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The Fun Pass

For $8.25, the New York City Transit Authority will sell you a “Fun Pass”. Buy one and you can ride the subway all day long – sort of like the POP bracelet at Six Flags.

I’m a walker by nature, so I usually opt for the regular Metrocard and pay for my subway one trip at a time. Last Wednesday was an exception. My early morning meeting was way up in Harlem, my dinner was in the East Village. Between business and pleasure, I had at least five other stops to make. If ever there were a day for a “Fun Pass”, I knew this would be it.

I worked my way downtown on the Broadway-Seventh Avenue line – the 1,2 &3 trains. I started off at 137th and Lenox before progressing to Cathedral Parkway, 66th, Columbus Circle, Times Square, 14th, and Wall Street. Twice I ventured East; once on the Grand Central Shuttle and once on the L.

I grabbed breakfast in a diner located in the lobby of Harlem Hospital Center, lunch with a colleague at a Columbia University watering hole and dinner with my daughter at Esperanto – a terrific and cacophonous spot where the beautiful people mix easily with young families and the area’s South American transplants.

I saw little pieces of history like the Cotton Club of Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, and The Chelsea Hotel of Dylan Thomas and Sid Vicious. On one side of Irving Place, Pete’s Tavern sat virtually unchanged since O. Henry occupied one of its booths while he wrote short stories. Across the street, a Japanese Restaurant was identified as the former home of Washington Irving; though one assumes Rip Van Winkle was written before the installation of the sushi bar.

I saw big pieces of history, too. The steps of Federal Hall on which George Washington was inaugurated, Lower Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes, and the final resting place of Aaron Burr; just across the Hudson River from where he – as sitting Vice President – mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel (perhaps a precursor to Dick Cheney’s celebrated hunting accident).

I saw pop culture. Tom’s Restaurant – made noteworthy by Suzanne Vega and iconic by Jerry Seinfeld. The Lincoln Center Fountain around which Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel danced in The Producers. The site of the old New York Coliseum where, as a boy, I met Colonel Harland Sanders at The New York Food Show. The Old Garden of the college basketball scandals and Marilyn Monroe's birthday serenade, and the New Garden – host to Ali-Frazier and The Concert for Bangladesh. Nurse Jackie's Mercy Hospital during it's "day job" as a building on the campus of Baruch College. The post-modern excess of Times Square and the restored elegance of Grand Central Terminal.

More than any of those things, however, I saw people. Thousands of them. Every type of person imaginable. I saw a dozen neighborhoods and the people that define them. I saw schoolchildren in uniforms. I saw young women in the newest Spring fashions and old women in traditional ethnic garb. I saw tourists and businesspeople. At various junctures, I gave directions to Union Sqaure, MOMA and the New York Stock Exchange.

While seated in a free Wi-Fi atrium on Wall Street, I chatted with a woman and her teenage son who had recently emigrated from China. I saw Rob Schneider, Eliot Spitzer and Lucy Liu (not together!). In the tunnel to the L train, a saxophonist played Georgia on My Mind. Two guys jack-assed a refrigerator right up the center of Avenue C. I saw some old neighbors. Later, in the same L Train tunnel, a young man pounded empty buckets to provide high-energy percussion. I saw my daughter and my nephew (they were together).

I also had a full schedule of business meetings, but they are not what I will remember about last Wednesday. Jimmy Breslin said, “Nature’s greatest sight is a crowded street. More than nature, it provides what we live on.” To be fair, nature did play a role in crowding those streets. The sky was so clear that when standing on 20th Street looking across Gramercy Park, the Chrysler Building seemed close enough to touch.

But more than a beautiful day, it was the perfect day to buy a “Fun Pass”. I saw New York – the New York that is supposed to be vanishing -- and I wasn’t even trying. And I did it all for $8.25.

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