Allium and I returned from (nearly) a week in New York City this afternoon, relieved to have seen the last of 2007. The ride home, on Amtrak, was everything air travel should be, but will never be again: a civilized waiting area, helpful stewards, wide and comfortable seats, spacious lavatories and surfaces that were clean, clean, clean. We were delivered practically to our door; we were almost sorry when the trip was over.
We celebrated holidays first at home, then holidays in the city, trekking with Allium’s parents. His mother lives in an orderly world, and was surprised that begging was illegal on the subway (“but they do it anyway?” she asked).
Yesterday morning she could have watched, in the space of scarcely five minutes, the following: a blue Toyota, driven backwards down nearly the entire length of the street; two of NYPD’s finest exiting McDonald’s after a 15 minute break and climbing into a squad car they’d left parked in the middle of a cross street; a man urinating into a wall, discreetly; and I, illegally tossing household trash (for the second time that morning) into a can clearly marked ‘no household refuse-litter only’. The evening before, she had missed the young man sitting on our landing who leapt up as we approached our apartment door and apologized politely for the smell – ganja, we presumed.
The amazing thing about New York City is that it works so well. No one seems to have much respect for the kind of order well-known (and dear) to Allium’s mother, yet the world goes on, and, by and large, people are surprisingly kind to each other, and remarkably helpful on a one-to-one basis. A guy who looks as if he might as well stick a shiv in you as say good morning will gladly help a tired mom haul a stroller up the subway steps, and just about anyone will offer directional assistance if asked.
Even I am affected by all this mellow in the midst of the mad rushing that is integral to existence in the city. For example, I am not overly enamored of intra-car subway entertainment. Being subject to a serenade by a relentless accordionist whilst trapped with hundreds of fellow citizens underground is not my idea of a good time. Nor did I enjoy my involuntary subjugation to the break-dancing exhibition that shook and rolled our cylindrical encasement yesterday; it was a relief when one of the actors crashed unintentionally into a pole, prematurely ending the show and effecting a removal to another vehicle.
Though irritated, I am not seriously bothered by this perpetual insistence on making cramped travel noisier and more inconvenient than necessary. It’s New York; this kind of thing is tolerated, like the beggars, who, though apparently despised by most, are also, for the most part, civilly ignored rather than tormented or persecuted. I’m cool, too. Maybe it’s the residual ganja.
It was a lovely week, full of new discoveries and the pleasures of being with family we enjoy. We walked like mad all over, looking for used book stores and tiny, well-recommended restaurants. Everywhere we went, it seemed, the targets of our quests were gone, boarded up, burned out, or moved, underscoring the organic nature of the city. It hardly mattered to us; there was always something interesting to discover and something good to eat.
We are home now, and glad to be here, delighting in the recollections of the week. Our feet propped up, we are plotting our return. In the meantime, we’ll revel in space all our own, and the kind of serenity that 638 people per square mile can buy. It’s ours, it’s fine, but, baby, there’s just no life at all outside our walls. Tomorrow we’ll sleep in, missing the clamor of early morning deliveries and the sound of hundreds of people beginning their day and reminding us that it’s time for us, too, to be up and away.
Traffic from Flickr
Train car interior from Flickr