Going in-depth and out-of-the-way with another German visitor.
Posted: Apr 12, 2013 | 3:56 PM
I love touring with Germans. Their longer-than-average bookings, sometimes multi-day marathons, go in-depth to off-the-beaten-track places. They have exhibited passion for traveling, learning, experiencing local life, photography (which one must be careful about), and ideas.
Dietrich and I explored Bushwick, er East-East Williamsburg, Street Art and vernacular culture, Williamsburg, and Polish Greenpoint on Day 1. Keywords: Bushwich tour, Williamsburg tour, Greenpoint tour, Brooklyn tour.
The next day we took a journey from City College through Harlem with local soul food, cultural, civil rights, church, store, and sports stops, as well as a couple of drinks at the more than 40-year-old Paris Cafe where we talked with the owner and the longtime bartender at this nightly jazz club. Then we toured some more and concluded with a drink at The Showman's Bar, established 1942.
Harlem offered local folks chiming in, friendily, on my tours, as well as local characters like Otis Houston, Jr. "The Black Cherokee," who wears shorts and boxing gloves, rapping poetry about a clean life. This time he had a coconut helmet topped with a mango. He had an assistant collecting his tips so as not interfere with his performance, the subject of the afore-linked documentary.
There was another guy working out using a bungee cord against a traffic pole. Then we had a couple of throwbacks. The screaming crackhead that everyone did their best to ignore near a bus stop. The heroin addict doing what I call "junky yoga." His demonstration was slumping to the sidewalk while standing and holding the post indefinitely.
A guy in the 135th Street subway station muttered that I talked like a bitch ass, which was confrontational, but which I acted like I ignored him, so he repeated it a few times. I am not sure if Dietrich caught that.
Usually Harlem's people are very kind and welcoming. One lady was pleased to learn about
the ubiquitous green man, who she said she was going to ask her children to count.
Another, after parking a mid sized car from the 1980s, enjoyed my talk about Striver's Row. A construction worker seemed to quietly appreciate my talk outside Mother Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church. I take this as a compliment because in Harlem, if someone disagrees with your tour, or thinks they do, you and your group will hear about that. As they say at the Apollo Theater on Amateur Night, "Be good, or be gone."
I have had many other magical tour moments, mostly in Harlem, over the years.
One thing about the denizens of Harlem, they are interested and interesting. The same goes for German tourists. I love them both.
Keywords: Harlem tour.
Things I learned: Germany does not have 99c stores, nor food by the pound, nor shabby glory.
By that I mean, while touring down Lenox (Malcolm X Blvd) we saw newly renovated row houses and rapidly gentrifying businesses, much like how the area was developed in the 1870s, except that this Harlem Champs Elysees is just completing its transformation back to the future.
Then we went up Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) and we experienced more of the Harlem of the early 1990s, more run-down buildings, yet it was obvious how well-built and architecturally rich they are. Some of the street life was run down as well. Mostly harmless if treated the right way.
In Munich, if a building and a neighborhood is for the wealthy, it stays that way for maybe hundreds of years. In NYC twenty years is plenty occasion for tremendously rapid change. ACP Blvd, is a window, somewhat, to the past, certainly to regular people Harlem.