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A Different View of Manhattan

Bodega by the 207th St. Subway Station- Kareem Abdul Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor grew up on nearby Dykman Street

Spent an interesting weekend in Inwood, at the very northern tip of Manhattan, immersed between two wildly different but compatible cultures; Dominicans and their busy, colorful, music-pounding, flea-market sprinkled streets right next to gentrified urban white neighborhoods dotted with Art Deco buildings circa 1920.

It’s truly the best thing about New York- the mixing. Here are some of the sights in a mere three-block walk:

First off, the weather was great so everybody and their hermano were out on the streets. The thumping rhythms of Latin music emanate from cars and boom boxes. On weekends, the Dominican part of Inwood, like Washington Heights, is somewhat like being transported to another country.

In front of the pawn shops, bodegas, hardware stores, tattoo parlors and Latin restaurants are dozens of flea market stands selling the strangest stuff ever. There are normal goods like cheap clothes, purses, boot-leg movies, 1989 Topps baseball cards- but also a highly unique collection of electronics. Pretty much everything you throw out when you move- like battered extension cords and old remotes.

Then there’s like a buffer block right where the A train stops at the 207th street subway station. Here, the transition begins. The first Art Deco apartment building looms on the left as you head north. It’s a very hilly area and the building sits atop some very steep and intimidating-looking stone stairs.

Harry Houdini's widow lived on Payson Street after his death

About 500 more feet and you officially enter yet another world; quiet and residential with a mix of housing including 7 and 8 story pre-WWII buildings, detached homes, and those great deco apartments- but still packing plenty of character. Like the two old, presumably Dominican men, who open their apartment window along Seamen Street performing old-time Latin karaoke as the urban white crowd strolls by below, every one of them, seemingly, with a dog on a leash.

Saturdays, there’s a small but diverse weekly farmer’s market that operates year-round with all kinds of great goodies from breads and fruits and veggies to cheeses and wine. And across the street is Inwood Park with tons of woods and paths, softball fields and dog-runs, leading east toward the Harlem River. That’s where Columbia University has its crew team. The school has painted a gigantic blue “C” on a cliff overlooking the river and word is the locals think it’s tacky and an eyesore. The University has it regularly repainted but no one’s figured out where they got the authority to take over that particular cliff. Supposedly there’s a lawsuit coming.

And the park is where the cultures meld. The dog-walking white urbanites populate the paths. Everybody shares the meadows. The Dominicans own the baseball diamonds.

Beisbol everywhere!

Baseball and Softball rule in Inwood. The Dominican Republic, after all, stocks the Major Leagues with some of the best players the game has ever seen; Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, the Alou brothers, Felipe, Jesus and Matty. It’s in the DNA.

Having attended many a Little League game in the white-bread Atlanta suburbs when my son was growing up it was kind of refreshing to take in a bit of an Inwood Little League contest. Not a single Anglo name in the lineups but plenty of Bautista’s and even one Valenzuela. The fast-pitch softball fields are where the big boys play. And they’re good- really, really good. Some of the slickest fielding and power hitting I’ve ever seen on a softball diamond.

An Inwood Park trail in the Fall

It’s Manhattan. From Wall Street and the Chrysler building to Madison Avenue; from Central Park and Lincoln Center to the parks, softball fields, markets and bodegas of Inwood; it is, truly, one of the neatest and unique islands in the world.

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