On Tuesday, the 20th of December 2005, I became one of millions who had to get to work without my trusted subway. For me, that meant walking. New York City definitely looks different when experienced on foot. I already had my walking shoes. New Balance. Black. Orthopedic looking, yes, but broken in.
I set out for work that first morning just shortly after seven. It was semi-dark, the streets remarkably empty. Like a sleepy Sunday morning in Manhattan. Traffic cops with fluorescent vests manning and womanning the intersections.
I had some 35 blocks to walk, about 2 miles. Destination 30 Rock. “Live. From New York. It’s Saturday Night Live.” That building. I chose a route that would take me through tourist-free zones. At Christmastime, they are to be avoided at all costs. We may need tourists, but they glut our sidewalks, walk slowly, 4 abreast. Looking up to the skies to see the neon monumentals, pausing to get their caricatures done, buying those ubiquitous Chinese name paintings. But, I digress.
I walked uptown along Sixth Avenue, which I discovered is the Rhinestone District. Accessories made of rhinestones. Bridal Notions. Wholesale Only. A glittering array, literally, of sparkling clothing accoutrement. Buttons and fast’ners and trim. Oh my.
There were a few unexpected gems along the way. My favorite: a petite pocket park, triangle-shaped, kitty korner to Macy’s. With a beautiful cast-iron fence and open gates. Small tables and chairs. Apparently, a place for the folks who work around there, on a normal workday, to grab a quick sandwich or a coffee.
The PATH is the train that goes under the Hudson River, between New Jersey and Manhattan. During the strike, many commuters used the PATH quite creatively. I heard one man say he took the LIRR train from Long Island to Penn Station at 34th Street. Walked one block to the PATH station at 33rd, where he caught the train to the World Trade Center stop in Lower Manhattan. Just to get to his job on Wall Street.
Midtown, at 42nd Street, the crowds got larger. It was almost festive. It helped that I was close to the end of my long walk to 30 Rockefeller Plaza. When I arrived, I chose to enter the building from the plaza side, just to see the giant Christmas tree. A fitting end to the trek. After three days — the strike was over. But, getting the city’s 26 subway routes and 243 bus routes up and running was going to take awhile. So, I found myself walking home again. This time, I took Fifth Avenue downtown, so I could take in the Christmas windows. Just as I got to the corner of Fifth & 49th Street — the Saks Fifth Avenue light show began. A performance featuring huge, twinkling stars and snowflakes. They covered the front face of the building. The star performance was synchronized to a disco Christmas carol blasting from speakers that could be heard all up and down the avenue. Fifth Avenue. It was cool. A perfect way to end the strike. I don’t remember so much about the transit strike of 1980, except for the sneakers as fashion statement. Missing this time around, the ubiquitious t-shirts proclaiming “I Survived the Transit Strike.” We New Yorkers like to think we can survive anything. Maybe we can.