The Little Mag That Could

A great city piece from The L Magazine

New York’s free biweekly The L Magazine is, perhaps, the most consistently well-written free publication in the city. Yes, it’s mainly an event guide, and it doesn’t do much original reporting—but The L boasts clever features, regular and thoughtful book coverage, a great column on sustainable living, and—every so often—a story that is tell-your-friends good.

As part of its current “Best of New York” issue, Adam Bonislawski walks the length of Broadway and writes about his journey. This could easily have been cloying and terrible (“My feet started to hurt around 96th St…”), but it turns out to be a beautifully realized piece of city reporting. In clean, measured prose, Bonislawski simply writes about what he sees. Here, he comes to the George Washington Bridge:

Here, after an early morning spent wandering the sedate upper reaches of the borough, is the city. Traffic streams down the hill and across the river. A line of cars moving opposite pours out into the streets, flowing in all directions. A pair of dump trucks go grunting by on 179th, climbing uphill past the bus station toward the bridge — the elegant gray latticework hanging in the distance, from this vantage point, seemingly, supported by nothing but sky. Heading onward Broadway climbs out of the valley and up a ridge, the sidestreets now falling away toward the water. A drug store two blocks down has taken as its name the “St. Jesus Pharmacy”. This seems like something of a demotion.

By keeping himself out of his story and focusing on details that most pedestrians might miss, Bonislawski does what the best reporters do: he takes something familiar (in this case, New York City) and makes it seem new again. We’re eager to read more from him.

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Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.