“This is a Bronx-bound, six, local train, the next stop is: fourteen street, Union Square”. South or north bound, I have ridden this train perhaps hundreds of times: when commuting from Forest Hills, as a transfer from the E, when commuting from East Flatbush, as a transfer for the Q, when going back to familiar grounds when I ambled through the east Village, or when escaping the summer heat, as a museum-transport: towards the Frick Collection or the Neue Gallerie, as a means of going to the 4 or 5 trains when coming to Brooklyn to see Ana Lise and Christian, or to eat in the financial district, or, more recently, to stay in the airbnb that seems to be right in the border between Crown Heights itself and the still ungentrified vast unknown of East Flatbush. And perhaps many other uses I still don’t quite recall, but the larger point that arises is: the 6 train has been my loyal transportation to the majority of my NYC explorations.
But if there was an epicenter to all those explorations, apart from the ever shifting temporary abodes I find myself in every time I visit this behemoth of a metropolis, it would undoubtedly be Union Square.
Union Square was also the scenario of many an afternoon of confusion, weariness, despair, contemplation, heartache, merriment, reading, meditation, hopefulness and hopelessness as I navigated solo through the labyrinth of What to Do Now that ensnared me during the summer of 2012 and which reemerges from time to time, finding a different me every time, sometimes more composed, sometimes again crestfallen.
Barnes and Noble near union square has equally seen me as a gift-buyer, a book-spelunker, a too-toasty-winter-wayfarer, a confused tourist (in looking for it I started in 23rd street and ended in greenwich village, inexplicably missing the big old union square area) and a hasty new-yorker-wannabee. And I keep coming back even though my book-hoarding allegiance belongs to the dusty abundance of Strand, a few blocks down Broadway.
A gift buyer in despair, Union Square has also regaled me with the confusing but affordable maze of Nordstrom Rack and the high treason of buying in Sephora, places to which I’ve dragged friends and lover more times, and for more time, that should have been forgiven by any local who avoids such places and their inherent crowds.
Park and bookstore, and off-character shopping centers, may be gaining protagonism in the Union Square area of my life, but both pale in comparison to the Pret-à-Manger across the street from petco: discovered during the fateful 2012 summer, it has been the purveyor of a few breakfasts, a hefty amount of lunches and uncountable fuck-it-I’ll-eat-pret-again dinners, mostly on Sundays when the weekend blues are at their zenith. Pensive, hurried, alone or accompanied by friends new to the city, new friends from the city or city friends new to this particular Pret, my string of chicken-and-bacons accompanied by BBQ chips and a ginger beer may, sadly, be the meal I’ve eaten the most in this city.
All the foregoing seems to either indicate that there’s this morose character to Union Square that gets imprinted on me or that I imprinted on it; it certainly beckons every time I’m too weary, overwhelmed or spent to properly deal with the challenges at hand, and the ambivalence goes beyond cause or consequence: I also wonder if this particular spot of this particular planet, for this particular human being, is a place of healing or a symbol of a malady that takes hold of my soul. I believe that every moment has something to contribute to one’s unity with self and world, maybe places have a similar vocation sometimes? All I know is that many strands of thought, action or decision have seen a turning point in Union Square, and as some of those have before, I can only hope that others continue to find a conclusion in that innocent park. I don’t really know just yet what I am to find there, or if I have yet, or if I should evade the place, but I’ve become a small, fleeting, part of it, as it has become of me.