Girl Walks Home Alone: An Ode to the Upper West Side

I go on walks late at night. 11 p.m. is too early; there’s still a buzz then, swirling bodies prancing and gabbing up and down the street. I want pitch dark; I want the darkness to bleed into my bones. The lamppost and stars can be my company, and then I’ll be content in the silence, invisible like a phantom unstuck in air.

I travel in circles, kicking out restless energy one step at a time. Sidewalks don’t have names anymore; I recognize the places. There’s the gate where someone once pulled me back for a kiss. And the church that felt so peaceful the first time I sat on a pew. That’s the building where I once got lost and laughed, because it was okay to be lost in those days. And that park—I never did visit the peacocks.

A few streets below is my favorite Thai restaurant, where I usually meet my friends to grin and almost never cry. There’s the corner where pitiable, harmless men heckle; they wouldn’t dare touch me after my eyes make them weak. And here, the daisies. This store has the prettiest daisies, but I’ve never bought a bouquet.

I started going on walks when I moved to New York City for school. I would jaunt around campus, waving at security guards and smiling, or sometimes not smiling. I’d pause to look out on our library from across the quad, its lights dancing in the hazy winter wind. The sight made me feel calm for the first time in my life.

But campus became too small, and too repetitive. I knew people. They would stop me, on my walks, at 11 p.m., and I would politely nod and say, “How are you?” and my mind was not with them. The question was not whether I liked them or wanted to see them. I liked them very much, but I needed the navy sky to envelop me so I could feel like I existed and didn’t exist in the very same moment, and I couldn’t do that over conversation.

So now I walk later, around a wider circumference. And I put my headphones in, and they make me feel real things for the first time in 24 hours. If I’m anxious, I listen to “Later On;” or “Raise Hell” when I’m stir-crazy; or “Stone Cold” when I’m very, very sad and nostalgic.

I start the walk shaking and frozen, my body protesting, pleading for the warmth of my apartment. But as I keep moving, my cheeks feel warm and all of a sudden I can’t feel my face and it’s glorious. It’s glorious, to feel and not feel all at once. And my eyes—I can see without a veil shrouding them. The veil of stress, of tension, lifts. I’m free.

Rarely, I invite others to join me on my walks. They have to be a particular type of person, the walking type. I don’t mean avid exercisers; most anyone with lungs should be able to keep up with me in my heels. They have to be the type of person who could talk, who could say something interesting that made me want to sigh instead of scream.

But usually, I walk alone. I look at stones and bricks and towers and cracks in the concrete and think of bittersweet memories, and it fills me with hope. I peer up at the architecture that hangs above and wonder how bad man can be if he can make something so beautiful. I stare past that, squinting, and imagine a light lodged in the blue expanse. Maybe it’s a star, but probably it’s an airplane. I don’t care—to me, it’s a star, and I make a wish.

Joanne Trattoria

This charming but unassuming trattoria has a distinguishing feature: it’s run by Lady Gaga’s parents. In a cozy brick-walled and sky-lit space, Joe and Cynthia Germanotta serve it up old-school: caprese salad, arancini alla nonna, linguini vognole, lasagna della casa and woodstone pizzas. The pastas are the way to go, though it’s all on the pricey side for the simple presentation. Snag a table on the lovely back patio. 

Manhattan Cricket Club

While the whole “secret bar” thing is rather played out, MCC appeals with its sheer, unbridled opulence. Decked out like a British Empire gentleman’s club (acres of gold brocade), this one is at least not built on the blood and sweat of its subjugated subjects. Drinks man Greg Seider comes by way of the Summit Bar, and cocktails are pricey and potent. Members can also store bottles in private liquor lockers, to hide drinking habits from significant other.

Burke & Wills

Much as Down Under cuisine will never be as sexy as Kylie or Elle (and Winnie the Pooh fans will surely recoil at the very thought of a Roo Burger), B&W is really a place  to dig on a different way of enjoying veal sweetbreads or roasted scallops, and to be introduced to kangaroo loin as a delicacy.  The space has enough rustic charm to be in Wburg, and the scene is decidedly less stiff or dull than the usual UWS offerings.

Kate Spade

IN PREVIEW. Conservative Cape Cod totes, clutches, and shoulder strap bags done in bold stripes, patterns, and polka dots. Traditional heels ideal for weekend dress-up days and strolling around the office. Stationery and home accoutrements to flaunt Kate Spade lifestyle, reminiscent of ‘50s societal ideals—perfect mother, hostess, wife, woman.

Paper Source

IN PREVIEW. With the contraction of Kate’s, more room for the expansion of this Chicago-based paperie. Chain’s been around since ’83, ready to help New Yorkers check off gift lists and get arty. Paper in every color of the rainbow, sourced form India to Italy. More craft ideas than an Etsy Meetup. Greeting cards galore, plus all the tools to DIY your holiday greetings. Wedding invitations so elegant your family will overlook the face tats on your betrothed.

Brooks Brothers

Business, casual. Inventors of Gentleman Chic. Don’t mistake timeless for old-fashioned: wares are ever-in, running from swimwear to bespoke suits. Some stores offer in-house tailoring. If they do: go. These brothers know their own cuts like nobody else could. Helpful salespeople give the assist on navigating polished, warm spaces.

Bottega Veneta

Italian luxury handbags, luggage and small goods. Every style addict should have at least one signature intrecciato woven leather item in its possession.
Discrete and elegant store, handmade storage with custom made leather handles, floors with lush wool carpets. All designed by Bottega Veneta’s own creative director, Tomas Maier.

Second Time Around

Boston-based consignment shop expands to the UWS. Does stock some high-end stuff (Diane Von Furstenberg, Chanel, Louis Vuitton), but tends to price it accordingly. Denim racks from the likes of Gucci and 7 For All Mankind. Spin your wardrobe into gold: also accepts designer goods for consignment (must be no older than a couple of years), slipping you back 40% of what they get on the sale.