Thanks to Bolt, I’ve got about five hours with slow but working Internet, with nothing much to do other than get caught up on mail and sort out my thoughts.
I didn’t come here with any mission, or any questions in mind, just the thought of being away from work and responsibilities for a little while. And maybe of giving the City a fair, open-ended look now that I’ve acclimatized to living near a major city.
When I was younger I couldn’t imagine life anywhere other than a medium-sized suburb of a medium-sized city like Albany, with safe, quiet streets, and entertainment options within a half-hour drive. I don’t know to what to attribute that smallness of vision–complacency?–but I know it influenced me against applying to MIT and some of the California schools.
I’d been to NYC several times, of course, usually day trips, so my opinion of city life was largely informed by midtown Manhattan. Tourist-ey midtown Manhattan, awash in traffic noise, swarming with people and overlooked by the gigantic Macy’s and JCPenny and the towering office buildings beyond. That is no place for a child who gets vertigo standing in the state legislative chambers in Albany, who wants to flee the picnic table whenever honeybees take interest in his soda.
Subsequent impressions have been more favorable, though the circumstances have been strange: fumbling with maps en route to a Halo 2 preview event on FDR Drive, racing through the night in the company of a panicked classmate, meeting a professor outside her second home in midtown.
The most “normal” trips I’ve made there are probably the visits to my relatives in Brooklyn. These have always been short stays; the Park Slope brownstones may be roomy, but they’re not that roomy.
So it was good to find myself back there again, in an under-explored borough of the city with time to kill. I only wish the August heat could have eased up a little. Boston is spoiled on air-conditioning compared to NYC, and the more extensive New York subway routes are balanced by the extent of the city itself, and it’s a discouraging surprise to have to walk 1-3 miles a day in that.
I was reminded too of how freaking practical smart-phones are. Nikki has one, and I don’t. What she can do on the fly, on unfamiliar routes, requires me to spend a half hour planning at home or the Internet cafe, and can easily become a day-trip. TV commercials may prefer to highlight Twitter and games, but for navigating New York, Google Maps and Hopstop are indispensable. Not to mention mobile IM, so you can compare notes with friends wise in the ways of public transit.
That said, I’m happy with what I managed to accomplish this week, especially when you consider that we spent a couple nights partying (New Yorkers are crazy like that). I got to enjoy some of the local cooking and produce, hung out with Roy at his and Judy’s place, got in some work hours, did karaoke, visited the Stonewall Inn, and went clothes shopping in SoHo.
I saw some amusing things, including the weird graffiti for which Williamsburg is known (pics when I get the chance), and a magician in the subway platform. I took my breakfast at a place that makes vegan egg sandwiches a la Uncanny Valley. And I derived some amusement from the tragic hipness still abundant in New York advertising, particularly for movies and TV shows.
I leave knowing there’s a lot more that I might have made time for, if I wasn’t preoccupied with the sweaty heat or worried about worrying about how much time I should leave as cushioning. But that’s life, innit? So as a result I will think about my schedule back home, maybe think about donating the extra clothes that are keeping me from putting away all my laundry, start budgeting for new shoes and a new phone with a data plan.
And then put on my underarmour and my new sneaks and run all over the place
For every job, a tool. You want to live in the city that never sleeps, you have to know where your towel is. I now know I can holiday there, which is saying something. Beyond that, I dunno. I have unanswered anthropological questions about this city and its population. They seem awfully stressed. Olin’s “choose two” principle might apply here, with last call at 4AM and controlled substances easy enough to find, although some of the yuppies mitigate it by sleeping late and working late. For myself I’d worry about that. And it makes the residents a bit… tetchy sometimes.
But I see the charm that the place has, too. Stuffed in there somewhere between the misfunctioning AC that turned the 1 train into a sauna, the pervasive smoke of hand-rolled tobacco and the skeezy shop owners on Christopher St. It’s a sincere kind of place, in its way, where you can strike up conversations with passersby and not be treated with suspicion. Or content yourself with people-watching: there’s as many shapes and skin tones as people, many of them sporting cool body-art. It’s a place where you can feel alone, or not, as desired, as simply as if you were adjusting your sunglasses.
Just try not to think about the garbage, or about being covered in sweat, and you’ll be fine.