You might know Alice Walker Wright from her blog Get Off My Internets where she writes about things she dislikes. She’ll be writing for us weekly about stuff she does like.
There is something strangely exciting about the hour between 5am and 6am in New York City. While most cities in America are waking up, it feels like New York is simply changing shifts.
New York City doesn’t “wake up”. It just gets going again. Around 5am the news stands prop up their windows, and the coffee carts begin to appear. The subways and buses resume their daytime schedules, giving the city an unseen feeling of activity underneath your feet. The bartenders and waitresses begin stumbling home, exhausted and triumphant after surviving another night of drunks. The random man or woman furtively adjusts various articles of clothing and walks as quickly as possible away from…well, what or whoever they just walked away from.
It starts as a slow trickle of life at first, then like most things in New York, the change happens while you are looking at the sidewalk. When you look back up the sun is turning the sky purple, and suddenly the people show up – lots of people. There is no build up of humans waking up and growing in number until 9am, when they all disappear into offices until 5pm. There are 5 people on the sidewalk, then there are 5,000. Rush hour seems to start at 6am and goes until 2am. This means the only time New York city is really yours is 5am.
That is a golden hour in New York. It is quiet – or as quiet as New York City can ever be. The street sweepers have probably gone by, and for the first and last time for the next 24 hours the streets are relatively clean. Without the pressing hoardes taking up what sometimes seems like every inch of space, you can feel the occasional breeze. Granted, you also get to say hello to the Biggest Rat You Have Ever Seen (at 5am every rat in New York is the Biggest Rat You Have Ever Seen), but if you are willing to brave that, you can really breathe in the air of the greatest city in the world.
The smell of the city when the sun is just about to start peeking over the buildings is so unique to New York that it is almost impossible to describe. It is somewhere between damp concrete and fresh coffee, with a random whiff of urine, flowers, and food. Even the individual neighborhoods have their own smell this early in the day.
Of course it’s not all rats and street sweepers, urine scented breezes and post-coital perp walks. One morning around a quarter after 5 I saw a couple in a wedding dress and tux. They were actually dancing down the sidewalk. As in, arm in arm, 1-2-3 waltz, dancing and giggling. I didn’t have the nerve to ask them if they were coming from (or going to?) their wedding, or perhaps they just felt like dancing down the streets of New York in wedding attire at dawn. They seemed to be having the jolliest of times so I didn’t want to interrupt them. Sometimes I randomly remember them, and I still wonder what their story was.
I suppose the cliche is somewhat true. New York City never really sleeps, at least not in the full blanket of slumbering darkness that most people might be used to in their towns. People in New York sleep, obviously, but the city keeps going on around us. It’s one of the reasons it is so exciting and sometimes tiring to live here. It is also one of the reasons why, when you have the chance, you must enjoy the one hour of the day when the city is stretching and yawning and getting itself ready for today – preparing another day full of possibilities for you.