Service of Neighborhood Characters

November 21st, 2016

Categories: Neighbors, New York City

Neighbor image for post 1 turned I’ve lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn much of my life and I’ve always noticed at least one mystery character in every neighborhood.

It’s no different today.

Nightly I walk home from the office on the west side of Second Avenue. There’s a stretch of restaurants with outdoor seating between 50th and 51st. All summer I noticed an elderly woman at the same spot, either working on a crossword puzzle or hunched over her mobile phone as she is in the photos above and below. There’s a drink on her table–maybe a cocktail–and a napkin on her lap. Perhaps she has already eaten or is waiting for her food as I’ve never seen a plate.

I noticed her because she was impeccably coiffed and expensively clad in a summer suit or dress with coordinated sweater, shoes and handbag–a different ensemble each time I saw her–and always alone. She was also much older than any of the diners around her.

Once I stopped to tell her I admired her fashion style and kept going. In summer, foot traffic is brisk on the slim slice of sidewalk that tables and chairs don’t hog. This doesn’t allow for hesitation by pedestrians rushing past in both directions.

It’s cold now but the outdoor tables were still in place last week and she was the only person at one of them in the lineup of restaurants one night. It gets dark early so she was sitting in obscurity, stooped over her phone, oblivious to passersby, honking and traffic. Her hair was windblown and instead of a drink, there was a coffee cup on the table.

I like to guess about neighborhood characters like this. Where does she live? What did she do for a living? Do her clothes fill all the rooms in her apartment or does she have many closets? It’s fun to make up positive stories.

Are there strangers who pique your curiosity in your neighborhood? Are they more obvious in a city as walking slows motion and better allows for observation than when you’re driving through town in a car?    Neighbor image for post 2 turned

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6 Responses to “Service of Neighborhood Characters”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:


    It has caused very noticeable changes in my neighborhood.

    We used to have a pretty quiet local scene in the Riverdale section of the

    Then the tolls went higher on the Henry Hudson Bridge. Well, that’s when people started not using the Henry Hudson Bridge and got off the parkway in Riverdale, to go down to Broadway, and use the free bridge to Manhattan.
    While traffic is not overwhelming, it certainly changed the feel of the neighborhood, that is normally full of pedestrians in the form of students, nannies, mothers and children, plus us old retired folk!

    Happy Thanksgiving to all, Hank.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    A shame, really, as this caused a huge change that did not benefit your neighborhood. Mayor Bloomberg wanted to put a toll on Fifth Avenue and the 60s. I called my state congressman and senator at the time as did many others, clearly as this idea didn’t go through. I don’t live there or near there but golly, what a stroke to the system that would have been until 10 a.m. daily and the noise and actual pollution! Imagine having paid $millions for a Fifth Ave apartment overlooking Central Park and not being able to open you windows!

    When I lived in Brooklyn Heights some genius wanted to do something to divert traffic from the BQE through the streets of the Heights. Women in droves clogged one of the sleepy neighborhood streets in protest…some with baby carriages—there were many of us. I don’t recall the details except one: traffic was not so diverted.

  3. hb Said:

    Yes, neighborhoods still have their characters. Even gentrification and the erection of government housing projects don’t seem to be able to stop them from recreating themselves.

    For me, one of the key characters in any neighborhood is the local bartender. The war weary ones with a street issued degree in psychology are the best of the best, and well worth the money and liver expense. Over the years, I am lucky to have known my share of such characters, and thanks to their friendship I am still among the living. Cheers!

  4. Lucrezia Said:

    Neighborhood characters are the signposts which define the community. Some are annoying, quirky, or just plain embarrassing, but all bring warmth and smiles when under discussion. They go a long way towards making life interesting. Should they vanish under an increasing lilywhite and sterile society, they will be sorely missed. Conversely, should that society be booted out, America might well become great again.

    Anyone listening out there?

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your comment reminds me a bit of the old sitcom CHEERS that took place at a bar in Boston and made famous many of the actors. The bar was a community–like an office or a family–and there were plenty of characters!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’ve mentioned before a woman I remember seeing on Lexington Avenue near 86th Street a zillion years ago who begged and whose accent was Long Island Lockjaw. She looks the same…doesn’t have a wrinkle…she’s put on a few pounds and she hangs out these days near Grand Central on Lexington Avenue. Unfortunately, she has plenty of company. In fact, when Homer and I returned to the city later than usual on a weeknight, Grand Central was pretty empty but there were an alarming number of beggars especially in the alley exit we use to get to the street. As the weather worsens, so will this situation which makes us all so sad.

    As for your comment about America becoming great again when we can boot out the lily whites and their proponents, I’m with you–what a relief that would be. I love walking down a street hearing people speak all sorts of languages and dressed, at times, in native costumes which we see as the office is a hop and skip from the UN. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the UN folds tents and leaves the US. The amount of money it makes for the city is extraordinary. Between paying for all the cops on Fifth and 57th to protect Mr. Trump and family and the loss that UN leaving would translate for the city, the place will go bankrupt. Trump will gain another property right on the East River for a song! Oh my.

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