I walked down a street yesterday afternoon that I haven’t walked down in well over 10 years. Has that ever happened to you? You haven’t given a place any thought at all, but when you happen to encounter it by chance, you realize how permanently etched into your life it is as a link to memories of your past. This happened to me yesterday.
Greenwich Avenue. A relatively short street (in NYC terms) that runs diagonally from 6th Ave and 8th Street to 13th Street and 8th Ave. I walked this street a few times a day, almost every day for over a year. It was my preferred route from art school at Astor Place in the East Village to the apt of a certain boy who lived on 14th and 8th. NYC is like that if you’ve lived here long enough and if you grew up here as I did, you can map out your entire past through streets and landmarks. The city is big enough that it’s possible to not walk down particular streets or neighborhoods for years and years, so when I found myself on Greenwich Avenue yesterday, I just stood there, a bit paralyzed because I was not prepared to be flooded with all this “stuff”.
It was comforting to see that some of the places on this street were still standing 20 years later. The cave-like natural food restaurant with an entrance a few steps down from the sidewalk, the Italian restaurant, the long and narrow Indian restaurant, the store with the fun knick knacks, gifts and cards, Elephant and Castle, Tea & Sympathy, even the paper store that stood on the corner at the bottom of the street looked like it was there until recently. It’s now just a ghost of a boarded up building, but there’s evidence that maybe a fire took out its life not that long ago. Walking along I started looking for other places that I remembered, but was saddened to see that some were not there. The store where I was given a necklace as a gift. A cafe on the second floor that had a wood-paneled back room with elaborately carved mismatched tables and chairs. These held significant memories. These places were gone.
Sometimes timelines get crossed and I realized that some of my memories of this street are actually memories of 2 different people from 2 different decades. And this shook me out of my daydream and I picked up my pace as I headed to a new spot I hadn’t been to before to meet with friends.
But the city can do that to you. You’re constantly walking by places of significance, some etched in the past and some that are in the process of etching itself in. Ghosts are everywhere around you. Some days you can manage to walk by without thinking twice about it, other days you might make a quick reference in your head, and then there are days that it stops you in your tracks and sucks you down memory lane. How can you be nostalgic for a city that you already live in?
Sometimes, it happens.