At half past noon, on the corner of 168th Street and Broadway, people are scrambling along the avenue in an effort to outpace the rain that is something between a drizzle and a downpour. Almost everywhere one looks, people are wearing scrubs, white coats, or formal business attire. A man sports a polka-dot bowtie and more than one lady is wearing heels, a non-cotton blouse, and a black pencil skirt.
Dangling from belt loops and strung through lanyards are IDs that are either bouncing off of pelvic bones or are hanging limply around necks. Most of the passersby seem to be employed by or somehow connected to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, an affiliate of Columbia University. They are on their way to lunch at places where there isn’t any seating; these places cater to the rushed schedule of medical students and on-duty doctors.
One man, sporting facial stubble, stands out in the crowd because of his tendency to stroll. He seems to personify the lazy, hazy end-of-summer day. Dressed in a bright cerulean blue short-sleeve shirt and shorts as red as a clown’s nose, the man’s garments can only be classified as resort wear.
Carrying a large Starbucks beverage—“just coffee,” he later clarifies—in his left hand and a dog leash in his right, Khalil Garcia, a Washington Heights native, seems to be ambidextrous. He says that he plans to walk his dog up to 181st Street before circling back to his workplace on his day off. He lives above the place where he bartends.
The Starbucks across the street from the hospital is the exception to the avenue’s lunch spots. There are seats and tables tailor-made for studying, not to mention adequate standing room. Tiny as can be, Garcia’s unassuming white dog, with symmetrical black fur bisecting its face, greets the Uptown Starbucks’ patrons. Garcia is standing inside the coffee house. His dog is tied inside the lobby that separates Starbucks from the avenue.
While mixing condiments into his coffee, Garcia shifts his gaze towards the lobby. A woman crouches on her hind legs, as if mimicking the dog. She rubs the dog’s face with the palm of her hand. The dog nuzzles against it, squinting its eyes in delight. Garcia’s eyes are squinted too. His eyebrows furrow and a look of annoyance flashes across his face as his eyes follow the woman outside the Starbucks.
Garcia then unleashes his dog, which seems to be dragging him along in tandem with the hustle of Broadway before abruptly stopping under a tree. At a standstill, Garcia switches the leash over to the hand with the coffee cup, plucks a plastic bag out of his shorts’ pocket, and scoops up his dog’s droppings. For Garcia, a summer day off means running errands, and that includes fulfilling his civic duties.