Get Off That F**King Bus
As I walk down 125th Street, on almost any given day, I am met with camera lenses pointed in my direction. Probably not directly at me, but uncomfortably aimed towards my walking path. Although I would like to think that this was the case, I am not a celebrity and I am not anywhere close to being a reality star. Well, at least not yet.
I bring up instances like these because of two facts. At least two of them. As a hospitality worker who distributes maps with my company’s hotel and other properties prominently marked throughout Manhattan island, I try to contemplate my frustration as I scan the map. It is a map with Harlem, a neighborhood steep in rich history, cut off. I mean…poof! Gone. Its like looking at a Tinder photo without a head. Not only are you missing a vital part, you are doing a disservice to the overall functioning which helps drive and define the whole.
Yes, anyone sticking to the traditional guidebook recommendations can help a tourist develop quite an impressive collection of bragging material. You’ve been to the Empire State Building? Great! Stepping foot on such a recognizable landmark is a check off of the “things to do” checklist. Oh, you’ve been to the Museum of Metropolitan Art? Wonderful! Those painting, statues, and other art pieces that you’re seeing in person can help a viewer make a better connection. You want to wait 30 plus minutes for some banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery. Well…maybe it is worth the wait. I’ not going to front and act like their ‘nana pudding ain’t the “dessertification” of the emotion we call love. Yum! I need to stop this and take this bus uptown to a place, according to my tourist map, where I would fall off into nonexistent abyss.
I’m wiping that noticeable drool from my mouth from thinking about my spoon piercing into wafer, banana, and pudding deliciousness but I am also anticipating a fresh fruit tart from Make My Cake in Harlem. As both the sweetness of the ripe strawberries and the juicy tartness of the blueberries blends with cream as I bite the flaky tart, I make my way towards the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market for some one of a kind African goods. Talk about an authentic open air market. This market reminds me of my experience in Ibadan, Nigeria. You will definitely find something besides that generic souvenir to give away. How awesome is a Harlem USA t-shirt with african print lettering! Also, how righteous is it to directly support these vendors, mostly French speaking West Africans, with your patronage.
I make my way up 116th and develop some serious cravings for something savory. When I was asked about some authentic West African restaurants at my Times Square job, it was like trying to use the words “grace” and “tact” for this current administration. Harlem, with its established Senegalese and Gambian communities, has made its mark on the culinary scene. Senegalese dishes at Pikine help off the beaten path travelers delve into memorable dishes such as a spicy and flavorful fish dish called Yassa. The subtle influence of French ingredients and technique are apparent if a true culture detective looks. The grilled Tilapia is a must! Try a selection of different dishes. I don’t care if you’re dining alone. There’s no shame to my game!
Just to burn off some of these calories, I’m going to head towards 125th to my mainstay for all things contemporary art at the Studio Museum. There are ever revolving exhibits featuring installations and pieces by artists within the African Diaspora. This place is a cultural gem and is my source of inspiration. This is art that stimulates yet challenges the mind. Some art should take the viewer to an uncomfortable place and have them question all that they know to be true. As people within the African diaspora, the unfortunate realities of our past and current existence are examined. As viewers outside of the African experience, the pieces will showcase the subtleties of a culture too complex to be narrowed down to a jovial singing choir. Yikes! I’ll come back to that in a different article.
With a legacy of resiliency, self-sufficiency, and a determined industrious attitude, Harlem does not deserve to but cut off from any tourist map. The African American, African Caribbean, and African inhabitants, both past and present, have held true to multifaceted lives. It was important to carve out niches as proud business owners. However, it was also vital to have fun and partake in all things current and having to do with popular culture. My walk toward Harlem Shake for a tasty Old School Vanilla Malt proved how this still reigns true today. My mind told me that I wanted a Harlem Jerk Burger, but my stomach was already filled to capacity. Plus, I needed to make my way back down to 116th Street and get a quick look-over of the popular Hoodwinked Escape Room Tours. The Hoodwinked Experience takes a fun get-together gathering of an escape room challenge and enhances it with tidbits from Harlem and African American history. I could not say that I had the chance to complete an escape challenge, but I’m definitely putting this on my activity list.
I’ve just named about a half-day’s worth of activities to do in one walkable section of Harlem. Of course, there is so much more to do!
Technically, there are distinct sections of Harlem (Harlem and West Harlem) and bordering neighborhoods such as Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights. Many have adopted these names based on the efforts of real estate investors. Regardless of the renaming and divisions, Harlem deserves so much more recognition. As a person born and raised in New York City, the place I called “Uptown” had a flavor all onto itself. It is still is still magnificent and rich in culture. It is a multitude of vibrant sights, rhythmic sounds, and delicious tastes. Cutting off your New York City experience at 96th Street is a huge disservice.
This walk is just a taste of an off the beaten path experience in New York. Of course, there are so many more adventures! So many restaurants, museums, art galleries, historic landmarks, and communities centers to visit. Please join me along my journeys. Besides, nobody wants to see your pictures of a bunch New Yorkers giving you the middle finger from the comfort of your double-decker bus.
Natasha Adwoah Coombs
Founder, Creative Directior, and Senior Travel Specialist of Diaspora Destinations
Get Off That F**King Bus