As a visually impaired person from birth, I must constantly orient myself to new areas. In order to navigate myself through NYC, I often divide the City’s numerous subculture “pockets” into even smaller spaces. More specifically, for the longest time, my knowledge of NYC consisted of routes. Consequently, after immerging from the 28th St. stop on 7 Ave, which was a familiar area in terms of specific routes, I had no clue what I would experience when I would cross those boundaries initially outlined by my mobility (M & O) teacher. I cannot deny that the prospect of crossing those “borders,” which defined my activity in this flower district place, produced anxiety within me. In addition to these feelings of uncertainty, I was not technically cleared by the New York Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (CBVH) to diverge from certain routes. Nonetheless, these nervous feelings were override by a sense of curiosity and a hunger for exploration. I made the street crossing.
Instead of continuing east on 28th St., which is my usual routine, I walked south on 7th Ave along the south west side of the street. While scurrying up the street I felt invisible despite being on "forbidden" grounds. Despite carrying a cane, which I rolled in front of me to identify myself as a visually impaired person, people seemed to not notice me unless I stopped somewhere to look around. The area was similar to other familiar midtown places. However, I only had to walk a block until I encountered a strangely remote street. On the north side of 27th St. I crossed over 7th Ave to an almost abandoned place enclosed by skyscrapers and a bridge. Immediately on passing under the bridge I was struck by a haunting familiar feeling.
The dead vive of the long block swept me back to a dramatizing instance in middle school. My mind wondered back to a time when I used to attend the New York Inst. for Special Education. I remember my teacher Maria telling me about an above ground basement on campus that was both historical and cursed. Being skeptical, I clearly remember following Ms. Maria down a few flights of steps into an unfamiliar sector of the cafeteria and M & O building. On descending the stairs and opening a heavy door, I distinctly remember hearing a deafening silence behind the door. As I walked further into the room, which was more of a corridor, I heard wind rustle and rattle old locked doors despite the calm whether of the day. I am not suggesting that the basement was haunted. However, similar to my current feelings about the lifeless block between 7th and 8th Ave on 27th St. I remember sensing that I was an unusual visitor.
The vacant aspect of the block was half the story. Perhaps the most frightening element that caused contemplation of turning around was that the block consisted of towering office buildings that appeared to attract zero traffic. In addition to these scary observations, the couple of people that seemed to be traveling with me were walking down the block at an extremely rapid pace. Perhaps these strange observations were dilutions of my initial impressions of the block. Nonetheless, I could not stop reliving the experience of being in the NYISE basement.
As I recall taking courage and exploring the deeper reaches of the basement corridor, I re-encountered the moment when I stumbled across a fitness room with a treadmill and weight lifters. I remember amusingly that Maria at this points said, “This is where the ghost work outs every night.” Despite laughing at Maria’s superstitious comment, I could not avoid the question “Why does a fitness room exist in such an unwelcoming and dead place?” The question further pressed upon my mind as I began to examine the empty locked dorms through wide handle knob slots. During this excursion of the old wrecked dormitory, which by legend used to host dozens of naughty students who were locked up for life by an infamous school master, I constantly imagined shadows. Whether or not I feared supernatural forces or merely the feeling of loneliness, I decided to make my way back to the ascending stairs. As I proceeded toward the corridor exit, the wind seemed to howl with more intent and shook the hinges of the old wooden doors. My instinct after reaching the half way mark of the city block followed similarly.
I instantly turned my back on 8th Ave and returned to 7th Ave, retrieving my steps the beyond building walkway or bridge. After I emerged again beneath the building platform, a gasoline man stared at me and watched my movement to the corner. Perhaps, the man thought I was lost or maybe he noticed my cane. Before a blink of an eye I found myself again within familiar territory, which consisted of the busy flower district and the usual 7th Ave traffic. Despite only deviating a small distance from my usual “borders,” I believe I discovered a new “pocket” within the City. Who knew that such a small dead zone could exist in a vibrant part of NYC?