May on Fifth

It’s May in New York City which means the invariable onslaught of tourists has begun.

And this, in turn, means I will begin my seasonal migration one avenue over for the 10-block walk between the train and work.

I should mention that these blocks are entirely self-imposed and entirely enjoyable, except perhaps during the holiday season, spring break, and summer vacation – all of which create a month’s worth of weeks where families and college students from Elsewhere descend upon the city, while others here flock Elsewhere. A perplexing migratory pattern that seems to get repeated in the same cities year after year. Almost as if it were intentional….

Then again, I walk the same avenue to work every day, so I have no room to make light of bizarre travel rituals.

I like my routine.

It makes the city feel manageable for a resident alien like me.

[Come now, how many people are really from here? And no, my friends – New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester don’t count. But because I can already hear some gasps for air at this shock of a lifetime, I will add that being from Elsewhere does not make you any less human. It just makes you not from New York City. You’re welcome.] 

It works.

Admittedly, “it works” means I arrive to work either 30 minutes late or nearly an hour early, depending on whether the train feels like running or the ferry’s ticket machine decides to break just in time for the person ahead of me to be the last one to use it.

I’d be more frustrated about this total lack of control if so many others weren’t also (quite literally) in the same boat. It’s just part of living here. You develop an entirely different understanding of “on time,” “early,” and “late.” Punctuality is relative in the city that doesn’t sleep.

[Which, for the record, I hate.]

If all this feels like a lot,  that’s because it is. I won’t deny it.

For the sake of context, I live in a part of the city where my choices are train-train-walk, ferry-bus-walk, ferry-walk-uphill through Murray Hill, or train-walk forever-arrive to work sweaty and feeling very conflicted about whether coffee or ice water is the more immediate need.

At least I have choices.

But in all that mess, I’ve grown to love walking forever and compromising on the water-or-coffee debate by treating myself to the occasional iced coffee. Because obviously, if I’m going to dehydrate with caffeine, it may as well be cold and refreshing in the process.

[Ok, iced coffee is great, but why even go there?]

First of all, it takes just as long for me to put

one foot

in front

of the other

over 10 blocks as it does for me to wait for the next late train, bus or ferry. Second, I like being outside for twenty guaranteed minutes a day. And third, when I learned that my phone held me accountable for the steps I wasn’t taking, I had to do something about it. For Christ’s sake, I’d run half-marathon-length distances in my not-too-distant past. Was I going to let “convenient” transportation turn me into a couch potato? I think not.

Still, that decision made, no one forces me to walk down Fifth. Neighboring avenues are much more quiet and just as quintessentially New York. I just can’t help myself. Aside from weaving in and out of school tour groups, families clad in the same blindingly neon t-shirts, and the occasional solicitors or religious group recruiters, my 10-block walk on Fifth is something I can’t give up.

You just called my BS?


That’s because I have no choice but to go on break with The Avenue Where Patience Goes To Die when its sidewalks become virtually impassable from so many shopping-bag-clad, boat-hat-wearing, map-in-handing, middle-of-the-sidewalk-stopping people.

And for the record, this will be the rest of May, June, July and August. And again when Labor Day stragglers pop up in September. And again between November and January, when at least there are twinkle lights and window displays to grab my eye








in all the crowds Elsewhere sent here.

Which reminds me, I would also be remiss not to mention the March and April friends we welcome for St. Patrick’s Day and Spring Break, who at least know how to party.

So really, if you’re keeping track, the number of days I have to enjoy on Fifth are pretty limited. It’s essentially October and the first week of May.

That doesn’t stop me from walking here until the last possible day, my impending migration one avenue over never getting easier, despite knowing I have to make room for the Summer Vacationers (and Spring Breakers and Holidayers before them) if we all want to make it through the hottest months of the year alive (long, hot days make for short-tempered southerners named Ryan).

And as a result, in the last week before I migrate, I try to soak up each “quiet” moment on my May Fifth. Moments where the sidewalk is still open enough to see not just the buildings down the block, but also the flower beds beneath them – reminding me that each corner of the city is borrowed by someone, somewhere, at all times.

Ryan Vale McGonigle

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