Sunday was Marathon day and I got up with a bad post-Halloween hangover to find my normally semi-deserted neighborhood packed with people. The NYC Marathon is a big deal and brings in people from across the world – some 42,ooo runners participate. It runs through all five boroughs, from the Verizona Bridge in Staten Island, through Brooklyn, on into Queens and through the Bronx before turning back into Manhattan and ending up near Central Park. In all my years in NY, I’ve never seen it, even when it ran right through my neighborhood, so this time I thought I’d better catch it, hungover or not.
For some reason I thought it started in the afternoon so by the time I arrived around one, the main body of the runners had already passed, and some local people were already taking up their stools and canvas deck chairs and heading home.The crowd was thickest around Bedford and Lafayette, where the runners turned and headed back into Manhattan. One lady, who must been there all morning, stood on the corner, bellowing encouragement over and over, and even slapping the backs of ailing runners.
Still, watching the stragglers was enetertaining enough. One guy (presumably French) dressed as the Eiffel Tower . . .
Another who juggled while running . . .
The best scene was up at the housing projects up Lafayette. The projects are the usual twelve story, brick buildings with the black grates over the windows that make them look a little like prisons – the same kind of public housing built all over the US in the 60’s. Normally, you hardly see anyone but the old folks outside in the daytime, but a BBQ had been set up in the playground with big speakers blaring out old Motown. Periodically, an MC (dressed in NY Giants colours – see below) chanted encouragement to the stragglers “You’re doing great. . .keep going, keep going . . . ” People stood by the side of the road, chanting encouragement, I guess glad to get out and be a part of it all .
The kids were out in force. One kid, dressed like Micheal Jackson (that’s the pre-wierdo, 1980’s Micheal Jackson that seems to be the image black people want to keep of him. The Micheal Jackson that was still BLACK), complete with oversized silver glove, stood on the side of the road with his buddies putting out his glove for the runners, then all of them would do cartwheels back and forth across the street, in-between the last of the straggling runners.
With the motown and people dancing on the sidewalks and the kids doing cartwheels in the street, it was a scene I haven’t seen in New York for some time, and I remembered how common this energy was here a few years ago – how you could go out on a weekend afternoon in Manhattan, and feel this same edgy, vibrant, black American energy running through the city like an electrical current. You would meet someone’s eye, someone you had nothing else in common with – say a black kid from the Bronx or Harlem or Brooklyn- and you’d have this instant empathy because you were sharing that moment of being out in New York City on a fall afternoon, digging the people, the city, the energy, and you knew just from looking at each other that you felt it, that you were aficianado.
And I realized that the difference came because these were mostly poor people out on the street, enjoying free entertainment, that poor people had to a great degree become invisible in the New York of today.
The kids had such remarkable energy, and unself-concious joy. I thought of Park Slope, the mostly white, increasingly upscale neighborhood where I worked last week, and how the kids there seem uniformly miserable – constantly crying, screaming. Even if it was heightened by the release of a special event, these kids had the magic of childhood in their faces, and watching them made me feel joyful as well. And it was good to be reminded of all the things I’ve loved about New York all these years, why I’ve come back again and again.