The Invasion of Irving Park by General Darren and his troops

Olumide Ebimo Amungo
A visit to one of New York’s neighborhood parks got me acquainted with the people who keep the park system functioning.

It was a balmy day and as is so often the case, I found myself gravitating to one of the parks in New York. I walked into Irving Park, situated between Knickerbocker and Wilson Avenues and Halsey street in Bushwick. It was around midday and the park was sparse with people. The sun was high up and the few benches under trees where taken by people who were either reading, contemplating or discussing with a partner.

I found a bench with a young girl dressed as millennials are wont to, in a blue jean with its own form of hipster disfigurement, a low-cut blouse and a pair of large square sun glasses that would not look lost on the face of a celebrity like Beyoncé or Madonna. I suspect tough it was probably a Chinese replica. The young lady looked like she was expecting someone; someone who seems to have stood her up because she looked repeatedly at her phone at the entrance of the park. My greeting was ignored as I sat at the far end of the bench. If there was another bench under the shade I would have let her be by herself.

I read my book and raised my head now and then to look at the shifting tide of people flowing gently through the park. Two dog walkers met up and unleashed their dogs to play and in a burst of frantic energy the dogs zipped about the park like greyhounds after a rabbit as their owners, a man and woman, discussed, giggled and looked at their dogs happily racing each other.

It was at that time that the bus arrived. Driving in through the entrance on Knickerbocker Avenue by Weirfield street, it came to a stop a few paces from where I sat, the doors opened and a bevy of women got off. Armed with gardening weaponry, they took their positions and waited. Then he disembarked, a tall huge man with a presence. He looked around the park, pointed in different directions and gave his command and the women fanned out. Following in tandem, the man with the expert efficiency of an army general, pointed in every direction of the park that needed cleaning. The women scoured the park for trash, emptied the bins, and swept off litter from the walkways. In the space of a few minutes, the man and his troop of cleaning warriors had combed the park and stripped the place bare of garbage and litter.

Impressed by the efficient deployment I just witnessed, I walked up to the man commanding this operation. He told me his name is Darren and I told him I would call him General Darren. He worked for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The department of the government of New York City responsible for maintaining the city’s parks system, preserving and maintaining the ecological diversity of the city’s natural areas, and furnishing recreational opportunities for city’s residents and visitors.

General Darren told me that the department maintains more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds and recreation facilities across the five boroughs. It is responsible for over 1,000 playgrounds, 800 playing fields, 550 tennis courts, 35 major recreation centers, 66 pools, 14 miles (23 km) of beaches, and 13 golf courses, as well as seven nature centers, six ice skating rinks, over 2000 greenstreets and four major stadiums. It takes care of major municipal parks including Central Park which receives 35 million visitors annually, Prospect Park, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Forest Park, and Washington Square Park. The largest is Pelham Bay Park, followed by the Staten Island Greenbelt.

I have since found out that parks are an integral part of the lives of New Yorkers, and now I know that it is people like General Darren and his troop who keep them clean for the people to enjoy. One sees this enjoyment and utilization of the parks that are usually full of joggers, cyclist and screaming kids playing on swings, slides and water spouts.

Before he left me to marshal out further instructions to his troops, I told General  Darren what a great job him and his team were doing. The big man looked at me, almost betraying emotions, he said a big thank you.

“It sure feels good to be appreciated” he told me.

Then he dashed off again to throw himself in the thick of the battle to keep the parks of New York clean.