I’ve been in Harlem for at least 2 hours now. I’ve been up to Columbia Campus and given myself an internal high five at stomping around the grounds of an Ivy League College (they have bleachers for frick’s sake!!) and now I’m heading back to 125th. I got this.
Armed with a playlist of Belle and Sebastian and Billy Joel I saunter down Riverside Drive and inadvertently discover General Grant’s monument. I have no idea who this is so walk over to the security guard and with my newly perfected HB (Hapless Brit) face and over enunciated British accent (Not quite Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins but close) I politely enquire as to whom the monument is for. Apparently it’s for the guy from the 50 dollar bills. Excellent, when I get one of those I will be sure to make a point of reference.
I then walk parallel to the Hudson hoping at some point I’ll be able to drop down to catch one of the viewing piers on this beautiful sunny day. Somehow though, I end up on a bridge which turns out to be rather longer than expected. Undeterred I mosey along having committed to the journey now and swing my hips to the tones of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Exiting the bridge a little further over than anticipated I check my smart phone (thank frick for google maps at no extra cost – cheers 3 network!) and realise, rather pleased with myself, I can just hook a right onto Broadway and cut back to where I need to be. Alicia Keys as my guide I set off uphill full of energy.
In about two minutes my heart sinks. Toto, this ain’t Kansas anymore. I have inadvertently found myself slap bang in the centre of the projects and I decidedly do not fit in in my stupid structured Zara dress and faux aviators on my head. Stupid fricking Zara. Clearly not heeding the warning I was given a mere three hours earlier (‘Go explore anywhere you want just don’t go past THAT street into the projects!’) I quickly assess the situation and decide the best thing to do is to keep going – if I turn and run away I’ll only draw further attention to myself, plus I’ll look like a special kind of twat who makes split second stereotypical judgements. I’m sure it will be fine despite my earlier warning. However I probably should put my iPod and iPhone away now just in case.
Planting a look of mild boredom and disdain on my face I up my pace like a person who actually knows where they are going. I even partake in some casual jay walking as if I truly belong here. Hoping I’m channeling my inner Spanish person (I’m singing Santana in my head just for good measure) I hope I don’t get lost as I’m only glancing at my phone when no one appears to be within mugging distance (safety first!).
Despite my daily protestations back home that I am in fact ‘so street it hurts’ I am feeling a touch anxious. Raking over all my street smarts I developed working the mean streets of Brixton (Ha! Jokes!) I keep myself alert and make it nearly to 125th without incident and am only mildly alarmed when several cop cars scream to a halt (not for my jay walking as I initially suspected).
I come out by the three flags at the precise location not three hours earlier which was specifically highlighted as a no-go zone. Laughing to myself I feel foolish for getting so panicked and remind myself after all my time working in some of the toughest boroughs in London never to judge a book by its cover, or a project by its reputation. But I still might not go back just in case eh?