Thanksgiving in New York City is a curious thing. On the one hand, the Parade, which remains the focal point of most American televisions on Thanksgiving morning, creates an atmosphere of loud celebration in the days prior; high school bands, dancers, and performers from across the country descend upon Midtown, and the crowds surrounding the balloons the night before rival those of any I've encountered during my time in NYC. But on the actual day of Thanksgiving, the city feels deserted, and oddly quiet. Subway trains run on a slow schedule, many shops are closed, and the rare human beings one encounters on the street are hurrying either to or from the cozy confines of their homes.
This year, I awoke early, made my pie crust, read the paper, and then pulled on my running shoes. The Parade had already left the Upper West Side, and an empty sidewalk surrounded the Museum of Natural History. I entered Central Park through the Hunter's Gate, my gate, and started running. I had enough time to run my favorite route, which is the upper five miles of the giant Park loop; I cut across to the East Side at roughly 72nd St, and headed north past the Met and the reservoir. Other than an occasional dog walker, I saw no one, and I let my mind roam while my feet carried me towards Harlem Hill.
Before too long, however, my thoughts focused themselves, and they chose a subject worthy of that particular day--gratitude. For me, there's no better time to reflect on the things and people for which I'm thankful than a run, and there are few places better than Central Park in which to do so as well. And one of the most wonderful things about my favorite five mile route is that it takes me past the sites of so many memorable experiences of my life here, from the elementary school at which I voted in the 2008 presidential election, to Belvedere Castle, where I celebrated my 28th birthday with a giant egg hunt, to the meadow where I celebrated my 29th birthday with a skateboard triathlon, to the Great Lawn where I and many friends listened to the Philharmonic's outdoor performances, and to the fields where we watched Richard III earlier this summer, to say nothing of the Delacorte, which hosts my beloved Shakespeare in the Park. I ran past trails on which I and my fellow coaches had taken our young athletes for their runs, past lawns on which I'd played bocce ball and croquet, past benches on which I'd attempted crossword puzzles and finished novels, and past the bridle path, on which I'd walked home from work nearly every day for almost two and a half years.
It's been a good run, I thought to myself, in every respect of the word. And then, just as I rounded a corner north of the reservoir, I saw Martha Stewart. In a Park practically empty of human beings, and at a time when one would expect her to be knee-deep in organizing a dinner for dozens up in Bedford, the queen of all things culinary and crafty was walking towards me, her quilted jacket perfectly tailored and her blond hair neatly blow-dried. On a day in which I was to attempt a pie recipe I had never tried (who brings a previously unattempted dish to a seminal holiday gathering?), and on a day when friends and family come together in close quarters with pounds of potentially undercooked poultry and a plethora of sharp cooking instruments at hand, my Martha sighting struck me as a powerful omen. Chaos and mistakes and uncertainties aside, the universe was as it should be. Martha was walking in Central Park, one of my favorite places in the world, and I was running in it. I laughed, danced a little circle in the middle of the road, and let my feet fly.
By the grace of Martha, it turned out well
I've celebrated three Thanksgivings in New York--one in Harlem, one on the Upper West Side, and one, this year, in Park Slope. Each has borne the distinctive feel of its participants and circumstances, and each has been filled with the love particular to a gathering of scattered friends and acquaintances on a day traditionally marked for family. I loved each one of them, different as they were, and I feel lucky to have been included in each one of them. And this Thanksgiving, as I left Brooklyn on the F train, my nearly empty pie pan at my feet (it was good!), I thought about how this sentiment applies to my time in New York, too. As different as it is, I've loved it, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.
Pictures from four seasons of running in Central Park