Up Amsterdam Avenue

Cool, damp air greets my face as I step out of my building on Amsterdam Avenue. It’s a little after 5 PM and the rain-stained sidewalk a few blocks west of Central Park is buzzing with the hum of restive life released from work and school.

As I’m walking by the Olympic Flame Diner on the corner of 61st two boys dash across the faded crosswalk, one of them doing zig-zags to keep his wobbling basketball spinning on one finger.

One block up and the Amsterdam Houses sit squat and resolute. A public housing project built in the 40s, its brown brick façade and double-hung windows were once a backdrop to a thriving drug trade until a police raid in 2010 arrested 28 people.

Near the entrance a doo-ragged teen slaps the hand of a friend, dragging his fingers through the others to an arc ending with a thumb snap.

On 64th a block of scaffolding funnels pedestrians into a mine-like passage replete with pools of warm yellow light. The smell of concrete dust and port-a-potties is stifling and I burrow my nose into my collar, scuba sipping oxygen toward daylight.

The tunnel ends at the corner where I’m greeted by a gust of fresher air. It’s starting to drizzle again and the wheels of a yellow cab whip through a nearby puddle, sending a spiraling wave of brown water onto the curb.

I’m halfway up the block when a woman in a red overcoat backs out of a door with her shoulder, popping open an umbrella with her free hands as she turns into me.

She gives me an incriminating look that jars a well-conditioned “Sorry” from my un-sorry lips — the indignation settles in and briefly festers and then it’s gone.

I’m too tall for rainy days as my eyes rise to umbrella-rib levels and people rarely think to raise their little shelters above my head as we pass, forcing me to duck and weave through a stormy sea of personal bubbles.

On 69th a brightly lit second-floor window illuminates several Jewish teenagers practicing a ritual in the Lincoln Square Synagogue, its travertine walls turning a darker grey as the rain begins to pick up.

Idling taxis are filling up fast, their puffs of exhaust clouding the air as I quick-step left to avoid a prim charioteer pulled by two mighty poodles wearing fur-lined coats.

At 70th a halal vendor selling gyros and kebabs is flipping, chopping and scraping piles of meat and onions on the black metal surface while a helmet-clad construction worker digs through the ice box in search of a drink.

The smell of seasoned lamb and grilled onions is thick enough to taste and my mouth waters, my eyes dragging longingly behind my forward moving feet.

On 72nd, Broadway meets Amsterdam forming an “X” that marks the 72nd street subway station. Across from the station is a Trader Joe’s where I’m meeting my sister-in-law to get some groceries but she’s running late, so I wait outside under the aluminum awning.

Every few seconds the sliding glass doors open and close behind me with an airy whoosh as I lean against the recessed wall feeling as if I’ve swum upstream.

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16 thoughts on “Up Amsterdam Avenue

  1. This is great. I love your descriptive writing. It really pulls you into the scene and makes the act of walking down the road actually seem interesting. We can all learn something from this. How many of us walk down our street oblivious to our surroundings.

  2. sweetsound says:

    This is my old neighborhood! I love your description. I miss it so much, and am going back to visit tomorrow!!!

    • J. William Young says:

      Thank you! Have fun visiting, and if you see someone writing in the middle of the sidewalk it’s probably me!

  3. Thanks for a break from the day — the picture set the stage for a well-written narrative!

  4. James O. says:

    The more I read the more I got pulled in to that world – pretty effective writing.

  5. allysonyj says:

    Very much alive writing. This piece of the world feels real. One cavil: the last line should be “feeling as if I’ve SWUM upstream.”

  6. Fiona.q says:

    hey pal, now i moved to berlin. if you drop by, feel free to let me know 🙂

    • J. William Young says:

      Hey! You liking it? If I can save up enough to visit my brother in Muenster I’ll let you know. Good luck with everything!

      • Fiona.q says:

        havent been to munster. shall we go together? lol. belrin is nice. but it’s just too big and city, i prefer smaller towns with more nature…

      • J. William Young says:

        Haha, why not? Muenster is a beautiful city, perfect size in my opinion.

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