The streets of New York could make you lonely, or… they could make you feel alive, as Vivan Gornick describes in “On The Street.”
The beautiful people could make you jealous, or… they could make you happy.
The sad people could make you sad, or… they could make you feel better about yourself.
The streets are full of possibilities.
Yesterday I was walking to school up Lafayette Street. It was sunny, about 60 degrees. When I was crossing Broome Street I saw a bohemian on an enormous red bike, twice as long as normal with a metal trunk on the back, hack off a white van’s side-view mirror. He was wedged between the sidewalk I was approaching and the van, which was stopped at a red light. The driver watched in disbelief as the biker, like a Spartan in disguise, brought down what looked like a heavy bike lock four times, calmly pummeling the mirror clean off. I imagine the driver cut him off when getting in the right turn lane.
The biker moved his bike on to the sidewalk and began riding back up the street, against traffic. He wasn’t in any rush. The driver, an Arab man in his thirties with dark circles under his eyes, hesitated, put his car in park, and stepped out.
Oddly enough, I didn’t know whose side I was on. I smiled at another bystander who, like me, was wearing headphones and crossing the street. I expected him to share my amazement, but he just shrugged. I almost shouted to the biker, “He’s coming! He’s behind you! Hurry up!
” Then I thought, no, this driver is in the right for seeking out justice. You can’t ignore society’s laws and harm people’s property. But I still have my teenage boy affection for violence.
The driver had a beer belly inside a tucked in button-down but was in good enough shape to run down the block to Spring Street. I ran behind him, trying to keep the biker, whom I think was still oblivious to his pursuer, in my sights, but at Spring Street he had disappeared. The driver, unabashedly in the middle of the street breathing heavily, looked down the street to his left and right, checked his cellphone, and finally walked over to the sidewalk, next to me. No one had seen what happened. The driver stood there for a moment, perhaps feeling violated and helpless, before walking back to his busted van without saying a word. I thought about commenting to him, but I didn’t.
A few weeks ago, I observed another notable van driver. It was a beautiful afternoon on the corner of Bowery and East 2nd street, except a woman bent over the wire mesh trashcan and vomited. Her boyfriend was holding her hair back and rubbing her back. I crossed the street, walked past them, and leaned against a building to enjoy the show. A suave middle-aged Indian man with a beer belly in a yellow button-down short sleeve shirt and gold clubmaster sunglasses leaned against his van across from me. All the doors were opened. I think he was helping someone move. He watched too. Then he took something out of his car and walked towards the woman, presenting her boyfriend with a water bottle. The boyfriend reached for his wallet, but the man waved his hand and walked back to his car, where he put one foot up and smoked a cigarette. His face remained blank throughout the incident. I thought about telling him how inspired I was by what he did, but I walked on.