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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
I’ve learned a lot about Myself and The City on this amazing New York journey. I ask questions like “What do I want?” “What’s important to me?“, and “Why does the F train have a suspended weekend schedule?” I don’t have the answers, just throwing it all out there.
I’ve been both a tourist and a real New Yorker these last several months. Exploring every nook and crannie, I head out in the mornings sometimes without a clue as to where I will end up. But it is almost always alone. I like being alone, most of the time. Last week, with a visitor I will call Someone Special* (*name has been changed) from Minneapolis, I had the best pistachio gelato in little Italy. The day was perfect. I realized that, with Someone Special to enjoy it with, the gelato was so much tastier than ever; eating take-out in a park in Chinatown listening to street musicians was way more fun. While people are always around, I’m mostly alone. But I enjoyed that day so much (and the entire jam-packed, fun-filled week). I’ve been alone so much, I forgot how special even little things feel when you’re with someone you like.
Rarely are you ever ‘alone’ in New York. Walking in this city amid the throngs of other walkers, (most, irritating me with their slow pace) surrounded by timeless architecture and ceaseless noise, I say – to myself, since I am alone – “god, I love this city!” Each morning the sidewalks are bustling: dads walking kids to school, nannies with strollers, children on scooters, old men who shout, “Happy Holidays!” and the various people on their daily walk to work. I think, “Why do so many people want to live in this densely packed, expensive, sweltering hot and dirty city?” Trying to escape each other, we seek anonymity in our daily routine, earbuds secured, staring at our phones. Yet we all still long to be enclosed by our community, by one another, by strangers. We want to belong somewhere, and ultimately, to someone. I still like being alone, but I’m thinking about being enclosed sometimes, too.
Now about that F train…