In my previous blog I described my waning wanderlust. I neglected to mention, however, that one of the reasons I am less curious about other countries is because New York City is, to me, quite a few countries in itself. Frequent visits there satisfy my need to mingle with a diverse population, enjoy multinational cuisines, and explore rich cultural offerings. The saying about The Big Apple goes, “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” I’d like to add, using another meaning of the word make, if you can make it there, you won’t need to go anywhere else.
There’s nothing quite like being in a city of eight million people, none of whom know me, want to talk to me, or even notice me. This anonymity is one of NYC’s greatest pleasures. Everyone is going about their business—and it doesn’t matter how outlandish that business is or how they dress doing it. Outfits range from Hugo Boss suits to saris to marathon-ready to just-rolled-out-of-bed. The often flimsy footwear surprises me. Wafer-thin sandals held to the foot by slender straps make me wince as I imagine navigating the streets and subways with my feet so unprotected.
Which brings me to one of my most invigorating city experiences (besides going to Strand Bookstore and a gazillion museums): walking, walking, walking. Turn a corner and there it is! The exquisite Art Deco spire of the Chrysler Building. The spectacular figures on the Rockefeller Center building. The majesty of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As often as I’ve seen them in photographs and movies, the thrill of encountering them in person never fades.
I once trekked from the Upper West Side to Battery Park—and back—in one afternoon. I average six hours a day in motion and love every minute of it. Despite the fact that I always get lost in Central Park and the Lower East Side. Despite the fact that crossing a street can be a near-death experience.
New Yorkers admirably defy the laws of physics. I have observed countless close calls: the bicyclists who nearly collide with pedestrians or cars only to magically weave their way to safety, the taxi drivers who speed through intersections, sending people scattering in every direction, the skateboarders or scooter riders who zip in, around, and behind any moving vehicle. The combination of blithe freedom, peppered with colorful expletives, is a sight (and sound) to behold. And the infinite varieties of modes of transportation is a testimony to resourcefulness if I ever saw it. Not to mention the unique ability of the New Yorker to multitask. I once saw a woman pushing a stroller while walking a dog, holding a bottle to the mouth of an infant in the cuddle pack at her chest, and talking on the phone.
While I value my solitude in the city, I’ve enjoyed many a spontaneous, lively conversation with people seated next to me at a restaurant or concert. And if it doesn’t go well or it turns out that I had been talking to them with spinach in my teeth, no worries. It’s likely I’ll never see them again.
It is the overheard conversations, though, I love most of all. Notebook and pen ever at the ready, I jot down priceless phrases and sentences. Some I will use in my novels so I’ll only reveal one gem here.
Said one guy to another, “Let me roll it for you my brotha’, let me roll it for you.”
And that’s what I do when I’m in New York City. Everyone is my brotha’. And the city can roll me anywhere it wants.