual, there is a lot of traffic along both Central Park West and 86th Street. This time of year, yellow school buses stop on the corner picking up neighborhood children on their way to day camp.
Central Park extends from 59th to 110th Street; and across from the park along Central Park West are mainly high rise apartment buildings with the occasional doctor or dentist office on the ground floor. Branching off from Central Park West are tree lined residential streets with a mixture of brownstones and multistoried apartment complexes.
As I wait for the bus, I look across into Central Park; 86th Street is where I take my cat, Dijie, to romp in the park, and waiting for the bus to work, even though it promises to be a hot, sticky day, I can't help wishing I were on my way to the park with Dijie instead of heading into even the air conditioned comfort of the office.
As the bus comes, the first thing of note we pass is the 3 remaining brownstones still standing on Central Park West, which are on the corner of 85th Street. Many of the tall apartment buildings have art deco trimmings, such as facial carvings on their facades. Some of the buildings have names, in addition to their street numbers, such as The Bolivar, The Alden, The Beresford (on the corner of 81st Street - Beverly Sills, Tony Randall, Phyllis Newman and Adolph Green all live here), The Kenilworth, The San Remo, The Langham, The Majestic and the Prasada.
On my left in the park at 83rd Street is a rock so large it has a name: Summit Rock. Whenever I see it, I think of Blackie One Eye, a very tame black squirrel I used to feed. I would often see him climbing limberly up the face of this rock. Alas, Blackie is no more, and I still miss him.
At 81st Street is the entrance to the park to access the free Shakespeare performances which take place most summer evening at the Delacorte Theatre. This is a beautiful setting with Turtle Pond and Belvedere Castle (an actual Castle now used as a weather station) behind it.
At 79th Street is the main entrance to the Natural History Museum and Planetarium. Inside, suspended from the ceiling, is a life size whale and several floors above is the newly reopened dinosaur exhibit. The museum also boasts an Imax movie screen and many, many other exhibits. In front of the museum is a life sized statute of Teddy Roosevelt astride a horse, with his birth noted as 1859 and his death as 1919 and a list of nouns denoting the reasons he's so honored: explorer, scientist, conservationist, naturalist, statesman, author, historian, humanitarian, soldier, patriot, scholar, explorer.
The Museum is surrounded by manicured lawns which are quite a contrast to the wilderness across the street where Central Park is allowed to bloom in a natural state.
Every Thanksgiving the Macy's parade begins right outside the Museum. The helium balloons are inflated on 77th and 81st Streets and the floats, bands and other marchers line up along Central Park West from 77th back to 86th.
Across 77th Street from the Natural History Museum is the New York Historical Society and on the next block is the Universalist Church.
As the bus continues along, the lady bus driver calls out the cross streets, which is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
At 72nd Street sits The Dakota, the suitably ominous looking apartment building which stood in for The Bram in the film ROSEMARY'S BABY. John Lennon used to live here and was killed right outside it; Yoko still lives there. Mia Farrow lived there until her acrimonious breakup with Woody Allen. Gilda Radner once lived there. Across the street in Central Park is the area renamed Strawberry Fields in honor of John Lennon. 72nd Street is also the entrance to the park to reach Summer Stage, a series of free concerts on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
At the corner of 66th Street is the building where the character played by Sigourney Weaver lived in GHOSTBUSTERS. Right across the street is Tavern on the Green, a restaurant that allows you to eat outside in Central Park. On the next block is the Ethical Culture Society.
The 10 bus turns off Central Park West at 63rd Street, past the West Side Y and then turns onto Broadway, right at Lincoln Center, which is a complex of theatres, restaurants, gift shops and a branch of the New York public library system that is notable for its classical music, ballet, opera and live theatrical performances. Its fountain was featured in the background of a scene from the film THE PRODUCERS.
Although there are also large high rise apartment buildings along Broadway, there are more tall office buildings as well as restaurants, stores, movie theatres and banks.
The entire block between 62nd and 61st is an empty lot, but before the building there was demolished the ground floor was used as a set of the campaign office of the candidate Cybil Shepherd campaigned for in the film TAXI DRIVER.
At 59th Street Central Park ceases and so does Central Park West. This is Columbus Circle, named for the statue of Christopher Columbus high atop a column (like the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square). On the right is the Coliseum which once was a major venue for trade shows but which has been obsoleted by the Javits Center. Currently it houses America's Smithsonian, exhibits from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington as well as from local New York museums, including Lincoln's hat, actual space capsules and a life size working carousel.
Under construction at Columbus Circle at the site of the old Paramount building is the Trump Hotel and condo apartments. From this vantage point, you can see a number of electronic time and temperature signs atop the nearby buildings, all with slightly different times and temperatures!
Across the street is an intriguing looking white building that houses the New York Department of Cultural Affairs; as one of the city's visitor's bureaus, the ground floor contains a wealth of brochures of interest to tourists.
Continuing down Broadway, there are more and more stores, including those selling books, clothing, luggage, housewares, lamps, gifts, jewelry, CDs and tapes and electronics. Drug store chains and banks are on the ground floor of office skyscrapers and hotels; and Broadway and off-Broadway theatres line the side streets. There are high priced restaurants, gaudy tourist trap places and the usual fast food stores, delis, salad bars, coffee bars and pizza parlors.
Small corner grocery stores, known as "Korean stores" for their hardworking owners/proprietors, display a colorful arrangement of fruits and vegetables neatly stacked in outside bins. Some of this prime space is even devoted to parking lots, something in short supply in New York.
At 58th Street is the office building where Nickelodeon and MTV have their executive offices. At 53rd Street is the Ed Sullivan Theatre where that variety show used to emanate; now David Letterman's show broadcasts from there and Ed Sullivan is commemorated in the new Sullivan's restaurant. The CBS Store where you can buy coffee mugs, T shirts, caps and other souvenirs of CBS's best known TV shows is on the corner.
At 50th Street is Caroline's Comedy Club; a theme restaurant is due to open above it by the end of the year. Across the street is the Brill Building with its bright gold trim; Lorne Michael's Broadway Video has its offices in this building.
We are now moving into Times Square which extends from 47th to 42nd Street and is not at all shaped like a square. There are more movie theatres, both multiplexes, duplexes and single theatres; four actual "legitimate" stage houses have their marquees right on Broadway - the Winter Garden, the Broadway, the Marquis and the Roundabout.
Times Square boasts a plethora of neon and consequently looks a good deal better after dark than during the daylight. Many of the famous signs and billboards are no longer in evidence, such as the Camel sign which blew smoke, but there is an oversized Kodak poster above the Marquis Theatre and the new Virgin Megastore (so large it has a multiplex theatre in the basement) has an impressively oversized neon sign.
There are also two"zippers" - electronic signs on which text displays. One has headlines and weather reports and the other is the Joe Boxer sign to which anyone with access to E-mail can submit a message and potentially see their name up in lights (send messages to firstname.lastname@example.org).
In front of these zippers on an island in the middle of the street where Broadway and 7th Avenue cross is an army recruiting station and a police office (the only one in New York with a neon sign!).
42nd Street used to be home to a rather sleazy bunch of denizens who haunted the porno shops and theatres that showed double and triple bills of exploitation theatres. All of these have been closed down and construction is under way for a theme ride, a Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, a Disney hotel and theatre and other similar attractions. The Victoria Theatre has been refurbished and has an old fashioned look with pseudo gaslight globes; the area surrounding it gives the impression of a theme park.
Once past 42nd Street and its newly opened restaurant/brewery, Hansens, we are into the garment district. Here I exit the bus at 38th Street, one stop past where I work because I have left so early there is time to visit Pudding and Shelley, who are store cats who live and work in a drug store chain called Duane Reade. Pudding patrols the store at 38th and 7th and Shelley the one at 39th and Broadway, and I try to visit them every day before work, to get a last minute cuddle before I face the grimness of my ghastly job.