National Geographic : 1993 May
"I've never cut myself," Weiner-who is 21 years old and grew up two blocks from Central Park-tells me when he takes a break. "It's so easy; I never practice it. My face and body make it look hard and draw you in." "Which of these things is most dangerous?" he asks as he resumes juggling. "The knife!" children in the crowd sur rounding him shout. "Wrong!" Weiner shouts back. "It's the apple." He then delivers a brief lesson on the dangers of pesticides. As I round Turtle Pond and begin to cross the Great Lawn, I come upon what looks like a thousand people standing in line. They are waiting for free Shakespeare - which has been performed in Central Park since 1957. The Delacorte Theater offers a flavor found nowhere else. That evening, as Othello says "If thou dost love me, Show me thy thought," he is answered by quacking ducks. Such Shakespeare is free mostly to those who stood in line much of the day. This line offers a case study in entrepreneurship. A woman in a business suit pulls a new suitcase, as though arriving from the airport. She opens the suitcase, which is full of soft drinks, and sells them to people for a dollar a can. Thirty feet behind her, three homeless men politely ask for the empty cans. They will collect a nickel deposit for each. Most efforts to make money from the park involve higher stakes. The next morning I sit on an overstuffed sofa as a man wearing a white jacket serves coffee from a silver pot. Then I tour a 5.6-million-dollar penthouse, one of Manhattan's most expensive new con dominiums. It is in an old residential hotel, re cently renovated, and looks down on the park. Developer Jack Heller is a 34-year-old Long Island native with a ponytail and beard. Funding for this project comes from Invest corp, a Bahrain-based consortium that invests Persian Gulf oil money and purchased Saks Fifth Avenue for 1.5 billion dollars in 1990. Despite hard times, such high-end condo minium prices are rising. "The world always has the very rich who want their needs met," Heller explains. Heller's full-page newspaper advertise ments feature a panoramic view of the Great Lawn and the Reservoir from one of the ter races. "The park adds 20 to 30 percent to the selling price; a park 'peek' adds somewhat less," he says. "Views from this building are particularly good because they center on the Reservoir. People like looking at water even better than trees, so the Reservoir adds the most in park value." COILED FOR THE SWING, A BATTER EYES THE BALL DURING A PICKUP GAME ON ONE OF THE PARK'S 26 BALL FIELDS. WHEN CROWDS THIN AFTER DARK, MEMBERS OF THE CENTURY ROAD CLUB ZIP ALONG DURING GRUELING TRAINING SESSIONS. SOLO OR IN TANDEM, CYCLISTS ROUTINELY IGNORE THE 15-MILE-AN -HOUR SPEED LIMIT.