New York City, Straight Up
New York City is a potent, fully-stocked bar. And, in five weeks here, I’ve enjoyed it straight up via rocking musicals on Broadway, on the rocks with a singer strumming tunes in a dark bar, or sipping the club soda of an indie movie night.
Other giant cities pack a punch too, but are grape juice compared to NYC’s deep red wine rush and sheer intensity. That crush of orderly mayhem turns ripples from New York’s art, finance and fashion morph into waves as they crash around the world.
In one run-on sentence, life here forces me to marvel at bike delivery guys zipping between taxis that are dodging delivery trucks unloading pallets of food into basements of billion dollar buildings as pedestrians zip by texting and eating lunch at the same time. I’d rather take a gut punch from Mike Tyson than pay rent for a studio apartment in midtown, yet people do it. Forget the yellow bus to get to school; throngs of youngsters navigating subway turnstiles with their moms are the norm.
Small niceties disappear as well. Take the driver of an armored truck leaning on a blasting horn for a solid minute at a stopped taxi. Few people appear to think outside themselves—“oh, the taxi is picking up a customer.” Eye contact is a foregone conclusion; agendas and destinations trump all. Summing it up perfectly: a guy in a suit shoulder-checked while crossing a busy street. In a high-pitched voice, he cried out for all to hear (but none to care), “Can’t you even say SORRY? I’m so SICK of it. Where are the manners, people?”
Logistics for simple things are daunting in NYC. I balk at exorbitant prices in restaurants (but wow the food is good) and sigh at the snaking lines in grocery stores (Whole Foods has an automated voice and TV screen directing traffic to 35 registers.) I’ve learned to be careful buying stuff from bodegas because the expiration date may be the previous decade (record so far: raisins from 2006. Mmm, dried gravel). And shouldering through Saturday night traffic in subways after a long day in the city tries my patience. It makes me dream of a quick bike ride home or a run in Central Park, which (surprisingly) has quiet winding paths away from the crowds.
Other than devouring the city’s offerings, my goals for New York were deliberately few. A writing class. Running in various parks and attending butt-kicking spin classes. And plenty of space for reading, writing and reflection on the past year. (Meanwhile, go-getter Chelsea is rocking frequent yoga and volunteering at Wild Bird Fund, a wild bird rehab center). After traveling for a year straight, decompressing in our own place feels great (thanks Erin!). The luxury of a couch and *gasp* sleeping in the same bed (and zip code) nightly. The small things make nomads happy.
Not that we’re sitting around. After all, the best – and most intimidating – thing about New York are the endless activities. Broadway shows are a new-found pleasure – the stunning, intricate sets coupled with star performers is so entertaining (we’ve seen seven musicals and are pro at scoring cheap tickets at this point). Fantastic plant-based restaurants abound (most memorable: Beyond Sushi, a delicious vegan take on sushi). Events like the NYC marathon, free art exhibits, concerts, indie movies and dance performances fill the hours and getting to sleep before midnight is a rarity. It’s a menagerie of entertainment into which we dived. So. Much. Fun. We logged the first ten days at Mach 3 explore mode and then realized our feet, minds and pocketbooks could crack into 12 million frayed pieces if we didn’t slow down. Quiet mornings followed by time for exploring provide a good middle ground.
When we are out in the flow of the city, I watch people with fascination. They jaywalk, whistle for cabs and non-stop hustle. They’re pushing hard, often with tense faces and quick strides. I get it – in a place where a hot dog stand permit to sell $2 franks costs $289,000, I feel a jagged, angry edge in my personality at times too.
Still, we see glimmers of humanity shine. A homeless woman brought in an injured bird to Wild Bird Fund and donated $10 in crumpled, panhandled dollar bills to help out. A different homeless woman with white hair shivered in her thin blanket on a freezing day. We bought her a hat, which she refused. Startled by that, we watched two other people offer her money; she denied them too. On a Park Avenue street corner in the blasting wind, we four strangers bonded over the plight of another, put aside our schedules and discussed how we could help someone in need. I suspect this happens all the time on a variety of levels, from individuals to nonprofits to huge contributions from businesses.
Beneath it all, people make New York City a magic place. It’s not the rules, population stats, expensive permits or the billions in revenue on Wall Street. The individuals make the city sing (there’s a reason “Humans of New York” is so popular – it puts a face to the madness). Their unique labor cranks out world-class art, business, and food mixed into an ocean of chaotic energy that is as overwhelming as it is fantastic.
And now, even as I’m dreaming of a shifting balance in the form of quiet waves on a warm beach or the crunch of a mountain bike trail under my tires (with no sirens to be heard), this stay indelibly etched the pulse and beat of NYC into my chest. I feel most content in nature, but have loved basking in the brilliance of the city’s offerings. Whether sipping a walk through Central Park or a downing a shot of an energizing theater performance, fond memories abound. I can’t wait to come back.