Flew back from NYC yesterday, but my arms are still tired. Anyway…
Thursday was my last full day in the city. I had been up til past 1 that morning, blogging about my day and the book event. I woke up when the sunlight came through my window a little past 8 a.m.
After getting civilized, I wandered through the sharp, bright morning down to the Essex Market for breakfast. Not all of the shops were open, but several bakeries were, so I got a pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese at Davidovich’s, washing it down with fresh-squeezed orange juice. Afterward, I wandered around the market, recognizing that there were prepared foods for every taste, and fresh ingredients for nearly anything one might want to cook. I think the place that dazzled me the most, though, was a spice market.
I guess because I’m a medievalist, I knew I was standing in front of commodities that could have ransomed emperors. And had I wanted to figure out how to get some back to Mondoville, I could have bought bunches of the stuff. Don’t tell me the world hasn’t gotten better.
My next destination was the lower tip of the island. I got off the train at the Broad St. station, and emerged at the beating heart of capitalism.
I know as an academic, I’m supposed to sneer at places like this and the people who work there. But I don’t, because I’m grateful for investment and the people who were willing to take risks and enter the marketplace. This stuff is part of what allowed my dad to go from the Nashville projects to a mayoralty. It’s part of what funds my college and my students, my wife’s income and our retirement. It’s what allows us to do the things we love, instead of trying to scrabble a subsistence together.
Yes, I saw the Rolexes, the Tiffany displays, the other signs of the things I can’t afford and don’t expect to. But that’s okay, I think. While the people of that world are no better than I am, they do make my life better than it might have been, and they do so in part by creating space for the freedom to choose the life I want and to strive for it. I don’t feel a need to envy or resent them.
But I didn’t spend a huge amount of time on those thoughts. I strolled past the statue of the Fearless Girl, and around a corner, the Charging Bull. The latter had crowds of tourists taking photos — at both ends. But I didn’t stop there, either. I was heading toward Battery Park, and from there to meet someone.
That didn’t mean I was going to go without lunch, though, and I was delighted to see a Nathan’s Hot Dog cart by the entrance to Battery Park. I first had Nathan’s dogs at the Sam’s Club in Real City a few years ago, and now I have them whenever I can. But just as I think hot dogs taste better with a ball game in front of them, I can now attest that they’re awfully darned good while watching from a park bench as the world goes by, even on a cold, windy day.
After I finished lunch, I walked to the old fort that gave the park its name, and a few minutes later, I boarded a ferryboat, because I wanted to meet a lady.
It was about a 10-minute ride to the island. Mrs. M had told me that even if I couldn’t get tickets to the crown or pedestal (and honestly, with my arthritic knees, the crown would have been out of the question anyway), the trip was worthwhile just to see the city skyline. She’s right about a lot of things, and she was again.
A plaque near this location bore three labeled pictures of the view over the years. It was neat to compare the images, but of course, the middle of the three pictures included the twin towers, with the inscription, “World Trade Center, 1973 – September 11, 2001.” There are always Big Noises.
But then I turned, and I remembered that there can always be hope as well.
I made a circuit of the island and the museum, and then I stopped at the gift shop to pick up a couple of books for Mrs. M’s students. Not long after that, I realized that I had lost a glove, but my coat had pockets, so I did okay.
Then it was time to catch the ferry to Ellis Island. My phone was running out of power, so I don’t have any pictures from there. My personal story doesn’t go through that island — my ancestors generally arrived further south and in the 18th C, with a small percentage crossing a land bridge much earlier. Still, you’d pretty much have to be utterly devoid of imagination not to appreciate the experience so many of my countrymen had over the decades in between.
By then, it was late in the afternoon, so I caught the ferry back to the Battery, and walked to the J train to return uptown to my hotel. I grabbed a drink at a drugstore down the block, relaxed at the hotel for a while and chatted with Mrs. M while my phone recharged.
Eventually, I was ready for supper, and it just didn’t seem right to me to make a trip to New York without getting pizza. So I went back into the street. It was dark by then, and the bars were coming to life. There also was some sort of event going on at a cosmetics shop called Winky Lux — I saw a slew of young women browsing displays as a DJ spun tunes in the background. (Editor’s Note: Further research indicates that it was this particular location’s grand opening. Actually, I guess it was the night before same, but there you go.)
It didn’t take long before I found a pizza joint, and got a meat lover’s special to take back to the hotel. There was a nice balance of toppings, and the crust was thin and foldable, but not limp. I can see why the locals like the style. So do I, although I’m none too picky about pizzas, so I’m pretty easily impressed.
But I had to get up at 5 yesterday morning to make my way home, so while I wanted to go out and scout some more, I regretfully called it a night.
I did in fact get up at 5, showered and finished packing, and made it to the lobby around 6. I checked out, and was getting ready to sit in the lobby because my shuttle wasn’t supposed to arrive until 6:30. However, the van was already waiting, so I mounted up. The good news is that the driver listened to Miles and Coltrane while we traveled. The bad news is that there wasn’t much leg room. While my legs aren’t very long for someone my height, they’re long enough that when we finished picking up the other passengers, getting stuck in traffic, and reaching the terminal a little past 8, my knees and hips were decidedly unhappy. I gimped my way through checkout and to the gate.
Because I was flying on a budget, my class was “Economy Basic,” which appears to be a euphemism for “conditions to which PETA would object.” I was assigned the middle of three occupied seats, but some quick discussion with another passenger moved me to the window seat so that I wouldn’t crowd my rowmates as much. Of course, this meant that I got a two-hour ride in the 21st-C. version of the “Little Ease.” I understand why LB likes to take the train.
Eventually, however, we made it to Charlotte, and I descended the very escalator at which I greeted the Spawn a few weeks ago. My suitcase was one of the first to show up on the carousel, so I caught my shuttle back to long-term parking by 1 p.m. with plenty of time to get “breakfast” at my greasy spoon of choice. From there, I drove home as I listened to Translator.
This morning, I woke up feeling a little like I was beaten with a 2 x 4, with many of my significant joints stiff and/or sore, and (believe it or not) a paper cut that I got while trying to get my subway pass out of my wallet. But you know what?
LB and I exchanged e-mails on Thursday, and I told him that my experience reminded me of a scene from one of my stories. In “Office at Night” (from In Sunlight Or in Shadow), the protagonist (an alternate-universe version of my mom) travels to New York to seek her fortune. At one point, she thinks, “This is what the city looks like.” Then she thinks, “No, this is what the city looks like with me in it.”
This time, I saw more of what New York looks like with me in it. I liked the view.