Thursday, August 21, 2008

Slowing Down the Pace: A Leisurely Look at Queens

A couple of summers ago, I was on the phone with one of my more caustic, jaded and cynical friends, and I mentioned that I had just come back from a very long walk. “A walk?” he said, incredulous. “How old are you, [age deleted so as not to offend readers who may be over that age]?”

I immediately found myself getting incredulous right back. Who doesn't like a good walk? Sure, walking might not be as awesome as jogging—or “running,” as joggers are now required by international law to call it—but there's no better way to gain a sense of place and experience than meandering around at your own pace, slowing down to look at whatever catches your fancy in greater detail. I walk all the time, and though I may not be burning off too many big cookies, at least I won't be suffering from chronic knee problems for the next 20 years or so.

With Labor Day firmly in sight, the days of great walks are growing short—this is that depressing time of year when it's 90 degrees out but you just know you'll be holed up inside before you know it, making frantic calls to the office to see if telecommuting is an option this winter. Only you know what your perfect walk is, but in the absence of clairvoyant powers, I thought I'd share some of mine. They're rather long and so not for the faint of heart, but you can cut yourself off at any time.

Yellowstone Boulevard, Queens Boulevard to 62nd Avenue

Yellowstone is very possibly Forest Hills' prettiest public street, lined with the locally famous and much-desired Presidential buildings that people are talking about when they call the neighborhood “prestigious.” Not only is the classic architecture of Yellowstone lovely, but most of the buildings have beautifully landscaped lawns that make you feel happy you've chosen this borough as your home. Midway through this walk, the neighborhood gets a little less, er, prestigious, but it's still worth continuing, as it quickly turns into a fascinating patchwork of immigrant cultures—and if you stop before you get to the Long Island Expressway and the Corona border, you might miss construction on NOVO 64, the much-talked-about luxury housing development wedged between 64th Road and 64th Avenue.

Metropolitan Avenue, Union Turnpike to 69th Street

I'm not going to lie to you—this one is a big challenge, two long miles that run largely through a sidewalk-free stretch of Saint John's Cemetery. But the cemetery is pretty in that eerie cemetery way, and even if that's a little morbid for you, it's still worth it for the great neighborhoods on either side: the southern edge of Forest Hills to the east and Middle Village to the west. This is the part of Queens that will make you forget you're in New York City: all quaint, privately owned storefront businesses, side streets full of cute narrow houses and the occasional island-in-a-parking-lot drugstore or fast-food outlet. Bonus: When you cross Cooper Avenue, right as you hit the cemetery, you're less than a block away from Archie Bunker's house. Turns out ol' Arch had a great view of the sea of tombstones from his living room. No wonder he was always in such a bad mood.

Park Lane, Union Turnpike to Myrtle Avenue

Not technically in the coverage area of this newspaper, this walk is nonetheless right next door, so what's stopping you? Kew Gardens flies under a lot of radars, but it can be a stunning neighborhood, with grand mansions on hills and a charming Old World feel. Think Forest Hills Gardens wealth, only more spread out. There's no better street to experience it than Park Lane, which, as the name suggests, runs along the edge of lush, green Forest Park. There's very little commerce in the immediate vicinity of this strip, but there are plenty of park benches, so bring some reading material and expect to find yourself darting in and out of the park whenever its call becomes too strong.

If you make it to the end, you'll be rewarded with a glimpse of a remarkable piece of public art: the Richmond Hill—yes, you're now in Richmond Hill—Doughboy, nearly unique among World War I memorials in that it shows a soldier at rest, in mourning over the loss of his comrade. It's a fitting reminder that a good walk can be moving in a lot of ways.

The writer, Steve Tiszenkel, is the host of the Website Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.

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