Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Usual Unusual Day

Awhile ago I noted that a straightforward plan for a day in New York often unfolds into something far more interesting than anything you would have dreamed up for yourself.   It's a phenomenon I've started to think of as The NYC Usual Unusual Rule.

And so it was yesterday.

The plan: my cousin J is visiting, and we decided to walk through Central Park with my sister and her husband and child (Baby Bird) and have a late lunch.  After that, the family would return home to NJ, and J and I would continue on to Chinatown in the evening.

My sister and her family were running late, so J and I walked over to the East River and Carl Schulz Park while we waited for them.  It was a gorgeous day, perfectly blue sky, and daffodils cropping up on every corner.  Once we entered the park, we immediately spied bits of color in a patch of grass.  Moving closer, we encountered:

We had just missed an Easter Egg Hunt, but saw the remnants of the celebration and could still sense the children's excitement and laughter lingering in the air.   So sweet.

B. and her family eventually arrived, and we immediately headed for Central Park.  I've spent very little time there since my move to NYC, so the walk was not just a walk, but one of discovery.  I immediately noticed that most of the benches featured little stories memorializing a person or a moment:

which of course warmed my heart, as I had so recently discovered similar heartfelt messages in Bryant Park (Love & Life at Bryant Park)

We walked our way towards the Boathouse, and followed the curve around the lake until we came upon Bethesda Fountain.  No fountain on this chilly day, but we witnessed a spectacular and unscripted performance-- a university choral group had been touring the park, and they stopped to hear a lone saxophonist playing on the terrace.  Someone starting singing, and in short order the choir quickly formed to sing one of their upbeat, rocking spirituals, with the saxophonist weaving in and out of their notes with his own spontaneous song.  Walkers-by immediately crowded around, all of us astonished at this stunningly joyful and unexpected collaboration.  The cheers after they had finished reverberated across the park.

We eventually departed, and walked through a beautiful tunnel:

And up a flight of stairs (this stone carving was carved into a post at the top of the stairs):

to get to The Mall, a graceful walkway sheltered by sturdy elm trees:

After a late lunch at Rosa Mexicano, we took the train back to my apartment to rest after the long walk.  B. and the family departed, and J and I crashed for a bit.  After we felt revived, J and I headed out again, this time to Chinatown.  Not to shop, not to sightsee.  No, we went to Chinatown to observe night court at the Criminal Courts Building.

Let me explain.  While looking for fun things to do at night in NYC, I ran across a suggestion to visit the night court for NYC.  This is where New Yorkers who've been arrested are charged with a crime.  The arraignments are open to the public, and take place from 5:30 pm to 1 am every night of the week.  It caught my attention because J. is in the midst of planning to apply to be a police offer.  I thought she might be interested.  She was.  And it was indeed interesting.

The courtroom was quite large and formal, with the words In God We Trust in large letters about the judge's bench.  It was crowded with family members and friends of the accused.  J and I quietly took seats in the back, but eventually moved forward as people cycled in and out of the room. 

J and I were fascinated.  The courtroom was run with complete efficiency, with each of the employees appearing completely sure in their respective roles.  The individuals appearing before the court were treated respectfully but firmly by the judge.  In many cases, he gave people second chances, especially the minors and first offenders.  In the most extreme case, he assigned $100,000 bail for an individual who was accused of robbing a bank.  The lawyer argued that it was extreme, given that her client had worked for sixteen years without an offense, was 63 years old and in poor health.  The prosecutor pointed out that prior to the sixteen years of work, the gentleman had robbed four banks.  The bail stood.

We were glued to our seats until recess was called. 

Dizzied by what we had just witnessed, we sought dinner in Chinatown.  We found a crowded place and immediately realized it was authentic (as it should be!), as evidenced by the crispy duck tongue appetizer and wide variety of dishes featuring frog.  We ordered from more familiar territory (tofu, vegetables, beef) but reveled in the feeling that we had just stepped into a different country.

Yes, yet another usual unusual day in New York.


  1. I had no idea NYC was so beautiful. Thanks for sharing that.


  2. You're welcome, Michelle. Thank you for joining me in my explorations! It's not always beautiful at first glance, but with a careful eye one can easily find beauty.