Secret Shelter

by

10/01/2003

5th Avenue and 80th Street, 10021

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

When I first moved to New York I worked at a large accounting firm in west Midtown and lived in Yorkville, at 90th and Second. One day in early October, about two months after I began my job, I decided to walk home from work. I determined that I could walk on Fifth Avenue until I reached 90th Street, at which point I would walk east to my building, stopping at a Gristede’s on Lexington to buy some food for dinner.

For the first seven or eight blocks walking north along Fifth Avenue, the sidewalk was still crowded with tourists, easily identifiable by the straight-legged black jeans and the unusual backpacks. As the tourists thinned out they were replaced with well-dressed schoolchildren and their parents, presumably returning from afternoon lessons or soccer games in the park. By 75th Street, it was quiet enough at times that I could hear my footsteps. The sun had lowered but not set and Fifth Avenue was all shadows. A big dump truck lumbered down the avenue and stopped at a light in front of me.

The back was filled with vendor carts, their yellow and white striped umbrellas open. The image reminded me of the pontoon boats that troll the lakes in Maine, those heavy aluminum bases covered with flimsy, cheerful vinyl to protect the pale-skinned families on picnics. As the truck waited, I began to see odd shapes among the shadows. I stopped walking and watched as the truck revved and shook to the next light, until I could see that each cart was occupied by a man, curled and napping under the umbrella.

October, 1999

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