By James Maher
Name: Elizabeth Cunningham
Location: 1st Avenue between St. Mark's and 9th Street
Time: 6 pm on Sunday, July 21
I’ve lived in New York for about 15 years and I’ve been in the East Village for a little over 2 and a half years. The art, diversity, culture, music and food brought me to New York. I grew up as an Army brat so we moved around a lot. I lived in Europe a little bit when I was a kid but I spent most of my formative years in the south, in Augusta, Georgia, home of James Brown and The Masters. James Brown was the better part. It was a pretty closed-minded place and didn’t have any of the things that New York had to offer.
I’m a paramedic. I’ve been doing that for about 17 years now. I work for the City, for 911. I primarily cover the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights. I work 60 to 70 hours a week, full time at Lenox Hill Hospital and then on the weekends I usually work a couple of shifts at New York Presbyterian/Cornell and we cover Midtown — east and west.
I respond to 911 calls and I work in advanced life support. We do everything from cardiac arrest, to heart emergencies, to people who can’t breath. We get the more critical calls. We get a lot of crazy people too ... people barricaded, a lot of violent crimes, although it’s not as much as it used to be. That’s further uptown. The subway accidents are pretty common. They’re more common than people think — it’s not always publicized how many people get run over by trains.
And then at Presbyterian they have a special ops division — it’s a hazardous materials emergency response team. I’m the only woman on the team of 50. If there’s some sort of radiological disaster or if there’s something like September 11 or a dirty bomb or anything with hazardous materials, we’re prepared for that. If something like that happens again we can team up with the FDNY. The training is a lot of fun. It’s definitely a high-adrenaline, Type-A personality type of thing.
I came to the East Village because I just felt more comfortable down here. I lived in a rent-controlled sublet on the Upper East Side for years and I hated it — it was so dry and so bland. It was horrible.
But it was a thousands bucks a month for rent, so it was really hard to give up. I’d ride my bike down here and I hung out down primarily and every time I’d ride back uptown I could see the architecture and the demographic changing and I’d just feel my spirit sinking. I didn’t want to go back up there.
So I finally got kicked out of the sublet. They wanted to tear the building down and then I figured, this was it — now or never. The first time in my new apartment I felt like this weight was off my shoulders. I slept like a baby. You don’t have to leave this neighborhood. Even if you’re broke you can walk to the Park and get free music. It’s perfect. I love it.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.