The day starts as all days should: with bread and chocolate. Petite Abeille on West Broadway is known for its Belgian waffles, but I’m more than content getting the baguette de nutella with coffee, sitting outside, and flipping through the many Tin Tin and Astérix & Obélix comic books scattered around the cafe.
Sufficiently buzzing from the caffeine-sugar combo, I’m ready to take on the Hudson. I walk a few blocks north and west along Hubert Street until I’m facing Pier 26 and the Downtown Boathouse, where there’s free kayaking every weekend. The volunteers there give me a boat, a life jacket, a paddle, and about half an hour to tool around on the glittering Hudson.
It’s easy to paddle around, given that there are no rapids on this part of the river, and I kind of like the feeling of being dwarfed by huge buildings in a tiny boat. But it's hot, and I get sweaty fast. Then I see a group from the morning’s guided trip paddling in, fresh off a five-mile jaunt to Governor’s Island, and feel a little ashamed about my meager two laps in, well, an enclosed area. One of the day-trippers tells me if I ever want to do a tour, I should come to the Wednesday night class to improve my stroke. Yeah, right. These obsessives get up at 6 to snag spots, and I like my schedule of sleeping in. I can just imagine what'll happen: First I get hooked on class, then I'm grabbing my swimsuit at dawn and gearing up for Class 5 rivers in Maine or looking for dam releases or worse, driving up to the Upper Hudson in March, with huge water from snowmelt and me in a stinky rented wetsuit. Still, it's free, so I grab a copy of the Boathouse calendar for my sportier friends.
$0, water sports.
Back on dry land, I wander through Hudson River Park, feeling a bit unusual from suddenly using my leg muscles again, and come up on one of the least-expected sights in New York. Just below Canal Street is the Trapeze School New York, where students are flipping and twisting over the skyline, hard at work to become world-class flyers. I watch a girl learning a "knee-hang," and clap as loud as the people who know her when she finally gets it. I always wanted to be in the circus. If only I could strap on a harness and take a leap. But, alas, one class of mid-air gymnastics would deplete almost my entire budget: $47.
Watching all the trapeze hopefuls work so hard makes me hungry, so I head down to the greenmarket. Okay, so Washington Market isn’t nearly as big as the one at Union Square, but it used to be the city’s main food distribution center. Before the neighborhood got its cute acronym and famous residents, it was about the only reason New Yorkers would ever venture below Canal Street. Now the market occupies just one block along Washington Market Park on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but there’s enough organic and macrobiotic food to make snacks out of. I load up on treats and plop down on a bench to eavesdrop on an argument two shoppers are having about rhubarb.
$3, apple, bag of cookies
If there’s any bargain shopping to be had around here, it’s on Chambers Street. And since I’m nearby, I decide to try my luck. The block between Church St. and Broadway is exactly what I’ve been holding out for. There’s the all-purpose Dee & Dee, where I find a $1.99 laundry hamper and an alarm clock for 3 bucks. Next door is Discount City, a convenience store with $0.99 Aquafresh, $1.29 Polish sausage links, and a gloriously unhelpful staff. It’s a shock to go from there to O.M.G., a clothing store where I’m accosted by a new salesperson every few feet. Irritated, I get out pronto and head for Moda Express, a $10 store that stocks peasant skirts and bug-eye sunglasses.
$16.99, Must-have fashion
With $20 I could probably afford an appetizer or a pasta course at some Tribeca restaurant. And if I sit at the bar I can get away with 15 percent instead of 20. I briefly consider seafood at Le Zinc or Malaysian food at Franklin Station Café, but know I’m kidding myself. My stomach is set on Darlene Restaurant, a Mexican place around the corner from The Knitting Factory, where you can get heaps of $1.25 tostadas, $3 avocado salad, and even a $12 T-Bone Steak. I opt for chicken in garlic sauce with red beans and rice, fried green plantains, and salad for a grand total of $12.50, and blow the rest on Coronas ($2.50 each) for my friends.
$20, Mexican feast and beer