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Unfamiliar Street: Lispenard Street

I left Princeton post-reunions on an early morning Dinky in the first week of June, bringing with me a small green suitcase and a day-old hangover. I caught the train into New York, having absolutely no idea what I was doing and halfway wishing I were on a flight home to Florida instead. Scheduled to start my summer internship in SoHo the following week, I was just as doubtful as I was nervous; hopping into a subway car headed out of Penn Station and in an unfamiliar direction, towards an unfamiliar street. Fearfully gripping the friendly grime of subway handrails, I asked a family of three if the train would be stopping at Clark Street in Brooklyn Heights. The doors closed decisively behind me as they hummed in hesitation.

When I did miraculously arrive at Clark Street 20 minutes later (having managed to pick a 2 train at random), I proceeded to carry all of my bags over my head through the turnstile, not yet aware of the “You Actually Can Go Through the Emergency Exit” option embraced by most subway regulars. I then followed walking directions to my building, where I got stuck trying to wheel my suitcase through the revolving door.

Having finally emerged from my first day in New York, I was confident that my summer in the city would be — if I may use an adjective that I often credit myself with coining — “struggly.” And struggly it was. Within a week, I had experienced catcalling, accidentally taken the J train into Williamsburg and gotten lost inside of a bi-level Duane Reade trying to buy paper towels.

And then I found Lispenard Street — a road that spans the two blocks between Broadway and West Broadway just south of Canal Street, where I was interning at an art-advising firm.

For fear of getting stuck underground or taking the wrong train (again), I routinely arrived 30 minutes early to work. On these days, I would wait inside the Starbucks near the corner of Lispenard and Broadway, anxiously sipping my grande iced mocha as the minutes passed. A few weeks in, I had willfully mastered the subway system and was able to commute in a more timely fashion, walking up to street level just 10 minutes before my 11:00 a.m. start time. From the Canal Street station, I would round the corner onto Lispenard, where there were hardly ever any pedestrians, besides me and a small army of mailmen who oversaw the post office loading dock.

And this scarce company on Lispenard Street was sort of amazing. In all of the craziness of rushing around New York City (usually in the wrong direction), there was rarely any quiet. And so these few minutes of my daily commute became the best few minutes of my day, when I could amble along for two whole blocks without being run over by a disgruntled businessman or bicycling delivery person. That is — until the end of Lispenard, where I would turn left towards Canal Street and the relative calm of distant car horns would immediately turn into throngs of confused tourists, aggressive handbag vendors, and well-dressed young adults (the kind that would probably have great Instagrams).

But despite how much I valued my daily walks along Lispenard Street, that’s really all I ever did there. Aside from the Post Office, there’s a pub on the corner next to the subway entrance and an animal hospital a few doors down. A nice-looking nail salon that I had told myself I would eventually go to, but never did. There’s a La Colombe coffee shop that usually had a line out the door (the reason why I never went in) and a barbershop across the way, its windows filled with posters that had faded to a sickly green from sun exposure. Closer to Broadway are a series of art galleries with matte-black stairs that neighbor stretches of scaffolding and neon graffiti. And of course, a rack of shiny blue Citi Bikes that lines the street.

For me, walking out of the office and onto Canal Street at the end of the day was similar to what you might experience inside one of those giant walk-through bird aviaries: constant chirping and a simultaneous fear of an unsolicited visitor landing on your shoulder. Even though the “We Buy Gold” guy eventually recognized me enough that he no longer waved me into their store, and I had become pretty good at avoiding eye contact with the purse saleswomen, it was still a relief to take that first step onto Lispenard, my bird-free shortcut back to the subway.

Though I loved working in Manhattan for those few months, it was certainly a big change in speed from Nassau Street, where I’m accustomed to where everything is and don’t have to hold my breath to ward off any inexplicably unpleasant odors. I guess Lispenard Street was like a lull in a very chaotic ongoing conversation that was my daily life in New York City; a respite that took me back to the calm of the Orange Bubble, or at least a smelly, gray one.

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