(more details later, as time permits)

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Because Central Park occupies a massive 843 acres in the (duh!) center of Manhattan, it’s no surprise that there area numerous entrances and exits all around the perimeter of the park. Some of them are quite well known — such as the entrance on the southeast corner, at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street (across the street from the GM Building and the old Plaza Hotel), or the entrance at the western side of the 72nd Street “transverse” that cuts through the park and comes out on Fifth Avenue (well known because the statuesque Dakota apartment building, where John Lennon once lived, is located at Central Park West and 72nd Street).

Based on where they live, and based on their normal work and leisure routines, most New Yorkers tend to favor certain entrances and exits, and may never have used (or even seen) certain other ones. In my case, for example, I’ve always been aware that there’s an entrance at the southwestern corner of the park, right at Columbus Circle. It’s officially known as Merchant’s Gate — and it’s hard to miss, because there’s an enormous monument commemorating the explosion/sinking of the Maine in February 1898, which precipitated the Spanish-American War. But since I don’t live, work, or travel to that particular corner of Manhattan very often, I’ve almost never used that entrance to the park. By “almost never,” I mean only once or twice in the 40+ years that I’ve lived in New York City.

I don’t think that this almost-perfect record of non-use of a park entrance has had any negative effect on my life … but it occurred to me, the other day, that I might have missed some interesting photographic opportunities. And since I was getting a little bored by returning to the same old places to photograph the same old scenes in other parts of the city, over and over again, I decided that the southwestern corner of Central Park was worth taking a look at.

As you might imagine, the massive Maine monument dominates the scene — and I felt obliged to photograph it once or twice, just to acknowledge its existence. But after that … well, it turns out that it’s not really all that photogenic, and nobody was paying much attention to it. Aside from the monument, there was an open mini-plaza where people could walk, chat, sit, and relax — presumably on the way into, or the way out of, the park itself. There were a couple of food stands, offering items that looked slightly more nourishing and tasty than the stuff available from the usual hot-dog stands that one finds throughout the park (and almost every street corner). I wasn’t hungry myself, but I noticed that several people bought a snack, or a sandwich, and then found a convenient spot to sit and relax while they munched and nibbled.

So, in the end, the photographic opportunities turned out to be pretty much the same as always: it was the people who were the most interesting — not the statues or the squirrels or the trees or the flowers. There were tourists, and New Yorkers on their lunch break, and students from a local parochial school, and office workers on their lunch break. There was a Statue of Liberty mime, a few retired people, some bicyclists, joggers, and athletes. There were nannies pushing babies in strollers, and mothers carrying babies in snugglies and backpacks, and dog-walkers with their pets. There were crazy-looking people, and beautiful people, and ugly people.

And there were lots, and lots, and lots of guys hustling unwary tourists, offering them rides and tours through the park in their brightly-colored pedicabs. Perhaps because I was wielding a camera, I was mistaken by several of these guys as a tourist; when I responded to their pitch about a $20 park ride by saying, “I live here,” they gave me a disgusted look and quickly moved away. Meanwhile, several other vendors had tables with photos and trinkets and bawdy signs that they did their best to sell to anyone who walked by. All of this, as best I could tell, was dutifully recorded by a NYC Police Dept. security camera, which sat high above it all … but nobody seemed to even notice it.

I took some 300+ photos to document all of this, and winnowed it down to 50 “keepers” that will hopefully give you a reasonably good impression of what the scene looked like. Having done so, I hopped in a taxi and headed back uptown. For all I know, it may be another 40 years before I enter this corner of the park again…