I live in Manhattan—but not the part of Manhattan that you might typically envision, the jagged architectural skyline looming over Central Park midtown kind of thing. I live uptown, up-up-up past where your visitor guidebook map cuts off. Settle on down into an empty seat on the ‘A’ train heading uptown; don’t worry, one will open up soon enough. Get some reading in. Turn up your I-Pod to drown out the well-crafted pitches of beggars that hop on at 59th St to petition a captive train on the express run to 125th. Go ahead, doze on off and stretch your legs out. When the train reaches the end of the line, where the Harlem river diverges from the Hudson and forms the northern tip of the Island of Manhattan—that’s where you’ll get off. Welcome to my ‘hood.
Inwood is a primarily Dominican flavored neighborhood. The boys on the streets wear askew stiff baseball caps, long white T-shirts, and plaid shorts. There is a guy selling syrup dashed over shaved ice on the corner. In this part of town, instead of a Starbucks on every block, there’s hair salons and thrift stores. There’s always a baseball game going on over at Inwood Hill Park and Dyckman Fields. Fancy sports cars and SUVs hurtle down the residential streets at all times of the day and night, bumping bachata and merengue at top volume. Motorcyclists thunder by, triggering car alarms right and left.
Go to the corner of Seaman and Cumming, and take a picture of the happenstance juvenile humor created by their adjoining signs.
Step into Inwood Hill Park, the only unmaintained “natural” forest remaining in Manhattan. The only maintenance performed there is when a tree falls down (every time there is a storm, a tree falls on Payson Ave and hits a car; no, seriously), the tree gets limbed up and then pushed to the side. Sometimes the City will come by and even pick up the remains of the tree. Mostly, within the park, they are just left there.
This is the kind of park you can get lost in. In the summer months, the vibrant animal and plant life is jungle-like in its density. Rabbits hop along in front of you. Rats scurry from one bush to another. A surprising multiplicity of birds call out from within the canopy. Mosquitoes invisibly fester onto any exposed spot of skin. During the weekday, you may even be one of the only human life forms inside the park, aside from the stray dog walker, the pair of teens smoking a joint or dry humping, or perchance a lone free-baser sitting along the walk with his shirt off. Dime bags litter the pathways going into the park, but otherwise the park is remarkably free of sketchy intrusion, as most idlers seem to be too lazy to infiltrate any deeper. You can go to the viewpoint and watch barges float past down the Hudson. I run in this park almost every single day, and I love it.
Adjoining Inwood Hill Park is yet another giant amazing park of a different stripe, Fort Tryon Park. Here there is a greater presence of human life, runners going up the steep paths, people sitting around the flower garden, dealers sitting along the wall in the out of the way places. You can go to a trendy cafe and see live music or visit the Cloisters museum. There’s even bike trails in this park!
I would say that having immediate access to these gems is what I really love about Inwood. I haven’t yet explored whatever semblance of nightlife there might be here, which seems to be either hanging out in an upscale Dominican restaurant, or diving in one of the Irish pubs that still remain along Broadway, a hold-out testament to the previous inhabitants of Inwood before the succession of the Dominicans. Otherwise, the only other thing that seems to happen around here at night is sitting around on park benches or lawn chairs and sweating. Capital of hip and trendy life it is not—but that’s not why we live in Inwood, now, is it?
Under the auspices of my surrogate NYC Puerto Rican family, I have grown to appreciate my new home, and to even feel that I would much prefer to live here than the expensive movie version parts of Manhattan. I sometimes grow peeved that everyone feels like they always have to hang out downtown. Sure, if I could ever afford the $6,000 a month to live across from Central Park, I would. But I’ll take Inwood Hill Park for now—that is, until I’m pushed off the island of Manhattan completely due to the ever rising prices of NYC real estate. . .