Click the map above for a visual guide to the circus that is Union Square.There is nothing like New York City. Nothing at all. The mere cavalcade of people, cars, and things rushing by you at any second on any corner of any block provides enough visual/mental stimulation to last the average person a few lifetimes. One of the things I love most dearly about this behemoth of a city is the people watching it provides. As a fashion-o-phile I quite enjoy the endless stream of stylish trendsetters on display. But, as a sociology geek I much prefer sighting the strange, wonderful, and often slightly disturbing not-so-normal people among us. You know what I'm talking about, right? The guy who walks by every lunch time with a cat on his head? The woman who has one giant dreadlock (shudder, shudder, gag, gag) and pushes a shopping cart through the Herald Square area every morning? The couple who dresses in head-to-toe white for daily afternoon strolls around the West Village? They are the extra spice of life in this already feisty concoction of a city. They are the wacko (I say that with complete and utter affection) regulars who you are at first scared of, but then find somewhat comforting and endearing in their predictable strangeness. To a guy known as Normal Bob Smith, they are the subjects of his taxonomy of Union Square. They are his Amazing Strangers.
That's Wendel the Garbage Man. He collects bags, paper, and well, garbage and makes outfits out of it. He also wants you to pay to take his photo and will get mad if you don't.
This is the sassiest diva of a Park folk I have ever witnessed. He is all stomp and sashay. Do not get between him and his coffee as I once did. There are no words.
The endless subcultures on display include ravers, club kids, goths, pimps, and "gravers" (goth ravers).
Just watching the tourists take it all in is entertainment enough!
? Just watch.
Normal Bob Smith has quirks of his own, he can be a bit scathing in his captions on his site, but I forgive him because his goal is to make the fascinating Union Square regulars into known characters. He's come up with a fair amount of categories in his catalog of the folks. He's got the scenesters, the junkies, the fundies, the peepers (beware ladies sitting on the steps!!!! These creeps are checking out your undies!!!), the conspiracy nuts, the free huggers, the skaters, and even a dog molester who he's caught in the act. He's documented this carnival of characters in photos and videos. I was astounded to find this site and see just how many regulars I recognized from my time spent in Union Square Park. He's got the rrrrrrripped guy who looks like a plastic heman doll, the guy who makes hats out of toilet paper and plastic bags, the Quater Guy who aggressively panhandles only quarters, and on and on. It's amazing.
Holy Moses. When I first saw this guy, dubbed "Junky the Barbarian" by Normal Bob, my jaw had no gravity for like three whole minutes.
Do NOT hug the Free Hugs people! According to Normal Bob they are responsible for the spread of an outbreak of bed bugs!!!! Ew.
Just your average pimped out lowrider cycle. Amazing.
I really want to know what these two do for a living.
What? You don't wear your cat on your head?
There is a level of pure awe that I have for these people, especially the ones who construct and rock elaborate get-ups. I had a bit of a moral dilemma when composing this post, wondering if I was contributing to intolerance, or making fun of people who may be even more "special" than I find them, but in the end, I'm impressed. I'm impressed with the dedication to an aesthetic that they have with their quite possibly limited resources. I'm impressed with their freedom of expression, with thier dance moves, their hairstyles, their performances (except you, you peepers and dog molester!!! For shame!). What would NYC be without its population of Amazing Strangers? Certainly not the place I know and love.
These girls have moves! All I really have to say is:
All photos and videos from Amazing Strangers by Normal Bob Smith.