Often our perceptions of a place don’t conform to the real experiences when we get there. Those expecting sub-freezing temperatures and furry hats at Moscow’s Red Square will be surprised to sweat through their fleece jackets in hot, hot Julys and Augusts. Or of the hordes that block the views of Venetian canals. Or of the glittering sprawl of modern towers and hotels that have replaced many of Beijing’s ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ hutong alleys across the Chinese capital.
Some experiences stick closer to your image beforehand. Like New York City.
Like many Americans, and people around the world, my first exposure to a city with toy-sized grocery stores called bodegas or delis, or brownstone stoops where people talked, and not only a downtown but an ‘uptown,’ was on Sesame Street.
Going to New York - finally, at age 22 - I found much of what I had seen in Ernie and Grover’s lair. There were no green furry monsters in the dented trash cans (which are mostly ALL now plastic ones, alas), but much remained the same. Much of the Sesame Street set - which is recorded at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens - was based on a mix of neighborhoods, including the blocks from West Side Story where Lincoln Center now stands, the Upper West Side, the Lower East Side and the Bronx. And it continues to be updated - with condos peeking in from wall murals, or aluminum door frames replacing wood ones at Hooper’s Store.
Executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente told me she sees things around New York that remind her of the set all the time. Meanwhile, here are a few sites to see around New York if you’re on the Sesame Street trail.
* 123 Avenue B. The show was nearly called this, after an address that doesn’t exist. It would be located on the east edge of Tompkins Square Park, near the former home of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, at 151 Ave B.
* Lincoln Center. At 64rd St & Broadway. The residential streets where West Side Story were shot - and inspired Sesame set makers a decade later - were destroyed 50 years ago.
* 72nd St Subway Station. At Broadway and 72nd St in the Upper West Side. Supposedly inspired the subway entrance on the Sesame set.
* Bodegas. You can find shops like Mr Hooper’s Store across New York City - the ‘real one’ doesn’t exist, but poke around Spanish Harlem or the Lower East Side. (The hunt for the best was the subject of a recent L Magazine contest.)
* Madison Park. Not Garden, but park. At 23rd Street & Broadway. It’s from here that Murray and his little lamb introduce their day trips to area schools.
* Belvedere Castle. The Count von Count’s supposed home is this castle in Central Park.
Originally published as “76-Second Travel Show: ‘Goes to Sesame Street” (c) 2009 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved.