I’ve finally left New York. My last glimpse of Gotham City was through the window of the moving van as my son-in-law drove across the George Washington Bridge.
So that’s it. Six months of caring for my baby grandson; six months of living in one of the great cities of the world—all over.
I’m still adjusting, which causes sudden feelings of desolation and attacks of idiocy when I meet someone from the city. First comes the warm flush, then the slight tremble in the extremities. Then I grab the person by the shoulders and babble. “Oh my God. You’re from NEW YORK? Don’t you just love that place?” When the panic-stricken person, who just happens to be from New York, is backing toward the door, I yell to his or her fleeing backside, “WHY do you love New York? What IS it about that place?”
It’s embarrassing, and I just did it again last night.
So, because I’ve been thinking about this and grabbing people by the shoulders I’m giving myself permission to yammer on about what makes New York unique and fabulous one last time, and you’ll just have to put up with it. Then I promise to move on.
When I do that grabbing and shaking thing and ask people what makes their city different, they say things like:
- It’s the pace. Everyone here moves so fast. (Okay, energy, vitality, and forward momentum. The New York Minute. Check.)
- People say what they think. People here are very direct. (So true. No one is shy about tossing their two cents into the fray. I saw that often enough.)
- People are very independent and autonomous here. (This could be mistaken for unfriendliness, but when you get used to it, it’s kind of liberating. None of that obligatory “have a nice day” crap. None of what we call West Michigan nice.)
Movies will never be the same for me. During one of my forays in the Financial District in Manhattan, I stumbled across several barricaded streets. Semis full of equipment blocked the very expensive downtown traffic. “We’re filming a movie,” said the nice girl who was guarding the barricade (beside the burly cop). “Only people who live down this street can go through.” Business as usual in New York.
Since so many books and movies are set there, I’ll be forever trying to identify where the action is happening, even if I have no idea.
Likewise, it was odd listening to a celebrity interview or watching SNL and knowing that the event was happening only a handful of miles away and that I could go down anytime and see it for myself if I wanted to.
Hey, New Yorkers, how does it feel to live in the places you read about in books?
I got lost in time. On one of my last days in the city I happened to be wandering through Little Italy in the Bronxafter a long day at the New York Botanical Garden. The
neighborhood was buzzing with activity. Kids were out of school. Spanish and Italian were duking it out on the street. The smell of fish, cheese, and sausage wafted from the open doors of shops. Bread baked that morning was mounded in bakery windows.
And around the corner—whoosh—came a kid on a bike, and he wore an immaculately clean butcher apron.
Where am I? I thought. What time period is this, anyway?
It could have been the 20s or the 1950s—or the 2020s.
I felt that sense of timelessness—of being adrift in time—often on the streets of New York.
But for the make of cars and the style of clothes, these same things were happening decades ago. The same old men were playing chess on the street corner. The same young men with their shoulder bags were hurrying to the subway. The same small woman was squeezing fresh orange juice from a grocery cart on the street. And these same things will continue to happen decades hence.
It was the feeling of being caught in a great whoosh of historical momentum that would continue on with only superficial change as far as the eye of time could see. The experience was both exhilarating and unnerving.
Kids are different in New York. Even though it doesn’t seem like a conducive environment for kids, there are a lot of them in New York. Every day after school, the schools empty into the playgrounds, and a dizzying array of activities involving balls, hoops, bats, and various kinds of wheels may all share one asphalt parking lot.
I’ve seen kids dart across six lanes of traffic while I waited for the light to change. I’ve watched barely adolescent girls navigate the buses and subways while simultaneously texting and chatting. Kids know how to order things in restaurants that I’ve never heard of, and they know how to use chopsticks and which sauce they like. On weekends, little kids throng the museums with their parents or ride bikes in Central Park or play racquetball or tennis or softball or basketball in the park. I can’t imagine growing up in a place where the best of everything in the world is a subway ride away.
Kids here are savvy and street-smart, but…they’re still kids.
By and large, New Yorkers seem to like kids. Every day, rain or shine, I walked my grandson around the neighborhood. (That’s another thing about living in New York—people are on the street because, well, you gotta get out of the apartment.) I’ve never lived in a place where a baby got so much attention. Maybe it was because the neighborhood was Hispanic and my grandson is the color of porcelain with huge blue eyes, but men, women, children alike smiled, cooed, said hello, or stopped to chat. Once, a teenage girl walking by with her cellphone glued to her ear saw the baby and literally gasped, “God bless those blue eyes!” she said.
By contrast, when I walked the baby during a trip to Washington DC, baby and I were both ignored.
We are all different. We are all the same. The thing I liked most about New York was the sense of egalitarianism. Of any place on earth, this is a global village. Every nuance of language and hue of skin tone is on the street. Every combination of race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and culture—it’s all there in plain sight. You don’t have to feel apologetic or guilty or uncomfortable or even be particularly nice to anyone, because we’re all the same—just schmucks on the street.
I like that.