West Side Stories: High Line Park

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It was another Saturday morning on the Metro North. I stepped off the platform and into the 9:55 train, excited to have the first week of the semester behind me and a day in the city in front of me. The train was late enough that it was free of drunks, but early enough to catch all the young families heading into the city for the day. This left me with plenty of seats and pleasant enough company. Still groggy and desperate to avoid BO guy (every train has at least one, even the morning ones), I quietly scrunched into my seat and started on some lit reading. Twenty-three odd minutes and one cancelled brunch date later, I was in Grand Central with a whole lot of nothing to do.

As the train emptied into the station, I followed the rush, trying to remember what it was people did when they had free time. Not wanting to linger in the main concourse, lest I be roped into taking photos for some family visiting from out-of-state, I b-lined for 42nd street entrance. Once outside I told myself, “You’re in New York City! There is always something to do. Go forth! Do something!” Uninspired by my own pep talk, I looked on as the rest of New York departed into the daylight. Then it hit me. Or rather, a large German man body-checked me, which jarred my brain just enough to remind me that I had meant to go to the park that day. That’s it! I would go to the park! (No, no. Not Central Park. Please, that’s so first-year. High Line Park.) Yes! I would go rollick in nature, which can be hard to come by in New York, and reclaim the day.

I fished my phone out of my pocket and pulled up a Google Maps shot of the West Side. The park itself runs from 10th avenue and W 30th street down to Gansevoort St. I had read about the park’s construction for the past year and had always meant to see it. The park itself is a converted freight rail that had been transformed into public space. It has been expanding over the past few years and after the completion of the second section this past summer, it became imperative that I finally see it. Plus, walking literally above the city seemed like a good thing to do on a warm winter day. With a renewed sense of determination, I started down 5th.

Slowly the foot traffic died down and it was just me wandering through Korea Town and into Chelsea. I cut across at 30-something Street and emerged at my destination. At the entrance, I started up the stairs, joining a small pack of natives and sightseers, feeling more like that latter. I had a messager bag full of extra layers and books over my shoulder, a camera in my hand, and a shocked look on my face–everything about me spelled day-tripper. Then I reached the platform, looked out at the city and that feeling of being a tourist quickly dissolved. When you’re thirty feet up and full of winter wind, it feels like you’re on vacation and it doesn’t really matter if someone calls you tourist.

I spent the next two hours walking the mile and half of pathway, admiring the plants and staring out at the city. It was weird at first, being able to peer down at everyone else as they went about their day. Skateboarders, waiters, and dog-walkers all walked underneath the park, completely unfazed by the slew of people walking around above them. It was like an oasis in mid-air and not a single passer-by even looked up.

High Line Park near 30th St entrance

The railway was filled in with wild flowers and other plants native to New York. According the High Line gardeners, the landscape was supposed to “invoke the feel of overgrown tracks.” I’d say they got that part down pat.

                                                              Two paths diverged in a yellow wood?

As daughter of an avid gardener, I rejoiced in seeing this much nature growing freely in the city. Occasionally, I would stop my wanderings to hover over a scrub or sprig and wonder how they were and whether they liked their new settings. Once I paused at some flowers and thought, “What are you doing?! It’s January! Why are you blooming!!!” Then I realized I had actually said all that out loud, and by out loud I mean I startled a toddler and had to quickly walk on lest I embarrass myself further.

Most of the day, however, wasn’t as eventful. I quietly took pictures, talked to the flowers (to myself this time) and finished my reading. All along the Line, people were buzzing about, peacefully passing the hours. A small gang of kids played cops and robbers on a set of steps. A photo club clustered around the bird feeders. Inside one of the passage ways, a toddler REFUSED to wear more than one shoe. Above 23rd street, a couple from Wisconsin asked me to take their picture.

Two hours after I started up the 30th St stairs, I reached the end of the park. Where the park ended, the city picked up. Decades earlier, the railway had been carved out the city, tunneling around and through buildings, and even though the railway went out of use in the 80s, the city kept growing around it. Standing there, looking down at the intersection of Washington and Gansevoort, I couldn’t help but think how bizarre it was that the park just dropped off into New York City traffic. In a rare moment of acrophobia, I backed up and onto a bench to watch from there, where I felt safer. I turned to look back through the birch trees at my current company. Most of the crowd had died out a few blocks back. All that were left were a few joggers and readers like me. Overall, it was a good morning spent amongst strangers. They had good taste in space. I felt like together, we formed our own version of Lord of the Rings, seeing as we spent our entire adventure walking. I descended back down to street level and walked up through the Meatpacking District, waving back up at those still walking the Line.

Zoe Marquedant doesn't talk about Fight Club. She is an SLC writing student with a dinosaur watch and an over-developed sense of state pride. She can be found around campus perpetuating awkward moments and swearing like a sailor. Zoe firmly believes life is what happens in-between good cups of coffee.

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