Take the A Train to Harlem and you will find yourself wandering the streets of the liveliest neighborhood in New York City.
Between all of the famous soul food restaurants, the hallowed halls of the Apollo Theater where legendary performers first heard rambunctious applause or dreamers were awakened by rude but honest jeers, the dimly-lit microphone of Lenox Lounge where songs were sung and horns were blown, and the ever-bustling sidewalks of the energetic neighborhood, it is easy to lose oneself in the crowd of Harlem. But it is the small residential stretches comfortably tucked away on sidestreets that is my favorite locale in the nation’s Black capital. These rows of beautiful townhouses are shaded by magnificent trees, with Marcus Garvey Park an oasis in summer’s scorching asphalt desert, the honks of frustrated drivers and screeches of urgent tires muffled by the block. This pleasant surprise on the northern end of Manhattan is a hushed secret, a haven one stumbles into unintentionally.
But if you are interested in truly experiencing Harlem, it is better to ignore whatever advice I have and, instead, allow Harlem to speak for itself. Let the street peddlers convince you of what a great buy the miscellaneous “necessities” are. Lend an ear to the street musicians thumping on plastic buckets or previewing their mixtapes on blasting boomboxes. Eavesdrop on the old gang of friends relaxing on wooden benches reminiscing about Miles Davis or Billie Holiday. Or simply listen to the sounds of Harlem – the sweeping of a storefront, the slamming of a door, the dribbling of a basketball, the “drip, drip, drip” of air conditioners. Guidebooks recommend “must-sees,” but it is the people, the heartbeat of the community, who will offer you insight into the unparalleled pride of a neighborhood that has become a community that has become a culture.
Written by the forever-impressing Michael Woodsmall…