In Praise of Central Park

Sometimes the best discoveries are those we don’t set out to find in the first place.

I first visited Central Park in 2005. I had an overnight stay after carrying a laptop to LaGuardia Airport for the courier company. My first inclination was to ask for a flight change so I could turn right back around and fly back to Chicago without leaving the airport in New York, but arrangements had already been made. I’d be spending the night.

It was that initial flight into New York that hooked me. Jen and I just flew into NYC last week. Had my flight in ’05 taken the same approach as last week’s, I doubt I would have made any effort at all to get to Manhattan. We seemed to fly straight in from the west direct to our runway; my solo flight came in from the south. From my left-side window seat, I watched us make a slow bank around the Statue of Liberty, and then we flew a diagonal pass across the middle of the Park. I could see people on the skating rink. I was awe-struck. Until that moment, I thought Central Park consisted of an open grass field for the occasional concert.

As this was a Friday night, and being the wild extrovert that I am, I got to my room at the Crown Plaza LaGuardia and was in bed at 9:00pm. 9. On a Friday. Crazyness. But that didn’t last. I woke up at 1am, and knew I wasn’t going back to sleep. I watched a couple of movies while I waited for the hotel restaurant to open, then went downstairs and got breakfast. It was over a plate of bacon and eggs that the idea of actually living a little while I was in New York occurred to me. I was an adult. I could do this.

I inquired at the front desk about expectations of cost for a cab ride.  Now understand, I am not one for public transportation. I had never taken a Chicago city bus. I never rode a PAT bus in all the years I lived in Pittsburgh. As far as I was concerned, a cab ride was my only option, and if it was gonna be too expensive, I wouldn’t bother going to Manhattan at all. Instead, I was told I could catch a bus on the corner that would take me to the infamous #7 train to the city. I decided on the spot I was brave enough to do it.

The hotel shuttle beat the city bus to the bus stop and took 2 other guests and me to the #7 train. (It’s right behind Shea Stadium, now Citi Field) The next stop was Times Square. I stared out the window like a little kid at as much of Queens as I could. I bet New Yorkers are bored with the view, but I was mesmerized. Even graffiti on buildings caught my attention.

I got off at the Square and headed north on Broadway to The Park. I was not at all prepared for what I saw. Hills, huge rocks, and acre after acre of trees, fields, and people. There was a castle. I was pretty sure I was the first one to discover a castle in Central Park, til I saw all the tourists in it. Still, it was cool.

My Castle

I spent about 2 hours wandering the Park that day before I headed back to the subway and a flight back to Chicago. I knew I’d come back. The trip last week was my 4th visit to Central Park. There needs to be more. I’ve missed sections of it that I didn’t have time, or stamina, for. Besides, I haven’t run, biked, or rollerbladed there yet. 3 must-do’s as far as I’m concerned. More on Jen and my visit soon!

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