“Seventh, Lenox, and what about the East Side? Harlem…” Jim Jones
For the sake of not writing forever, I said that I wouldn’t put anything in the book that happened after my thirtieth birthday. But, I had been planning on writing this particular essay for the last three months, so I guess this doesn’t count.
It is December 10, 2015. Yesterday marked four years since Timile passed away. On my blog, I wrote an open letter to her, penning many of the things that I have been meaning to get off of my chest. Dr. Harper, Timile’s favorite professor at Spelman and personal she-ro, commented on the post via Facebook, and we talked about the first time we met in the spring of 2007. The ladies had to perform vignettes based on his poetry and I came along to help her out. Dr. Harper posted a picture of the performance and I smiled to myself as I remembered the set design. The background displayed a street sign that represented the corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue. I remembered thinking to myself, “I know exactly where that corner is.”
Between two rivers,
North of the park,
Like darker rivers
The streets are dark.-Langston Hughes
While Washington Heights and the Bronx are called this as well, when New Yorkers refer to “Uptown,” we mean Harlem…the black Mecca that lies between the East and Hudson Rivers that begins north of Central Park.
I remember the rides to visit or pick my grandmother up from work. She worked on 120th Street and Riverside Drive. We would cross the Triboro Bridge and travel across the world famous 125th Street. There were always a million people outside. Traveling west, the Apollo Theatre would be on your right before crossing Fredrick Douglass Boulevard. Two blocks later, you could see the projects on your left, which made for a very interesting dynamic that perfectly summed up what Uptown was: a beautiful ghetto. These are my first memories of this place that was a completely different planet than the one I came from known as Southeast Queens.
“This ain’t Queens, homie, you surrounded my deadly grounds.” Jim Jones
In New York, your neighborhood is your country and the borough you reside in is your planet. Nonetheless, we New Yorkers live in our own solar system even though each place is so different. People from Queens are stereotyped as the laid-back people with cars. Brooklynites were traditionally grimy and rugged people, the Hasidic Jews who hate black people, or are part of the Russian Mob. While this is still the case, much of Brooklyn has been gentrified, so there are sub-stereotypes such as the yuppies and the incense-burning, Afro-hippies. The Bronx is crowded and cluttered slum filled with Puerto Ricans, black people who mate with the Puerto Ricans, and the Yankees. Staten Island is Italian Gangland, Wu Tang Clan, and just the way you get to New Jersey. Nobody actually lives in Manhattan with the exception of those in Harlem. Harlemites were the loud and flashy hustlers that are considered obnoxious by everyone from the other four boros. With the exception of people from Staten Island because you never see them, New Yorkers just know who is from where by the way they walk, talk, and carry themselves.
To this day, with the exception of people from Queens and their cars, most of my friends as adults still don’t travel to the other boros because of these stereotypes and what we remember these places looking like before it was gentrified. In my early teenage years, I would spend weekends in Harlem on 139th Street and Fredrick Douglass. In the summertime, the Ruff Ryders would congregate in droves by the McDonald’s across the street on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. You could hear them. On the rides home, you could see that Harlem was beginning to change and within ten years things would be very different.
Since moving back to New York four years ago, I have spent many nights hanging out Uptown. Harlem is the hip-yet fairly affordable for New York-place where all the young black professionals reside. It’s a very different place, now. These days when I take the 1, 2, 3, A, C, D, 4, 5, or 6 trains I would see so many white people sitting to themselves headed home at night. Funny thing is they almost all got off before by 135th Street. With that said, Harlem is still Harlem once you head north of 140th Street (there are still pockets that remain the same; but I’m generalizing). So many of my friends from college who moved here after graduation congregate up that way, so we’ll be out and about in those streets.
Looking at that street sign in that picture today made me think back to nine years ago as well as my life right now. In 2007, it was just a sign I saw with the girl I was in love with that reminded me of home I would pass visiting my grandmother at work. Now, that sign makes me think of a place I have many memories that have nothing to do with Timile in which I wouldn’t had she not passed away. Between 125th and 126th Streets and Lenox Avenue are three night spots in which I have hung out many nights as recent as two weeks ago. I have spent at least one night at Corner Social, Cove Lounge, or Red Rooster around my birthday every year since 2011.
The first time that I told my ex that I loved her was on the corner of Lenox and 125th Street. The day after we broke up I was at a party trying to get over her on a rooftop in Spanish Harlem on the east side. Four days ago, I had a meeting with regards to some of the ways I will be furthering my career and brand I have created. I looked at that picture and smiled about the good ol’ days, what is happening now, and where things will be going.