By Johna Till Johnson
It’s about 8:15 PM on a Friday night. We’re finally kicking back, at the end of yet another 60-hour workweek. It’s been intense, and we’re both looking forward to the weekend.
We’ve decided that I will get groceries. Vlad will prep and cook. But we’re switching from “94” (the apartment at 94th Street and 3rd Avenue) to “92” (the apartment at 92nd Street and Madison). We are both going over, but separately— Vlad to carry over some packages, and I to get the groceries.
I head out first.
As I walk down the gentle slope of 3rd Avenue, I notice something odd: police barricades. And not just barricades, but police—every few yards, there’s a police officer, or an empty squad car.
There are more as I turn up 96th Street and begin to go up the hill.
I pass a man smoking a cigar on his front stoop, eyes bright in his weathered dark skin. “What’s this all about?”
“President Obama is in town. It’s the exit to the FDR,” he says.
“Way up here?” I ask?
“He was over on the Upper West Side…” We exchange a glance. “Doing what?” I ask. He shrugs. “Upper-West-Sidey things, I guess,” I say. He smiles.
I continue up 96th Street.
I’m alert enough to notice the barricades, but too obtuse to realize that the density of police is increasing.
By the time I’ve reached my destination—the Gourmet Garage at 96th and Park—there are cops along all the streets, and flashing lights everywhere, with barricades lining the intersection and extending as far as the eye can see.
I stop at the southeastern corner of 96th and Park, confused. How am I going to get to the grocery store across the street?
This is ridiculous, I decide. I pick up one of the barricades, move it aside, and slip through. I’m just going to cut across 96th Street…
… a slim female cop appears in front of me. She’s about 5’ 3” and maybe 120 pounds, with all her gear.
“Sorry, ma’am, you can’t go through here,” she says.
“I’m going to the grocery store,“ I explain.
“No, ma’am, you aren’t going through here,” she says again, somewhat more forcefully. She steps in front of me, blocking my path.
“But the store closes at 9,” I say somewhat frantically. “I have to go through.”
Her eyes narrow. Large brown eyes, with eyeliner.
I look at her more closely, weighing the prospect of a confrontation. I’m tired and hungry. It’s been a long week. She’s standing between me and the grocery store. But she’s not very big…
Then I look up.
Dozens of eyes are fixed on me, dozens of uniformed bodies in a state of nervous tension.
Suddenly my perspective shifts. It’s late on a Friday evening. Nobody wants trouble. The one thing all of us want is the peaceful start of a peaceful weekend.
I step back, and the officer closes the barricade. Unsure what do to, I start walking down Park Avenue, only to discover that 95th Street is also blocked off. I’m trapped.
There is a small crowd of civilians gathered on the corner, along with the police officers.
I put down my backpack and call Vlad. “I think we’ll need to order takeout tonight,” I say. “All the streets are closed. The President is in town. I can’t get to the grocery store.”
We discuss what to do. Vlad thinks it’s time to make contingency plans. I’m not so sure. Something in the weird state of tension tells me this will all be over soon.
Just then, I notice my backpack, which is leaning against one of the police barricades. At the same moment, one of the police officers sees it, and glances up at me.
He’s young, with close-cropped hair, and the same air of nervous tension that the female officer had.
He eyes the backpack warily. I can tell instantly what he’s thinking.
“It’s not black, “ I say. “See, it’s got little pink skulls on it.”
“Just keep it with you,” he says.
I pick it up and put it on my back.
Suddenly there’s action: Police motorcycles start down the hill on Park Avenue, with a satisfying roar and flashing lights. Half a dozen go by. A dozen.
“Are they ours?” I ask the cop.
It’s an odd question, and I realize what I’m asking is whether they’re NYPD: “Ours” meaning “New York”.
For a second he doesn’t answer, and I’m wondering why I even thought the question would make sense to him. Then he looks over at me and says, “Yes.”
After the motorcycles, a handful of black SUVs, and one white van. Then more motorcycles.
Then, with a suddenness that takes me by surprise, the cops are removing the barricades, and crowds of pedestrians begin crossing the street.
I look down at my watch: 8:43 PM. Plenty of time to get to the grocery store.
A few minutes later, shopping expedition complete, I’m coming back up the hill, shopping bag in hand.
I spot the young female cop who stopped me from crossing the street. I catch her eye, hold up my grocery bag, and smile. Her mouth remains unsmiling.
But her eyes crinkle.