Who/what is New York? The answer is that New York is its people, history, and structures. On to the anecdotes!
Before this past week, the only time I spent in New York City was a crazy 14 hour dash through Manhattan with a friend. Amtrak from Albany to NYC in the morning. Penn Station, waited for The Book of Mormon (lovingly analyzed by me here) ticket lottery (lost), bought tickets regularly, saw the show, ate pizza, walked through Columbus Circle to Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum, bus to Empire State Building, then back to Penn Station for an early-a.m. return to Albany.
I like walking. I like the bustle of people in fair forward motion. I like seeing a variety of people in a variety of social stations engaged in a variety of things.
I like catching up with a super-smart, engaging, clever, kind, and funny friend whom I haven’t had an in-person chat with for over a decade. I like walking with this friend for hours and hours. She made the time on brief notice, and gave good pointers on walking highlights when she had to return home on those work nights.
I like art museums. I like going to art museums to finally see in-person pieces I’ve admired as reproduced images (such as Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon which I wrote a speculative piece about). The flaws and character and choices of the bronze or marble, the brushstrokes. I like entering the museum for free with the help of a connection and pretending to be someone I am not. A museum experience is much enhanced by a caper.
I like seeing locations only seen before in print or on screens. The world gets more cozy. The human experience and history more tangible.
I like making mediocre waffles at a complimentary hotel breakfast buffet. I rarely eat more than half of the waffle. I do wince at the waste when throwing it away along with an empty yogurt container, a bowl of Raisin Bran detritus with milk sloshing around, the remainders of eggs never as good as one hopes, and the always disappointing sausage. I still will essay buffet sausage in whatever variation it is proffered in. That’s just the optimist in me.
Family and friends need to know that I always eat all the decent portion fruit I dish up.
I like seeing new things. I like returning to known things. I like being slightly disoriented then figuring my way. I like the cordiality of strangers. I like picking up the indigenous customs and traveling with the herd. I like being asked for directions when I hardly know the area myself.
I like buildings and architecture. I like getting accustomed to places much larger than my usual environment. I don’t like people in shoddy knock-off pop culture themed costumes panhandling money by posing for novelty photos like in Times Square or the Las Vegas Strip. Three Elmos in Times Square within four blocks. Yeesh.
I like looking around and wondering if the more attractive a person is, the more likely it is the person will move to a larger city.
I like seeing a vast scope of human achievement, how things have gotten run down, and how things have gotten better. I like seeing a mass of people getting along, living their lives and not losing their minds.
I like knowing good people I am fond of, for year over year, even if the contact is intermittent. I like being worthy of staying in contact with. Across state lines, time zone lines, and nations there are people that I admire and know walking the earth encountering alternating happiness and frustrations, just like me. It gets me out of my smallness to hear the thrums of other heartstrings and sense in the ground the pulsing hums of lives worth knowing. As we climb into middle age, more people we have known will be dead than alive. Having those thrums and hums will become more dear.
No, I did not have the standard New York songs in my mind while in the city. Thankfully. I did have this one by Rufus Wainwright. Semi-consciously, I have hit most of the locations it mentions.
Yes, I did see people, always men, peeing in the open. Mostly transients, but also one guy who was moving merchandise from a van into a shop.
No, I did not buy any “I Love New York” souvenir, though I do agree with the statement.