I’m walkin’ here…

I try not to be impatient (ok, who am I kidding..) but geez, It’s crowded here.

With so many people in this city, we have some unwritten ‘rules.’ Train etiquette, for example. No smelly food. No stopping at the top of the stairs to see where you are..get outta the way. And Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, for gosh sake. The same for sidewalk etiquette. Don’t come to a dead stop to check your phone. No texting while walking. Scooters only allowed from 1-3 pm (so that’s not a rule but it should be.) Sidewalks need lane markers – cellphone lane, scooter lane, tourist lane – but until city works steps up, how about some common sense? My old Minneapolis neighborhood, with brewpubs and artist studios, usually felt pretty deserted; an old man with his old dog, a mail carrier, perhaps…a couple cars. We don’t need sidewalk lanes. NYC is very different, no matter what the time of day. In the morning, shopkeepers greet each other, sweep their sidewalks and get ready for the day, the sidewalks are full of business people, there are a few souls just getting home from the night before, taking the walk of shame. Lots of parents walk their kids to school, too, which I like to see, but on these morning walks, I’m always leaping aside for them as they spill over the entire walk. Granted, the sidewalks are narrow in places, but as parents we teach our kids manners. How’re they gonna learn? Like, “stay to the right.” It’s important to learn that stuff when you live in a big city. I mean, why should I walk into a tree because an entire family, including two kids on scooters is taking up the whole sidewalk? What if I walked around with a huge, open umbrella and everyone just had to get the hell out of my way?

No question about it, growing up in New York has to be great: The Met, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, The Bronx Zoo. And unlike kids who live in the suburbs of flyover land and get chauffeured everywhere, New York kids learn how to cope with adversity and make smart decisions. They’re not afraid. They learn important life skills (like how to give detailed subway directions to tourists, or where to get the best street food.) New York kids, in general, are cool. New York parents…well, sometimes overindulgent and hesitant to hand out all-important life lessons so as not to dampen their child’s imagination. Last week I was headed down the stairs in the subway, eager to make my train, behind an over-eager parent using this moment as a learning experience – letting her toddler walk down the stairs during rush hour (which, in New York, is pretty much all the time). With mom holding her hand, this little girl in her cute flowered leggings was trying hard to reach her plump little leg down to the next stair, and, of course, a line of people had formed behind her. I mean, as a parent myself I ask, wouldn’t you notice that!? Sneaking down the left side of the stairs wasn’t an option – a throng of commuters was hurriedly heading up. ‘Good job, Madison!’ (Kids here all have unusual names.) Madison makes it down and her mother gets the side eye from those of us who were detained for the last 10 minutes (ok, 3).

As an aside, I might mention that my now grown daughters were wonderful, well mannered children. People told me that after meeting my girls, they decided to have kids, assured that children are cool and wouldn’t completely ruin their lives. We taught our kids that their behavior impacts other people. We taught empathy: you wouldn’t like it so don’t kick the backs of seats in front of you; hold the door open for others; and, stay to the right so you don’t take up the whole sidewalk. Gotta teach ’em basic rules for living in the city.

I admit that with all the lines and the crowds, this city really does run amazingly well. There will always be toddlers walking down subway stairs, and there will always be people who insist on walking on the left of the sidewalk. To that end, and to help the city run smoothly, I believe someone (that would be me) ought to keep order when I’m able. “Stay to the right!” I instruct those drifting into my lane. My teachable moment. Of course I try hard to smile and not scold, because, y’know, maybe they were never taught.

subway blog

You’ll Never Walk Alone (ok, maybe sometimes..)

The year my dad moved out, my mom gave me one pair of wool pants for Christmas. Of course, being a kid, I was utterly disappointed, but I figured we didn’t have much money. I didn’t want to be ungrateful. We lived in a small, old house on a block with other old houses.  There were only a couple other kids who lived in the neighborhood and since I was too shy to join their games, I played by myself. I had my own bedroom and the bathroom was in the basement, which always seemed very chilly. It had a little square shower. I found it too creepy though, because I saw centipedes there once.  

Being an only child was unusual in the small catholic school I had to attend. I was pretty sure the nuns hated me because I came from a single parent home. Divorce was a sin and my mother the sinner. Thus, I was also.  I admired kids who had two parents. Mary lived on the other side of the tracks, where the professors at the university rented big, beautiful homes. She was one of 7 children and her dad was a successful owner of a foundry. He seemed to be home a lot, reading his paper and actually laughing and conversing with his kids. There were cookies and milk in the kitchen after school and her mom wore one of those crispy aprons with bright red apple designs on it. She was like June Cleever.  I loved going over after school, even though it meant a couple mile walk back home.  My mom wasn’t waiting with cookies when I got home. She left for work at 6 in the morning and got back around 4 and was very tired.  I was alone most of the time. I would pretend I had lots of brothers. We all watched tv and talked and laughed.

Some people avoid being alone, but I’m used to my own company.  I play well with others but I’ve convinced myself that I like being alone just fine, thanks. The art of aloneness is well played here in New York and is normal. Some days, though, I’m convinced everyone in the city is paired up. I saw two rats meandering down the F train rails together yesterday…even the rats here have significant others.  A great irony about living in New York is feeling so distant when there are six million people all around you, like a Hopper painting where lonely, isolated souls seem to search for a sense of connection. Earlier this summer I was walking through Washington Square Park, an urban oasis with street musicians, jugglers, mimes, people spray painted to look like statues.  A saxaphone player and a guy with a small set of drums set up on the edge of a wide sidewalk and started playing. Heads turned. People stopped. Some sat on one of the many benches that line the walk, some talked with each other, with strangers. For a brief time, none of us was alone, we had a community and a connection. After awhile, people wandered off for some other places, new people drawn to the music became a part of the little tribe.

New York has many monikers: Big Apple, The City That Never Sleeps, The City So Nice They Named It Twice. It’s also been called The Lonely City. It can be. But it can also challenge you to look for and accept the many possibilities for connecting with strangers. I’ve been doing this alone thing for a long time.  I’ve discovered this is the perfect city for it.

 

Let Us Merge

I got an email from someone in Minnesota the other day about driving in the Twin Cities. He sent an article on road construction and the art of merging from two lanes to one.  I laughed out loud, remembering the scourge of the Minnesota driver.  “Remember the zipper merge,” the article states.  “Use both lanes until it’s time to merge.”  This means nothing to a Minnesotan. We have our own system – The Minnesota Merge. Use both lanes until its time to merge means MERGE NOW!! Slam on your brakes, wait for a space, and sidle over into the other lane.

car

Starting at birth, the article goes on, Minnesotans are conditioned to be passive aggressive. Indeed, the zipper merge hasn’t caught on because it appears as if Driver A, by merging, is breaking some unwritten societal rule, and Driver B, who should allow the merge, displays his disapproval of this by not letting Driver A into the lane. It’s all completely understandable to people who grew up in this state.

Visitors to Minneapolis quickly find out that people drive kind of crazy. Another of many unstated rules:  “If 30 mph is safe, then 25 is safer!”  You creep down the street behind someone like this, and as you approach the intersection, the signal turns yellow and that horse and buggy that was going 25 suddenly floors it and zips through the light. And there you are. There isn’t the degree of honking that there is here in New York, but I don’t think that would make a difference. Minnesota drivers don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.

I’ve driven a bit in New York. Frankly, I like the aggressive stance most people here take. Maybe I’m a New York driver at heart. Driving in downtown Minneapolis traffic, I was aware of the large gap people leave between cars. “Mind the gap, people!!” I’d scold (in the safety of my own car). “Let’s go here!” The gap here in New York can be, oh, 6 inches. Not particularly safe, I agree, but we have to get someplace and of course, didn’t allow ourselves enough time to do it.  I am a fan of cars, but I do love the fact that here in New York, lots of people don’t even own one, or for that matter, know how to drive. I can’t picture myself never driving again. I still have my little car, parked in Minneapolis, and when I go back I love the solitude of driving. My coffee, a snack, and my music, which keeps me sane and helps me cope with even the dumbest drivers.  By the way, have you ever noticed when you’re going the speed limit it’s a good thing, but when the car in front of you pokes along at the posted speed, he’s an idiot? No, I haven’t either. It’s all good…

Spending the day with 200,000 new friends

“You gotta come!” my son-in-law pleaded, referring to the big women’s march down Fifth Avenue to Trump Tower. Frankly, I was planning to be in solidarity with my sisters from the comfort of my cozy apartment. I was not really interested in standing in the cold. And, even as a child of the ’60s, I am not convinced these protests can effect real change.

But I agreed to make a sign as my contribution to the cause. We sat on the fluffy rug in their living room creating our signs from unfolded cardboard boxes. My son-in-law suggested Bad Comb Over and decided that since I’m an artist, I ought to make it. So I wrote Bad Comb Over in black marker with some straggly blonde hairs draped over the O. My work was done, no need to actually march or anything.

Son-in-law had been busy texting, assembling a small, resolute group to convene on 47th and Third Avenue. I was starting to feel a slight pressure to go. A convergence of extraordinarily different people from all over, marching together in fellowship down Fifth Avenue! Geez… I decided I would need to go. I mean, it’s history. I’d stay home and wonder all day long how it was going and why I wasn’t there. Plus, as a mother, I needed to go to keep my daughter from getting crushed in the stampede, like when those nightclubs get crowded and people go crazy. If I was sitting at home and there was a stampede, I would feel really terrible.

The train was overflowing, people carrying signs and men and women wearing pink hats. We got off at Grand Central and walked east toward the march, amid great crowds, tho we were still several blocks from the planned route. We stood on the corner of 45th and Third waiting for our group to arrive and ate a traditional New York breakfast sandwich- The BEC – from a little diner on our corner. It was chilly. Clearly I wasn’t dressed well. We all expected 50 degrees but it was considerably colder than that, and cloudy. But the atmosphere was warm, jubliant. Friends arrived and we headed uptown (meaning we turned to face uptown, but no one was actually moving.) Anyone who dared venture out in their car was going nowhere. Might as well get out and leave it on the street, there was nowhere to go. Streets were closing all over the place, the crowd was on the sidewalks and curb to curb. A great clatter of laughter and chanting and talking filled the streets. We were a giant colorful carpet of bodies, moving inch by inch, well, mostly standing still, but happily chanting, “Hands Too Small! Can’t Build a Wall!” and raising our signs. So many families, dads carrying kids on their shoulders, old people, babies…amazing. A sea of signs waved back and forth, mostly written on cardboard, some looking pretty professional: “Melania: Blink Twice If You Want Us To Save You,” “Super Callous Fascist Racist Extra Braggadocious,” and a 20-something guy, smiling and carrying one that read, “Men Are Overrated.”

The day got long (5+ hours of very slow walking) but it was exhilarating. I’m happy I had a small role in it and got to spend the whole day with my daughter and son-in-law. I’ve never been a part of anything as large and momentous. To me it’s doubtful to have an impact on the people in charge, but as son-in-law stated, “you have to do something!” So we did. And there were no stampedes.

march

Monday in New York

11:00 AM

I love New York!

Especially the subways. The train stations are so varied, some scary and filthy, others bright and white with beautiful mosaic work. And that distinct New York City station smell; the dormant, putrid concoction, intensified by excessive and oppressive heat. What is it? Piss, vomit, mold, rotting vermin corpses? But each trip on the train promises new people, new adventures, singers, panhandlers; who knows what awaits me today!  Nothing spectacular, just humanity, a connection in a way – superficial, of course, but so satisfying.  The rumble of the incoming train makes a plump rat scurry to safety amid the plastic bottles and wrappers.  I get on the train, a small part of this amazing crush of humanity.  I settle in for my ride…..   We’re still here…why aren’t we moving?

11:10 AM

Geez I hate this city.

The trains can be so challenging. My F train inexplicably turned into a G train.  F’ers get off and wait for the next train. When it arrives, we hurry in, cramming into each nook and cranny of the crowded train. We wait for the doors to close. It’s too long a wait…the doors are still open. I know that’s a bad sign. The conductor soon announces this train is suddenly going Express for reasons not shared with us.  My stop will be skipped.  We empty out, like a clown car, a hundred people piling out of the train. But these New Yorkers are not grumbling. It’s just the way it is. I’m from Minneapolis so I am grumbling (inwardly so no one suspects I’m not from here) and I decide to head outside to do who knows what. I just know I’m frustrated!!  Now it’s raining lightly, I’ve been at this station for 15 minutes. I stand outside in the rain. The day is dark, even though it’s late morning, and I’m annoyed. I’m talking to myself, gesturing and muttering. I will no longer judge those scary looking people in Union Square, mumbling and muttering aloud. They may be F train riders.  I soon realize that I have no options. I go back down (and pay another fare) and wait for another train.

11:29 AM

The F train arrives at last. It’s packed, but all is well..my ride into The City is quick, quiet and uneventful, normal. I arrive on 23rd and Sixth Avenue and it’s now raining steadily and seems even darker. Headlights are on, umbrellas up, heads down, braced against the blustery wind. It violently flips umbrellas inside out. (At least those poor, unfortunate souls with cheap, CVS umbrellas. Don’t ask me how I know this. ) I duck into a store, away from the wind, trying to salvage my umbrella.

1:40 PM

My errands completed, I walk to the train to head back to Brooklyn.  This trip would have taken 45 minutes in Minneapolis, back home in less than an hour, parking in my building’s climate-controlled garage.  Ahh, Minneapolis –  it’s so easy.  They should use that as the state motto.

One block to go, swapping my heavy bag from one shoulder to the other while trying to steady my umbrella, the rain is slowing to a spittle. The wind that once affronted now shoos the low hanging clouds quickly away. Brilliant sunlight emerges, blue sky, the rain refreshed the city. Umbrellas come down. Cabs begin to honk, headlights go off, we are all alive again, bustling here and there. It’s dazzling!  And that smell… that evocative, fresh, earthy rain on the pavement.

What a beautiful day. What a beautiful city!