A few people on the train car chat back-and-forth, but it’s mostly quiet. People alone in their thoughts and their phones and the noisy click-clack of the train wheels. My daughter and I chat about her upcoming internship. My son usually has his phone out playing some game or app, but this time he’s watching everything: the other riders walking up and down the aisle, the train crew collecting tickets, the passing New Jersey wasteland, etc.
The three of us sway with the tossing and turning of the train, but soon we come to a stop. We’re at the end of the line, our destination; the self-proclaimed center of the universe; the Big Apple; Manhattan, New York City
Our car may have been quiet, but the minute we step off the train, we’re in the middle of a mad rush up the stairs. Every time I come to New York, I get the same feeling, the same image of the multitudes rushing out of the train like it’s the last day of school, the anticipation, the rush to be free.
We’re jammed together one on top of the other, but finally we get the top of the stairs and soon make our way out of the station and out onto the street, where we run into even more people. If we were traveling at a leisurely 50 mph in the station, we’re now pushing the speed up to 70 or 80. There’s no dawdling, there’s no stopping to check our GPS. People are coming at us from every direction. You move or you get swallowed.
Blinking lights to beating heartbeats
My son’s head is spinning on a swivel. He’s not sure where to look. One minute he’s looking up at the endless array of advertisements. There’s signs for the newest Broadway show, another sign for Verizon and hundreds of others. They blink a million lights and all say “pick me.”
The next minute my son’s looking down on a homeless man scrunched up in a ball on the side of the sidewalk with a cardboard sign, saying that he’s from Ohio and is hungry. He can’t stop staring at the man. My son has read and studied homelessness in school. He knows that many people struggle for their next meal, but he certainly has never had to face it himself or seen it this close.
I watch him and can easily envision what’s going through his mind. He’s trying to process it all and make sense of the world.
Hate is a strong word
Within minutes of entering the city, I’m reminded of all the reasons I hate New York. The reasons bombard me like the slew of advertisements all around me.
–The city is dirty.
–The traffic is a nightmare. It takes twenty minutes to get anywhere.
–It’s overpriced and overhyped.
–People are mean and rude. (Okay, not everyone, but you get the point. I’m used to store clerks greeting me. The several I saw on our trip couldn’t wait for me to spend my money and leave. )
If it were up to me, I probably would have chosen other ways to use my precious vacation time, but I’ve come along on this trip for my kids. We’re celebrating and the trip is for them. We’re here to see a show.
Lost and confused
We do our best to avoid looking like tourists. We walk as fast as we can. When we stop, we step to the side. My college-aged daughter does a pretty mean impression of fitting in. She walks with the purpose and the stride of a professional woman in charge, whenever someone tries to pass off a flyer to a show or bus trip she gives them a look that says “don’t mess with me and I won’t mess with you.”
On the other hand, my son and I are both failing miserable. We look lost. Half the time we’re pointing to something in the distance. We’re a mess, a small step up from a bunch of country bumpkins. Fortunately, I’m still street smart enough to make sure we don’t do anything too stupid.
Hope for me yet
We’re hot and we’re tired, but we make our way to the edge of Central Park. While I hate New York City, it’s there in the comforts of Central Park, where the city meets nature, that I’m reminded of everything I love about the city.
— An orthodox Jew in a black hat and peyos curls protectively puts out his arms out to make sure a pregnant woman sees a taxi that is making a sharp turn. No words. No shouts. Just a nod of thanks and welcome. The pedestrian light turns white and they’re both off to the next block.
–A businessman dressed in jacket and tie is on the phone in the park trying to make a sale. Just a short distance away, another man, also dressed in a suit, takes off his shoes and is walking in stockings in the grass. He’s trying to entice a squirrel to come to him with a small sliver of a soft pretzel. The squirrel knows better, it’s holding out for a better offering.
–Two little girls hand out paper flowers that they cut out on their own and colored to people who visit their father’s sidewalk kiosk. The girls look like they’re having fun playing with their dad.
–A kid in baggy pants that droop way below his boxers and a black t-shirt that says simply “resist authority” in white letters holds a restaurant door open for an elderly woman who oozes money and wealth and sparkly bracelets.
These snapshots are just that, quick snapshots, but they’re all the reasons why I love New York, the diversity, the interesting people, the fact that it never stops, and even the kindness that exists below the surface. (The people-watching alone is enough to keep me busy for hours.)
I lived briefly in Washington, D.C. and other smaller cities, but I could never live in New York. I’ve come to count on the close proximity of hills and mountains and my freedom to get away from it all.
Despite it all, New York City still holds a special place in my heart. Like the song goes, “If I can make it there, than I can make it anywhere.”
I may never make it in NYC, but my daughter and son just might. If they have any say, they’ll be back for more. They’ve got the bug.