WEDNESDAY: Gramercy Park
Every New Yorker has a bucket list they’d like to accomplish here -- catch a Yankees game, become an international celebrity, visit the Statue of Liberty -- the usual. Mine mostly involve accessing places I don’t fit in. Number one has always been with the richies in Gramercy Park.
For non-New Yorkers: Gramercy Park is one of the only remaining private parks in the city, a block of lush greenery enclosed by an intimidating iron fence. Access is limited to a very select few members, and keyholder privilege ranges from the expensive (a room at the luxe Gramercy Park Hotel) to the extremely expensive (a $6 million 3BR on Irving Place).
Since my editor wouldn't let me break any laws for this piece (thus denying the world my debut as the next Banksy), I would have to let confidence and charm be my lockpicks. My approach was straightforward: ask random strangers around the park if they could let me in -- if someone with actual access granted me entry, I wouldn't be breaking in at all.
Anyone wearing a sweater over a button-down shirt became a mark. The task was simple, yet I was still on edge: what if I get a bad reputation in the neighborhood? Would their noses be turned up even higher at me? Would this affect my 401(k)?
Mustering the courage to bother strangers, I discovered, was the real challenge. Nobody around actually seemed to own a key, which meant they were just poor saps like me (only better dressed).
On my third lap around the park, I saw a man calling to his friend inside. I sheepishly walked up and hit him with my (technically true) cover story: “Hi, I’m working on this photo project …”
This is actually a bad approach, since photography is technically prohibited -- do your research, folks! Luckily, I hadn't even finished before he waved his hand: “You want in? Come on!”
It turns out that people around Gramercy Park are actually chill. Or at least that one guy was. The park itself: meh. Some nice benches, cool trees, a better sense of income inequality in New York. Not bad! I took a few selfies in front of the statue (some photo project!) and skedaddled.
I’m always surprised when people are happy to help. But why wouldn’t they be? This guy spends a zillion bucks on some private park, and he’s not gonna show it off to a kid with an artistic vision? Even if that vision is social media likes? The true challenge yielded a relevant lesson: don’t be afraid to ask. Chances are, if you would help someone out in this situation, others are willing to do the same for you. People like sharing beauty and are often happy to do you a solid. Plus, the worst they can say is no. Or punch you in the face. But that second part seldom happens.