In light of recent postings about my anniversary trip to New York City several weeks ago—and because my mind is on vacation and I am in process of finding out where—I thought back to my initial introduction to the city in the late 60’s.
I had just quit high school and was under the “teenage” impression that my life was going nowhere. Since I seemingly lacked the capacity to plan ahead like most high schoolers— I thought that the only way out of my dilemma was to introduce a change of scenery into my otherwise dull lower middle class life.
So, during that tumultuous time, I quit high school and hitch-hiked to New York in order to find that which I thought was missing from my small-town life.
And in some sense, what I found in the late sixties is not that much different from what Sandi and I experienced this past September. Yes, things have changed in New York—the subways are no longer covered with graffiti, the bums are not wrapped around the fire hydrants at night in the Bowery and the cardboard box city that lined 5th avenue in Central Park is no longer there. Times Square is also mostly devoted to upscale theater and shopping and entertainment rather than the sleazy triple x shops of the late 60’s and early seventies. Take it from me— I saw all I ever wanted of that other New York and am very pleased with how far it has evolved.
But underneath all of that, the city is still the same place that it always has been—a place where people travel far distances by rail everyday to do a job that will put groceries on the table. Day in and day out, stores and deli’s open their doors to the mass of people who work in the city in order to service the needs that this group of several million people create.
I would postulate that many of the sidewalks that I traveled in the late sixties and subsequent trips after that still remain—gum stained and smooth after the footfalls of each succeeding generation. That Sandi and I have walked many of the streets I traveled as a youth is no less a siren call today than it was two or three decades ago.
There are as many different levels of openness to the city are there are to one another. It is hard to explain, but the sheer act of walking up Broadway Avenue is not that far from what I experience through the function of tilling my garden in preparation of spring planting. Granted, it is not the same by far—but the experience in and of itself is stimulating and sensory to a high level of memory and response.
During my first trip to New York I lived in a 10th floor walk-up, cold-water flat on 11th street between avenues B and C. I mingled with the Puerto Ricans that sat on the summer-time steps in from of their buildings. For all practical purposes I was a New Yorker and therefore was not a threat to them and they were not a danger to me. I remember walking the streets of Harlem at night and being one of the only white boys in the historic Apollo Theater during a performance by B B King or somebody of that same stature.
One of the reasons Sandi is able to have a good time in the city is knowing that I can find my way around and hardly ever get lost. She tells me what she wants to do and I find out where it is and figure out how to best get us there. We are like two peas in a pod as we navigate through the mass of humanity that find themselves on the avenues and streets each and every day. Sometimes it is overwhelming and other times it is simply stimulating—but we plow through and in the midst of the storm find a calm that only a long married couple can claim.
Yet somehow, In saying all of this and remembering all of that, I have to admit that this past trip to the city was not one of my best in terms of relaxation and total enjoyment. Yes, I had a great time, but it was one of those trips where the memory of it is just a little better than the actual experience, if you get my drift. For some unknown reason, I was never fully able to settle into the “here’s me and my wife in the big city” persona. I fully enjoyed my time with my wife but returned feeling that there could have been so much more but have not really figured out what it could be. It is like a part of me never arrived—or got there and never left the hotel room—or left the hotel room but spent the day looking inside and not at everything around him.
And maybe in that revelation you can relate—I certainly don’t want to live forever in that place but do occasionally find that I am not allowing myself to fully feel the moment—as if I have somewhere else to be but haven’t taken the time to find out where that might exist.
It is a melancholy moment for sure—knowing that even in the midst of the most vibrant city on earth and with the one that I love the most—there are still times when I don’t fully connect with what is around me. I can only hope that I will be able to begin to enjoy each day’s ride just a little bit more and that the weeks ahead will fall gracefully in front of two feet that can rejoice in them to their fullest.
That is the ride that I want and also wish for you as well.