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

Clowns Among Us


The news is making me crazy lately. Apparently it’s affecting other people too, because lately I see a lot of women dressed as clowns. At least I think they’re clowns, I can’t be sure. They seem self assured and they don’t have clown hair, but there’s something about them…it’s a fashion thing.

I remember in the 60’s, our bell bottom pants were so long they’d get caught underneath our platform shoes, causing some nasty headers (not that I would know.) The new clown lady bell bottoms are very, very – extremely – wide, and they’re short. It’s rude to stare, which is why I always wear sunglasses on the train. I saw one of the clowns yesterday. She was standing, as the train was crowded, which gave me a perfect vantage point. Even the most delicate and beautiful ankle appears scrawny and pale in these short, billowy trousers. And insult to injury, they’re always paired with ankle boots or even dress pumps. If these pants could talk they’d scream, “This is just wrong!” Do I sound old and crotchety?

There are so many, um..unusual ways of dressing here in New York. That’s a great thing about this city. Seventh Avenue (Fashion Ave) is right here. I see hundreds of people every day, and I do appreciate self expression through personal attire, tho I mumble snarky stuff (to myself) like, ‘geez, what the hell is that?!’ which old people have been saying forever. I bet Aristotle muttered about kids and the provocative drape of their garments. Every year, new, totally unaffordable and unwearable fashions are paraded out and we (and by we I mean women) toss last year’s Salmon Bisque Pink for this year’s Kelp Green because someone on 7th Avenue said so. And being the age I am, I’ve seen a lot of fashion comings and goings: shoulder pads, leg warmers, fanny packs, Qiana. They all come back again. (Tho I’m skeptical about a return of Qiana.)

No one would mistake me for a fashion icon. I wear stuff I had in high school – and I’m old. I was afraid of the New York fashion scene when I arrived here a couple years ago. I thought the whole city would be totally tricked out, but that’s not the case. You can find everything here, but you don’t have to dress up and most people don’t. As long as it’s black, you’ll fit in. Due to my fortunate love of black and the fact that everything in my closet is black, I’m a real New Yorker.

I’d suggest this mumbling is probably because I don’t dress fun anymore and I really wish I could. I think when you’re over a certain age, you just look kind of nuts when you wear kooky clothes. Trends wax and wane, I will continue to stare and mumble, wearing my skinny black jeans when those in the know advise me to wear clown pants.Clown train B&W

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!

The NY subway: your evening’s entertainment

Early evening on the F train last week, a very cute and happy looking 20-something black man in a Hawaiian shirt was sitting alone taking selfies. Smile. Flash. Smirk smile with head tilt. Flash. Smile with teeth. Flash. He was leaning his head on the window, thus his phone was pointing at the darkened window and each time the flash would bounce off. But he seemed very pleased with his results. He’d look at each one he took, nodding and smiling.  No one was really paying any attention. I’m learning that the city gives you permission to do that kind of weird stuff. People seem to respect your right to do it, generally with no outward judgment.
Last week I was coming home.  Midnight. 2nd Ave subway station. A young woman dressed in black, leaning against the white tiled wall, black hair, very white skin and a black tattoo on her shoulder, was playing an accordion. French songs, from the movie Amelie. It was haunting and evocative, the sound floated in the almost empty station. (I did some googling and found out her name is Melissa Elledge.) I stood and watched her, smiling. I felt so strangely happy. It was ‘a moment!’ I was having a moment. I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to miss the train and stay all night.
The lower east side is one of my favorite places. It feels so authentically New York – the term gritty comes to mind. The East Broadway stop is described variously: garbage strewn, excessive rat population, poor lighting and lacking ventilation. It is the bastard child of the system and seems to be passed over for upgrades and rehabilitation. I met a fun and knowledgeable guy there for a tour of several square blocks of the area. A born and bred lower east sider, he was eager to share it all with me. Describing what used to be where, pointing out the painted-over facades that hid the building’s history; the apartment where he grew up and made many life-long friends; The Lots (a strip of grass and dirt under the Manhattan Bridge where many ballgames were played); nondescript buildings that housed secret clubs where mobsters still congregate.  The capital of Jewish America at the turn of the century, there used to be several synagogues there, but now only a few remain as synagogues, as the population changed from mostly Jewish and Italian, to Latino and Chinese. After stopping at a Chinese grocery, where you can get plump, fresh frogs, we headed to a beautiful, old restored synagogue for a presentation on the History of the Knish. Yes, a hundred or so people actually attended this. (I got two knishes –my first ones ever.)
Two people vomited yesterday on two different platforms. I was waiting for the third sighting, since, y’know, things happen in threes. It no doubt occurred somewhere within this vast network. Fortunately I didn’t have to see it.
Frustrating and fascinating, it is an amazing system, always getting me where I want to go, sometimes too stuffy and crowded, always interesting and entertaining. The subway is the great equalizer. Well-dressed business people, tourists, the rich and not so rich. We’re all standing together in the stinking, stuffy, urine soaked underground, watching the rats.
tired subway riders

Being alone in New York 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…