It’s 8 o’clock at Astor Place. A crowd of giddy high schoolers pour out from a white charter bus into the dark street towards Broadway. College students and the employed head the other way, away from the NYU campus and towards St. Mark’s Place. A short man in a leather jacket talks Medicaid, Obamacare, Medicare and health insurance to someone through his headset as he crosses the street. From other corners, Korean and Spanish words float through the air.
It’s 8 o’clock at St. Mark’s, and words and images fly into my head faster than I can handle them. Well-dressed girls walk up the stairs to “Sing-Sing Karaoke,” a boy and a girl cross the street, and a thin man in silver pants and combat boots looms out of a dark staircase corner. The restaurants and stores I’ve passed countless times over the last four years return in the same succession, with only a few changes. On one side, the vacancies have grown. The 7-11 has come and gone, leaving a dark space with the iconic green and red stripes still on the storefront. The Vietnamese baguette store is gone, and the pho place turned Korean restaurant has closed as well.
St. Mark’s Grocery is a world apart as country music greets my ears. I wanted an apple after Whole Foods gave me three rotten ones from the batch I’d bought yesterday. But the ones here smell too strongly of the cheese coming from the packaged salads sitting near the apple baskets. Oranges were safer. As I leave, I pass a yellow dog that someone has tied to a post inside the store entrance.
Around the corner, the fortune teller machine is silent. Two Cantonese women smoke outside a Japanese restaurant, and some kids are still out on the street with their parents. A motorcycle roars past while we cross without watching the traffic signal. It’s 8 o’clock in the East Village, and we are all gliding through this almost-spring night.