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A Field Guide to Central Park

In a game preserve, you’ll find zebras, giraffes, and wildebeests. In Manhattan, it’s birders, freewheeling disco skaters, and fanatical Clue devotees.


Disco Skaters
Who: Lezly Ziering, leader, and Central Park Dance Skaters Association chairman. “They call Bill Butler the father of disco skating. I’ve been referred to as the godfather.” Dance skating has been a feature of the park since the late seventies, but conflict in the nineties led to the formation of the CPDSA in 1995. “Giuliani tried to shut us down then, and because of Bloomberg’s new sound restrictions, I fear a similar thing happening to us again.”
When: Every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday holiday.
Where: “Skaters Road,” just south of the bandshell.
Traditions: “Look at all the people in here. Old, young, male, female, black, white, brown, yellow. If the world was like this microcosm of humanity, there wouldn’t be any wars and death. No one is calling anybody a filthy Jew or a rotten Arab in the skate circle. Some skaters are millionaires, some are just two notches away from being homeless.”
Insider Jargon: A new skater is referred to as “brown skates,” after old-style brown rental shoes. “Jammin’ ” is a dance-skate technique. Skates are either Quads (traditional) or Blades (Rollerblades.)

Who: Richard M. Feldman, leader, and a senior vice-president at Lehman Brothers, who has been riding in the park for 51 years. “About a dozen years ago, we became more of a group. Some of the girls moved away, some of the guys got married, but there’s a definite group here.”
When: Feldman rides the horse he leases, Brutus, every day
at 6:30 for an hour before work. On Saturdays and Sundays, members ride together and then gather at the restaurant E.A.T. on Madison and 80th. “We call it the Breakfast Club.”
Where: At the Claremont livery stables or on any of the three bridle paths that traverse the park.
Traditions: “We never get the horses up to a gallop, just to a canter. The ground is too hard, and it would be unkind to the horses.”
Recruitment: Through the stable. “When I was a youngster, there were four or five stables. We only have one livery stable left in Manhattan.”
Special Clothing: Boots, jodhpurs, and a compulsory velvet “hard hat.”
Insider Jargon: “If he’s docile, we say, ‘He’s a very calm horse.’ If he’s feisty, we say, ‘I hope you know how to ride!’ ”

Who: Overlapping circles of bird-watchers, many inspired by Marie Winn, author of Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park. “A lot of bird people are also butterfly people.”
Group History: Bird-watching has existed in Central Park since it was founded in the 1860s. In the early 1990s, a resurgence was triggered by the well-publicized story of a nest of red-tailed hawks hatched on 74th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Where: The Ramble. “A paradise in the hot season, not only chock-full of birds but chock-full of bird-watchers.” Also the northern reaches of the park, although some people are wary.
Insider Jargon: “Life-listers” are birders who keep a detailed list of all the species they have ever identified.
Traditions: Birders share data through a notebook kept in the Boathouse, called “The Bird Register.” “It sounds snobbish, but birders do truly judge people by the binoculars they wear,” says Winn, laughing. “A great deal of what they talk about is optics. No really serious birder would wear one with zoom lenses. And you get what you pay for.”

Dog Walkers
Who: Susan Buckley and Nancy Derimas, leaders. Plus 30 pet owners who exercise their dogs “off the leash.” Involved to differing degrees in the lobbying organization Central Park Paws. “We are the ones that got dog owners to clean up after their dogs. We are the ones who made it okay for dogs to be off the lead from 9 p.m. until 9 a.m. We tell each other things like who are the good dog walkers, is there Lyme disease . . . ”
When: Between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., the only times that dogs are allowed off the leash in Central Park. “From six to seven, you get the Wall Street guys walking their dogs; from seven to eight, you get a lot of the attorneys who don’t have to be in the office until ten; then from seven to nine, you get a lot of people who are . . . well, they’re just people.”
Where: 76th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Traditions: “The first few months, you watch your dog with the other dogs, and eventually you get to know the other dog’s name. Then after about six months you might get to know the first name of the owner.”
Insider Jargon: “A ‘rat dog’ is a ‘bad dog,’ but I mean, everybody knows that.”

Clue Players
Who: Jay Venute, leader. Twenty-odd players, mainly a core group of five members ranging in age from 20 to 35. Organized four months ago. “I strive to achieve a sense of equality. I mean, I am the organizer and I do have the most games, but I don’t want to be like, ‘I’m Colonel Mustard and you’ll do as I say because I’ve been in the Army for fifteen years.’”
Recruitment: Craigslist postings.
Where: Cleopatra’s Needle behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the surrounding area. “It’s close to my house, easy for people to find, and it kind of sounds like Cluedopatra’s Needle. Is that nerdy? I honestly didn’t realize the coincidence until we’d started to meet there.”
Traditions: Quoting the spinoff movie verbatim. Using a rare European version of Cluedo (as the game is known outside the U.S.) called Passport to Murder. “I bought it on eBay for, like, way too much money.”
Special Clothing: “I suppose this is a mustard jacket.”
Insider Jargon: “It’s Colonel Mustard. Never Mr. Mustard. That’s my biggest pet peeve. Or ‘this guy’ instead of Professor Plum. Ugh.”

Hula Dancers
Who: Luana Haraguchi, leader, and hula teacher since 1968, plus 24 female group members from ages 14 to 72. Currently preparing to go to the World Invitational Hula Festival in Honolulu. “If they come to me, it’s because they’re interested in the more spiritual elements. There are others who teach more Broadway/Hollywood hula, or modern hula.”
Where: 72nd and Fifth Avenue, Monday and Thursday nights. “It’s important to experience the sky over their head, to inhale and smell a fragrance, because that’s what we’re expressing in the hula.”
Traditions: Before dancers enter, they chant a song of supplication. Haraguchi inspects them and chants a blessing of approval. “Chants are poetry; without it, we don’t dance. The purpose of hula is to tell a story.”
Insider Jargon: Halau, meaning longhouse, or school. Kuma hula, meaning hula instructor.
Special Clothing: “They wear tank tops or T-shirts, and they have to wear a green skirt—five yards of cloth gathered at the hip; it’s called a pa‘ou. It’s not that way in every hula school; it’s our hula genealogy.”

See also
Sleeping in Central Park

Previous features
Play in the Woods: Ward Pond Ridge Reservation
Try That Other One: Prospect Park
12 Hours in Central Park


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