Ten years ago I moved to Murray Hill. My block is pretty and tree lined—but hardly quiet. That’s because it is essentially the exit ramp of the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Traffic heading west from the tunnel spills right past my building on East 37th Street.
I saw my apartment—a spacious one-bedroom in a charming prewar walkup—on a Sunday, when there’s comparatively little traffic and parking is allowed on one side of the street. So I didn’t notice the strange weekday parking situation.
I never see cars parked there, ever. Across the street, the situation is complicated. Cars can park on Sundays, but on other days it’s more of a loading zone, with metered commercial parking.
Delivery trucks park in certain spots. It is always loud when they unload boxes, with lots of thunks and clunks, and sometimes workers talking. Nowadays, so many hand trucks are rattling along the sidewalk because everybody orders online.
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Cars are not the only vehicles passing by. There are trucks—really huge trucks, like semis, those tractor-trailers that pass you on the interstate. The trucks stream by early in the morning, like 5 or 6 a.m. They bump over the manhole covers, so I constantly hear “boom, boom, boom.” Or maybe I hear the load shifting when they hit a bump. Or maybe that’s the gears as they downshift on the slight incline to stop at the light. Whatever the cause, it is always sudden and loud.
And it seems like there are an inordinate number of manholes. Looking out my window, I can see six manholes that say Con Ed and they seem to be in constant use, because work crews are often there. Sometimes steam rises from them, making the street look eerie.
Crossing the street is tricky; the traffic rarely lets up. I always wait for the light in the crosswalk. I would not recommend crossing in the middle.
It’s not just highway-style noise that I have to tolerate. I get a lot of soot. I have three front-facing windows, each with a radiator cover that is almost like a shelf. These become coated with black soot. After I clean them, it takes about two weeks for them to become filthy again. With the windows open, I sometimes smell exhaust.
The noise is annoying, but I love my view. I overlook pretty rowhouses, right at treetop level. There are always people to see—pedestrians, joggers, dog-walkers— and it’s fun to watch the passing parade. I know certain neighbors by sight, and I can tell the weather by what people are wearing. The view compensates for the noise.
When I was apartment-hunting, I was focused on getting a deal in a centrally located neighborhood. I was so taken with the inside of the apartment that I didn’t even think about what was outside. The rent was comparatively low. Now I know why.
If I ever move, I will check the map for traffic patterns, read the street signs, and visit the block at different times of day and week. I was worried the apartment would be snapped up by someone else. I didn’t kick the tires.
Currently, with the pandemic, there is so much desperation showing. There are now several panhandlers with cardboard signs asking for money or food. They solicit the vehicles stopped at the light. They are attracted to this block because of the constant traffic.
I have a soft spot for one in particular, who I see often. Sometimes he wears a mask and sometimes he doesn’t. He’s always out there, rain or shine, seeking handouts from stopped cars. Many drivers roll down the window and pass him a few bills. Sometimes pedestrians engage him in conversation. I am always relieved to see him out my window. It means he is still alive.
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