The other day I discovered a fascinating little gem in East Harlem near the Harlem River (north-ish of the East River). It’s actually a pretty crummy little place in a pretty crummy area, but there’s this mural. It’s a crazy public art piece by Keith Haring, who was a famous 1980s New York City artist. And it is from this mural that the playground gets its name. That name? Crack is Wack. Oh yes. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Crack is Wack Playground.
The playground’s a small little thing located between East 127th, East 128th, 2nd Avenue, and Harlem River Drive (the northern continuation of FDR Drive). There are basketball courts et cetera, but it didn’t seem very well maintained. And there’s honestly not much nearby but a bus depot, car dealership, and the rest of Harlem River Park. And Harlem River Park? I ventured over there, then turned tail and walked out very fast. I imagine by the water it’s quite nice, but I got freaked out by a group of sketchy looking guys who were staring at me ’cause I think I interrupted a drug deal … in the middle of the day. Quite ironic given its proximity to a large mural proclaiming that crack is wack, eh?
Anyhow, back to Crack is Wack. For the record: Crack is wack. Kids, don’t do drugs. “Crack is Wack” (1986, the mural) is located at the north tip of Crack is Wack (the playground) next to Harlem River Drive. The mural is on the two sides of a concrete handball wall on a seemingly little used handball court … because seriously, who plays handball? And who wants to play next to a highway? The mural got restored a few years back but I doubt many people venture out to see it, although the orange and black side gets seen plenty by all those people zipping by on Harlem River Drive (which connects to FDR East River Drive).
As the story goes, Keith Haring painted the mural illegally in response to the crack cocaine epidemic that was basically ravaging New York City during the 1980s. He got a $25 ticket for it and a few months later the New York City Parks Department contacted him and asked him to finish the mural. Kinda cool, eh? Then again, by that point he was already well known so I wouldn’t recommend anyone else going out and trying it. ‘Cause I have an inkling the fine these days is a tad more than $25.
I lived in Harlem for a year (north of Central Park, east of Morningside Park) but never went out to East Harlem except to go to Target or Costco. I was also kinda busy with the time-consuming disaster/masterpiece that was my thesis. However, now that I’m preparing to leave New York, instead of packing I’m trying to knock things off my NYC bucket list – and it’s a long list. The list grew significantly during my time here, since the more entrenched you get, the more things you hear about, and the more you never want to leave. Needless to say, the list isn’t going to get completed, but whatevs. Just another reason to come back, eh? Well … maybe not Harlem. I probably won’t come here again.