The Day I Accidentally Walked 20 Miles

by Alafair Burke

This has been a joyous week for me, thanks to a visit from one of my BFF’s who recently left New York (boo!) for an academic position elsewhere.  It has also been an active week.  See, here’s the thing about people who know and love New York, but who are limited to occasional visits: They have a tendency to pack a month’s worth of their favorite routines into a single day.  And, thanks to my friend’s kamakaze fly-by, I had the pleasure of living one of those days.

We didn’t set out to walk twenty miles.  The morning began simply enough with a morning stroll with my french bullog, the Duffer.

 

We walked through the west village to the river up through the Meatpacking District, then back over through Chelsea to my place near Union Square.  We picked up Starbucks and Bagel Bobs along the way.  Stopped in Washington Square Park to snack.

But then we dropped off the Duffer and realized it was still only ten in the morning on what we’d sworn would be a true no-work day.  Soon enough, my friend’s friend happened to call.  He needed someone to help carry a new art acquisition from a Chelsea Gallery to his loft in the fashion district.  Off we went, back to Chelsea.

By the time we finished moving the canvas, it was time for lunch.  Back to the Meatpacking District.  Bloody mary and a dozen oysters outside = yummy.  Pitstop to the Apple Store for my handy, dandy, and completely unnecessary iPad.  Woot!

Next on the route was SoHo, requiring a stroll down from the Meatpacking District through the west village.  In SoHo, we hit six different furniture stores, researching the perfect pull-out sofa.  Turns out, there’s no such thing.

Suddenly it was five-thirty.  Back to the apartment for a quick shower before catching our Broadway play, Next Fall (marvelous, by the way).  Small post-theater snack and glass of wine at the lovely Aureole.  Subway back to Union Square.  Still hungry.  One a.m. stop at the late-night taco truck for corn tortillas and Horchata.  By the time I checked my Bodybugg, we had logged just over twenty miles!

I went to bed exhausted.  And really, really full.  And incredibly inspired.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my need to walk away from the keyboard and free my brain when I really need big-picture creative inspiration.  Based on my near-marathon city walk, I now believe those walks away from the desk should always be through the city I now love and write about. 

Among the various quotidian details, all inspired by my long walk, that you’ll likely find scattered through my next novel:

The New York foodie’s never-ending search for the best food trucks:

 The chess-game culture of Washington Square Park:

The way a texting New York pedestrian will slam into another human being and then scream at that person for being in the way:

The Highline, an elevated park with a uniquely Manhattan blend of industrial chic and actual nature:

The Standard Hotel, whose floor-to-ceiling windows above the Highline have proven irrestible to exhibitionists:

And, not sure this will make the book, but I did learn that there is a chair called the “Do Hit Chair.”  Price: $8,000, or $15,000 if beaten by the actual artist.  I’m not making that up.

Best of all, I somehow came home with a major plot point magically worked through.  A day of friendship, a plot development, new energy about the urban landscape of my books, and three thousand calories burned to-boot.  I’d say my hooky day turned out to be productive after all.

Has a play day ever turned into inspiration for you?

25 thoughts on “The Day I Accidentally Walked 20 Miles

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    As someone who is participating in a state fitness thingy and wearing a pedometer — I’m jealous of your 20 mile walk. Ah, the number of steps you racked up!

    The Montanan in me shudders at the crowd scene. Yuck.

    Thanks for sharing your day!

    Reply
  2. Karen in Ohio

    Wow, what an action-packed day, Alafair. Love NYC, and I’m green with envy that you see all these amazing things daily. Not sure I’d want to live there, unless it could be someplace with guaranteed quiet. The city noise gets to me easily.

    Play days have often inspired me; I don’t always act on them, though. You are an inspiration!

    Reply
  3. Louise Ure

    And here I get my best inspiration in the shower.

    The day you describe is, in my imagination, the way New Yorkers live every day. Full of energy, creativity, sociability, and great food. You mean it’s not an every day occurrence?

    Reply
  4. Brett Battles

    I, too, love to walk, Alafair. In fact, I think I’m one of the few people in Los Angeles who does! And I have a completely unnecessary iPad, too!!! And I love it. 🙂

    And don’t you just love this whole food truck revolution? Sometimes on Wilshire Boulevard near the La Brea Tar Pits (and a five minute walk from me) there are seven or eight trucks competing for people’s lunch money…Korean, Thai, Greek, Deli, Ice Cream, Veggie, etc. Paradise if you ask me.

    Reply
  5. Judy Wirzberger

    Have you read Helene Hanff’s "Apple of My Eye"? Whenever anyone speaks as lovingly of New York as you do, I think of that little book. If you haven’t read it, you must….

    Reply
  6. Rebbie Macintyre

    I’m coming to NY for the Backspace writers conference, and the food truck thing is a serious priority! We have exactly one kind in Tampa that I know about: the Taco bus. And even though the tacos are over the top, I can’t wait to sample the wares from the NY trucks!
    Thanks for writing about my fantasy day in the Big Apple.

    Reply
  7. toni mcgee causey

    Alafair, that day sounds utterly wonderful. I had one of those days last year after the PASIC conference in NY when I spent the day with my dear friend, Tamar, who’s a native. We went to MOMA and then to a fabulous little German restaurant around the corner, then walked from there through central park back to my hotel, past the Apple store (where, if I hadn’t had to catch a plane that afternoon, I would have visited with about the same reverence as MOMA). Truly beautiful NY day. (Though obviously not as full as yours!)

    I love play days–I have to have breaks in order to stay focused and energized.

    Reply
  8. Nancy Laughlin

    Definitely sounds like fun. I’d love to go to a Broadway play sometime.
    I agree with PK about the crowded sidewalk though. Yikes. too many people.

    Reply
  9. Alafair

    Sorry to be slow to respond to these great comments. Today was a different kind of lost day – eight hours waiting at LGA after a cancelled flight this morning! As some of you know, I love my food. One way I’m able to justify/pay for the high-end places I love in New York is to balance those meals out with food stands and food trucks (Bistro Truck = yum).

    Judy, I will look for Apple of My Eye.

    Reply
  10. Alafair

    Sorry to be slow to respond to these great comments. Today was a different kind of lost day – eight hours waiting at LGA after a cancelled flight this morning! As some of you know, I love my food. One way I’m able to justify/pay for the high-end places I love in New York is to balance those meals out with food stands and food trucks (Bistro Truck = yum).

    Judy, I will look for Apple of My Eye.

    Reply
  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alafair

    Sounds like heaven. Have you thought of marketing it as the NYC Writer’s Lifestyle Fitness Plan? I feel another best-seller coming on…

    Like Louise, I’ve had some of my best ‘Eureka!’ moments in the shower, but getting out and doing anything physical seems to unlock the creative side of my brain.

    Mind you, I think I overdid the dry stone wall building at the weekend. I now have a bruised hand that is not cooperating with the keyboard the way it normally does!

    Reply
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  13. L.J. Sellers

    Thanks for a fun post. I love to visit NY, this was a little fix for me.

    I often come up with story ideas while I’m on vacation (and not trying to). Which may explain why I"m feeling stuck. I haven’t been on vacation in a while.

    Reply
  14. BCB

    There are places I’d love to visit and just wander around and explore them on my own and go wherever whimsy and impulse might lead me. NYC is not one of them. The sheer vast density of that city is intimidating. Not that I wouldn’t LOVE to see it, I would. But only if I knew someone there who could show me around. I feel the same way about DC. Ah well, someday…

    And I definitely need more play days. Had two very different "playing around" type days this weekend and realized how long it’s been since I did anything a) just for the sheer fun of it or b) sat back and relaxed without worrying about rushing on to the next thing. Two very different days, both absolutely wonderful. Woke up this morning feeling energized and rejuvenated as a result. A rare thing for a Monday. Guess I’ll have to schedule more time for unscheduled events. 😉

    Reply
  15. alafair

    Just another note about NYC: Even in Manhattan, there are spots that are much more peaceful than the madness depicted in the photograph above. I live downtown where the streets are pretty quiet other than the major mass-transit thoroughfares. As much as I love NYC, I do my best to avoid midtown.

    Reply
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