The Walk

An essay by Fred Beauford

As I began my walk, a sudden, uncontrolled thought entered my mind. It made me feel all at once happy to be alive; and, in a moment of outright conceit, I was more than happy that I was an old somebody (admittedly literary), rather than an old nobody.

This day, for reasons so far unknown, I was profoundly grateful for that important fact of life.

This long walk is something I have been doing for years. For me, it now exists as a ritual, almost religious in nature. It starts at the subway exit at 96th Street and Broadway, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and follows a well-traveled route up 96th Street to Columbus Avenue, down Columbus to 73rd Street, then across Central Park to Madison Avenue and down to 59th Street.

When I first began this walk, in 1971, I would often continue all the way down to 42nd Street, and, if I were really feeling up to it, I would walk all the way to the West Village.

Now, years later, the Village is still on my mind, but it is only on extremely rare occasions that such a foolish notion enters my mind.

I am more than happy and satisfied if I make it as far as 73rd Street and Columbus Avenue without cheating by jumping on the nearest number 7 or 10 bus. It may take me hours to get across Central Park to Madison, especially if it is hot and humid, as it often is during the summer months; or if a good jazz band is playing, as I now do more bench warming than vigorous walking.

I most often sit quietly on a park bench at 73rd and Fifth Avenue and think wonderful thoughts about the great stroll I could still make down Madison Avenue, where I would once again have the chance to closely observe the many swells walking along side of me, or sit outdoors at one of the few tiny cafes.

There I admire interesting items I can still not, after all these years, afford, in the many small, expensive and exclusive-looking store windows.

As I sit, I can feel a roaring argument taking place deep within me. My tired, aging body says one thing, while my youthful, over-active imagination reminds me of all the great things I might be missing on Madison Avenue, and wants me to push on, and complete the ritual.

Almost always these days, I agree with my worn body, and tell my busy mind to buzz off. Fubgitaboutit.

Despite all the strong opinions being loudly bandied back and forth in my mind, it didn’t take much to convince me one day to hop on a No. 5, 2, or 3 train down to the Garage, my favorite bar in the West Village, and have a glass of wine with friends and avoid all the drama associated with The Walk.


Despite the ravages of age, the walk has taken on a new meaning lately, as I slowly walk the Upper West Side. It is still a truly amazing place, yet, there are now profoundly troubling aspects that time and money has brought to my old home.


On a warm, late fall Sunday afternoon, lively pictures, more like snapshots, a colorful kaleidoscope of occasionally clear images, impressions and memories, entered my mind at almost every block, as if they had just happened yesterday These images were triggered by the lively throngs on the streets and avenues, the familiar buildings, shops and places to have lunch, those with white tablecloths and professional looking wait persons and the familiar busy fast food counter with pimpled-faced young people and a middle-aged Hispanic woman who calls me “honey,” waiting to take my order.

The one thing I have been observing with almost disbelief, over and over again since I returned from California (where I had lived most of my adult life), was that most of the faces I encountered were white.

A few months ago, on the anniversary of Brown vs. The Board of Education, it was reported that although the south was still generally segregated, some progress had been made. In fact, the report went on to say that the most segregated areas in the country, in 2009, are now in the northeast, with New York City being the most segregated place in the country.

How could this be? My hometown? The land of the famous Harlem Renaissance, bohemians, hipsters, boppers and beats?

But, from all appearances on this day, this report appears to be true. During the week, Manhattan abounds with Africans from the Caribbean and the homeland of Africa, as well as a plethora of Hispanics and Asians.

A sharp eye will notice that African Americans and WASPS are rarely to be seen. However, there are enough white and black, brown and off-white presences on the busy streets, that they are rarely missed.

On the weekends, as I was soon to discover, most of Manhattan becomes a white Mecca.


I grew up in the upper Bronx, in an Italian neighborhood. I spent most of my early New York life surrounded by white folks, as it were. I knew Italians, Jews and the Irish, but no WASP’s, blacks, Asians or Hispanics.

Not quite the African American experience, to be sure. (I can still curse in Italian if someone, or something, severely pisses me off!)

I later met blacks and Puerto Ricans in my mid- teenage years. As far as Asians were concerned, there was always a take-out Chinese food store, or a Chinese hand laundry, but I never encountered any on the streets, or in school. And WASP’s? Who were they?


So how can my New York City now be the most “segregated place in the country?”


I had been told that this area on the Upper West Side is now almost all Jewish. It was funny when the person told me that, because now that I have been back in New York for over three years full-time, for the first time since 1974, I have met very few Jews.

From all the talk in the media, it seems that they now run everything in the city of any importance. But, how do you meet them?

In Los Angeles they threw the best parties, parties incomplete unless a star or two showed up, and a few flashbulbs went off. And it was also incomplete if there were no blacks.

In fact, one of my few LA WASP friends asked me, not without a real degree of seriousness and envy, because the few times we met I was always dashing off to yet another affair, “What’s with you guys and Jews? They seem to like you guys.”

From that remark alone, you can see why I miss my Jewish friends, especially my “Jewish Mother,” the late great J.T. O’Hara. Her monthly salon in her penthouse apartment in Beverly Hills brought together so many of us lonely, isolated writers and artists, and you never knew whom you would meet. It was something not to be missed.

I took a lot away from hanging out, and breaking bread with so many Jews in Los Angeles. For example, there’s this joke that folks out there love to repeat. It seemed that this elderly Jewish producer was having lunch in a fancy restaurant on the Sunset Strip when the wait person came over and politely asked him if he was through.

The producer all at once became indignant “Through! Through! What are you talking about young man? I have at least three more movies in me.”

Of course he was right. And in partial thanks to his example, I have at least five more books to write, and countless issues of the Neworld Review to put out.

Through? Are you kidding?!


I have a few thoughts as to why I had so many Jewish friends in Los Angeles, and none in my hometown of New York, but that’s for another essay. Suffice to say, I have no Jewish friends here, and it does not seems likely I will soon make one, even if I live to be 100.


Still, I often feel like I am in one of those movies when I walk the Upper West Side, where time flashes by on the big screen in quick time, as decade after decade of change unfolds in vivid reality, and engages me at every step of the way.


Intimate strangers.

A severely truncated version of this walk began in early 1962. I had just married 18 year old Dorenda Joseph, of 157th Street and Broadway, shortly after leaving the Army, at the age of 21. Her father, Leon, found us an apartment in an aging tenement on 93rd, between Columbus and Central Park West. At this time, the Upper West Side was considered one of the worst areas in the city. Nearby 84th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam, was dubbed by a special report in the Daily News as the “worst block in New York.”

I had never lived in Manhattan. Like most New Yorkers, I spent more time there than in my home borough because that is where the jobs, bright lights, huge buildings, large, endless crowds, noise and excitement were.

I grew up in what was then an underdeveloped part of the Northeast Bronx, close to the Westchester border. We didn’t have a fancy name like Hell’s Kitchen, Brownsville, Times Square, Yorkville or the famous Village. In fact, we had no name at all back then. It was quiet and almost serene compared to most of Manhattan and large parts of the rest of the Bronx.

To be sure, like everywhere in the 50’s, we had surly, dangerous teenage street gangs, of which I was once a proud member. We were just as mean and violent as everyone else, but we also had trees, open spaces, large private homes and a wonderful Bronx River Park to play in, complete with the only freshwater river in all of New York City.

This was a suburb within the city, and it had more in common with what we in that part of the Bronx called “upstate,’ than with the rest of New York City.


I remembered that first night in my new apartment as if it was yesterday. It was the noise that that first struck me, especially the constant loud, screaming sirens of police cars and fire engines.

People were also yelling at each other in Spanish and English throughout the night in our building. We lived on the first floor. I nearly jumped out of my pants the first time I heard a loud PLOP outside of our window. I looked around sheepishly, almost embarrassingly, to see if my beautiful young wife noticed my sudden, cowardly discomfort.

I quickly learned that our upper floor neighbors had the habit of throwing their garbage out the window into the backyard next to our back window.

All night, non-stop, in between the wailing sirens, high-pitched “motherfucker!” and angry, deep growls of “stupid black bitch,” would come the heavy plop, plop, plop of bags of chicken bones, empty cans of pork and beans and countless wine bottles.

I can still hear, in my mind’s eye, the distinct sound of glass breaking violently against the dark night.

That was some first night, although I did get to finally make love to my lovely new wife, producing an equally beautiful little girl that we named Danielle, nine months later. Still, even as I partook in the many delights of being married in my new home in Manhattan, it still took me a long time to get used to all the noise.


During the daylight hours, I discovered a far different world that sat just an eye blink away from the chaotic world contained within my building.

As Dorenda and I walked the un-trainable young boxer my father-in-law had given us as a wedding present, I couldn’t help but note the stark contrast between those who had, and those who had little, all living side by side. Next to us was a large apartment building complete with a canopy and a fancy dressed doorman. I could see well-dressed white men and women exit and enter, the doorman graciously holding the door for them, or flagging down a cab, with an ever- available umbrella ready to hold over them in case of rain.

As I fully explored this area, I saw that this strange contrast was everywhere. It seemed that from 96th Street, all the way to the 60’s, that one found only the well-off and the very poor; much like southern plantation life during slavery.

But all of this was about to change in ways that would have far reaching affects, and would shape the city well into the 21st century. Around that time, the city finally launched, after hotly contested debates, a major rebuilding campaign on the Upper West Side designed to lure the white children of the baby boomers who had since fled the city to the newly opened suburbs of Long Island, New Jersey and Westchester county, starting in the 50’s.

The famous, or infamous, Robert Moses started what he called “urban renewal”. The plan was to rebuild the area from 96th Street down to what was to be the “anchor,” or “linchpin” of the effort, the Lincoln Center complex.

The first structure to be completed and occupied as part of this renewal was the Fordham Law School of Fordham University, in 1962, around the same time I had moved to 93rd Street. In almost all ways, Robert Moses’ idea was a brilliant bit of long term planning, as I witnessed decades later in the 21st Century by all the wealth surrounding me


Now, on a Saturday, I am reminded of San Francisco’s Lower Haight.

Pleased and friendly looking Jewish people, wearing their Saturday best are seen everywhere, walking to Temple. In the Haight, in San Francisco, the day is Sunday, and the well-dressed people are all black, in stark contrast to the down-dressed whites that now live in the area that those black families once occupied.

The blacks make the drive, from where, I don’t know, to attend the churches they left behind, and they casually stroll to their many houses of worship with the same self-confidence and well-being that the Jewish worshippers display in Manhattan.


Back in the day when this transformation was just getting started in Manhattan, many of the loud, rowdy blacks and Puerto Ricans, who had so disturbed me that first night on 93rd Street, were not so happy with Moses’ ideas. For them, urban renewal was what the great New York native, the writer James Baldwin, promptly re-labeled, “Negro removal.”

For me, I didn’t have much emotional investment in living on the Upper West Side, or for living in Manhattan, for that matter. Sure, I was closer to work at my job as a shipping clerk in the Garment Center, but who needed all this grief. Neither I, nor my wife, had ever lived in the area. I had also never lived in an old, smelly tenement, filled with crazy, violent and unpredictable people.

Who cared if they blew the whole damn thing sky high, like I had been trained to do in the Third Armored Division.

Still, such an enormous fuss was kicked up by social activists, that the city was forced to make concessions to poor folks like me. They promised that at least a third of the apartments in the new high-rises would be set aside for low income people. In addition, those of us who were displaced would have first rights to these apartments.

In less than a year after moving in, my building, one of the first to start this new development, was condemned and torn down. They gave us notice and I was actually glad to move back to my neighborhood in the Bronx, where I had first met my wife. As happy as I was to go back to the Bronx, I still had the presence of mind to make sure my family was on the list of those who had first rights to come back.

In a few years, my family, now grown to include a young girl and an even younger boy, was back in Manhattan, on Columbus Avenue, on the seventh floor of a brand new high-rise, right around the corner from our first apartment on 93rd street, as one day a letter came out of the blue, informing us of the news. The city had kept its word.

I only spent one night in that apartment. By the time we were called back to the Upper West Side by the city, and finally given our due, my marriage had collapsed. Since this is really an essay about an area, and not about me, I won’t go into details about the why’s of this misfortune. I will just say that my two children were raised in that apartment.


No blonds

Months after I graduated, in l971, from NYU with a degree in journalism, I found myself back between Columbus and Central Park West, only this time on 76th street. I had a chance to see how the great experiment was turning out, and where I first began my walk with the added eye of a socially aware person and trained journalist.

This was almost ten years after the bulldozers tore down my home on 93rd Street. As I walked down Columbus and passed the building where my ex-wife and children now lived, I spotted my ex going to the supermarket. She had large pink curlers in her hair and I didn’t think she wanted me to see her in such a state, so I didn’t bother to wave.

What struck me most was how integrated the area had become. It was no longer rich and poor. There appeared to be a little bit of everyone. Middle class blacks were in abundance. I saw young black and Hispanic mothers pushing strollers, some of which contained little white babies, just as it had been in 1962.

I still didn’t see any white mothers with young children.

As I walked down to the 80’s, the area seemed as seedy as always. I saw some young whites, but not many. The big conversation of the day was that the late famous film star Ingrid Bergman’s daughter, Pia Lindstrom, who then lived right around the corner from me, and the woman who shared our small, paper-thin studio.

Royalty like Lindstrom living in this area (who had recently signed on as a local news anchor) was a sure sign that things were on the upswing.

Another sure sign that something was happening was that at night, the restaurants were crowded with young whites. Still, no one was sure if these young people would continue to do what they had been doing since they started coming back: have a few beers and good times, find a mate, and then when it came to baby-making time, escape back to the quiet and safety of the suburbs


In 1971, the city’s lowlifes were yet to be tamed. The tabloids were filled daily with frightful, lurid tales of rape, strong-armed attacks, knifings, random shootings and an assortment of less violent street crimes. Local nightly television news always led with yet another young black man, his head bent down in a vain attempt to escape the glare of the cameras, being led away in handcuffs.

A large part of Times Square was known as the “Minnesota Strip,” because that was one of the few places in the city where you could find young, fresh-faced blond farm girls standing on street corners in bright colored “hot pants,” with cigarettes hanging out of their painted lips.

1971, especially in Manhattan’s west side, was still a time when real danger lurked around every corner.


My then girlfriend, who I had met at NYU in my junior year, and I crossed over at 73rd street on a Sunday to hang out around the fountain in Central Park. I noticed that cameras were that year’s big thing; expensive Nikons, Canons, Minoltas and even a few awesome Hasselblads, all equipped with large telescopic lens…they were everywhere. Everyone was carrying one, and some, several.

I had a modest Minolta slung over my shoulder, trying to look the part of the creative photographer, who was now all the rage. For me, however, that camera was for more than simply to show-off on weekends in the park.

It helped pay my way through NYU.

My smart, observant girlfriend made an interesting observation as we left the crowded park.

“Did you notice that there were no blonds?”


There were thousands of people in the park that nice day. Perhaps it was because she was a blond that she noticed such a thing. To me, white people were still just white people. Who cared what color their hair was! Most of the people in the park were white people. And that was that.

After her comment, however, I kept my eyes peeled for blonds, like her. And she was right. in 1971, Manhattan contained few of them, unless they were young, corn-fed types standing on street corners in Times Square and winking at the men who passed by them.


Blonds or not, and regardless of the fact that few young whites seemed to want to stay and brave the city while raising children, Lincoln Center had turned into a huge success. People from all over flocked to it, and undoubtedly gave the boost to the coming renaissance of the Upper West Side as Robert Moses had hoped.


A year later I gave up my walk, and New York, and headed for California, where I would stay for 13 years.

The Return

The very first thing I did when I came back for a summer visit in 1983, was look up an old friend who lived in Central Park Village, in a building on 97th and Central Park West. We met at a bar called “Under the Stairs,” directly across from the building where my children had grown up. My ex-wife had moved to 89th Street and West End Avenue a few years before. I was teaching “The History of The Mass Media” at UC Berkeley, and, as a Visiting Professor, had the summer off.

My mother still owned the large house in the upper Bronx I had partially grown up in, so I had a free place to stay, and my mother was more than glad to see me again after so many years away.

It was at “Under the Stairs” that I immediately decided to move back from California, as soon as my contract with the University ended. As I sat outdoors with my friend on that hot summer night, with only the lights from the flickering candled lamps on our table, having drinks, dinner and talking of old times, it seemed that in 1983, a little over twenty years later after the grand plan had gone into effect, that it had worked wonderfully.

The outdoor scene at the restaurant and bar was a magnet for the city’s most successful blacks. Tony Brown was there. “Clyde” Frazier was there. Everyone who was anyone showed up over the summer. As I watched the people in the street stroll by I was fascinated by how hip, integrated and non-threatening everything seemed.

The next year, the week after classes ended, I left San Francisco for New York.

The first week that I was once more a citizen of New York City, I took great delight in attending a party with my friend Jan, from California, who had moved to West End Avenue a few years before my coming. As I left the party at 2 am and headed back to the Bronx, the sidewalks around 77th Street and Columbus were so crowded that people had to walk in the street.

You can’t find something like that in California, north or south.

“Under the Stairs” became my home away from home. However, unlike the year before, there was an ominous disquiet starting to hover over things. This was the beginning of the culture of greed and easy credit. I already had two credit cards in my wallet, both with credit lines of $10,000. Wall Street was generating huge amounts of money. The talk of money was everywhere. Whites were flocking to the city in hopes of cashing in.

The impact on my new black friends was that they no longer were as confident as they were the year before, when I was still a Californian. Central Park Village, where many of them lived, was rumored to be going condo in a few years. Rents elsewhere on Columbus were rising quickly. Several new large apartment buildings were soon to open on Columbus, one on 93rd and the other on 96th Street. This time there would be no government mandate for these buildings to set aside apartments for low-income people.

There was even talk of white sightings in Harlem, of all places.

My friend from Central Park Village even suggested a crazy idea to me while having dinner at “Under the Stairs”.

“Just wait,” he warned me, “they are one day going to charge people just to drive into Manhattan.”

The idea sounded so absurd that I laughed in his face.

A far younger Mayor Bloomberg, however, must of have been sitting at the table next to us and overheard our conversation, thinking, “What a great idea!”


I renewed my walk in short order. As I walked down through the 80’s and 70’s, renovations to the brownstones were rampant. 84th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam, was no longer the worst block in the city, but rather a highly coveted place to live. In Central Park, the zoo, as well as the fountain area, was closed for major reconstruction. The people on the street were still young, and getting whiter, but I had yet to see young white women pushing babies around, which to me would mean a real change.


As I slowly walked through Central Park one Sunday in Fall, 2009, I spotted many young white couples, Asian women and white males with young children. In fact, a veritable baby boom seemed to be taking place right before my eyes.

The quiet, comfortable suburbs may have called, but clearly many of this generation of transplanted New Yorkers didn’t answer.


It was such a nice day that I decided to walk down Fifth Avenue to watch the Polish Day Parade. I love parades. They are, for those of us who grew up here, our community art form.

And sure enough, the poised young girls from Mother Cabrini High School, marching in tight formation, banners held high and flying boldly in the late autumn wind, while being led by an arm swinging Sergeant Major, soon strutted proudly up the big avenue with fife and drum, ever a cut above everyone else.

My heart cheered loudly for them as it had done year after year. They made me think, as they marched briskly by, why would I want to live anywhere else?


I ended my walk with the thought that if you live long enough you will encounter the future.

I thought back to my ex-girl friend, the blond. I imagined that we were still together and still living on 76th Street. As we headed home together from yet another weekend in Central Park, I turned to her and said, “Did you notice that there were no African Americans?”

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