First it was Lou Reed. Now it’s Bob Dylan on repeat, and not a whole song, but just those New York City lyrics over and over.
I was back in Manhattan earlier this week for a business trip, and I cannot believe I am actually going to type these words – it was the first time in about two years that I was in the city. I’ve been in the Bronx for games and Brooklyn to visit friends and Staten Island to visit my dad at work, but everyone knows “the city” is Manhattan. And I was long gone from it.
Flying into LaGuardia, it’s hard not to be blown away from the view of the skyline. I’ve traveled all over, but New York’s skyline is still the most beautiful to me. You can see it from certain places in New Jersey, and as a kid (and teenager and college student and young adult), I always imagined myself living there. I was going to work at a coffee shop downtown during the day, and work on my novels at night. This gradually morphed into working at a magazine during the day, working at the same coffee shop (now shoppe and filled with eclectic New York characters) at night, and working on my novels in my free time. This vision was so prevalent and all-encompassing that I never really dreamt up an alternate plan, and that’s why you’ll still find me in my temporary career twelve years later. I was at an event with YG at MIT a few weeks ago, chatting with a few other PR people, and they nodded their head in recognition of this vision. One guy noted, “You don’t have to explain it to me. I majored in philosophy.”
I never did live in the city. I visited plenty, and I lived in my grandparents’ apartment in Brooklyn for a few months, but I was a tourist, a bridge and tunneler. I am from that place that dare not speak its name.
Still, I always think of New Jersey and the city as “home.” I moved to Massachusetts four years ago, but I’ve never really referred to it as my home. My brother probably feels the same. Home is home, and that’s just the way it is.
But, dudes, New York City has CHANGED. I felt so discombobulated by some things. Times Square has been pedestrianized, and there’s talk of building more of those plazas elsewhere. We were staying in Union Square, and while that was exactly how I remembered it, right down to all the restaurants, our waiter told me that Union was going to be the next to be plaza-ed. We ate dinner at Spice Market in the meat packing district and while we were waiting for the rest of the team to arrive, my friend, L, and I sat outside on some benches watching locals and upscale suburbanites, enjoying the weather. I was stunned that we were sunning ourselves in the middle of an area that I remember being sort of a shit hole, and even more stunned after dinner, when we walked the High Line, the new-to-me public park built on a defunct railway between 10th and 11th Aves. It was a perfect night weather-wise, and I couldn’t believe I was sniffing flowers and lying on a chaise lounge in the middle of New York.
How to describe it? A deluge of different feelings. Amazement to see such a great use of public space. Relief that some places like Magnolia haven’t changed a bit. And a little bit of sadness that I am now more of a tourist than I ever was. I’m just a visitor. I get to appreciate everything the city has to offer, but as a pilgrim, not a dweller. That’s weird.
And then before I could let that sink in, I was back here. Back to my new home. I took a cab from the airport and we drove down Storrow Drive, watching all the sailboats and rowers on the Charles, with the runners and strollers on the Esplanade. They’re setting up for the 4th of July celebration, and I remembered last year, watching it from home, singing patriotic songs to my 3-week old baby. This is the only home she knows, will probably be my home for the foreseeable future, and I’m happy to be back.