Friday, June 08, 2007

New York

I first visited New York City when I was about twelve. I looked forward to the trip with great anticipation. At last I would see all those places I had heard about. We drove in through the Lincoln Tunnel. We were low on gas; my father has been looking for gas station and now we were heading in Manhattan and he speculated that there would be no gas there either. But worse than that, he worried about running out in the tunnel. I sat in the backseat and ate soda crackers and drank a Coke. My mother and father shared worried looks.

We did make to into the city and to our hotel, without running out of gas. The hotel was the Commodore. Wow! It is am impressive city, and just a little bit scary for a 12 year old.

We had lunch at an “Automat.” We had never seen anything quite like it. The food wasn’t very good, and people we didn’t even know sat down at the table with us.

One meal, we ate a Jewish deli, but we didn’t know it was a Jewish deli. We got what we thought was ham, but it was very rare roast beef. They gave us seltzer water to drink. The only thing I ever remember anyone doing previously with seltzer water was when Clarabell (the clown on Howdy Dowdy) sprayed it. As Southerners, we thought the whole thing rather strange. We had Jewish friends, back in Birmingham, but they pretty much ate what we did, except for no pork or shrimp.

We went to the top of the Empire State Building. For some reason, I felt compelled to have hot chocolate there. I burned my tongue. While I have burned my tongue a few times in my life, this one was by far the most painful.

To get an overview of the City, we took a Circle Line Tour. I had a small camera with black and white film. I took pictures of absolutely everything I saw, most things being totally not worth film. I still have those photos.

We walked along 5th Avenue on a Sunday morning. My mother had dressed me up in one of the outfits she made for me-- a linen suit I believe. I had a matching purse and hat. My mother said I turned heads of 5th Avenue – this was always one of her favorite stories. I just remember being overdressed and self-conscious.

The next time I went to New York was 1964. I had gone to a conference with my parents in Atlantic City. I remember I had a really great nylon windbreaker with burgundy and navy flowers on it. I wonder what happened to it?

Anyway, we went to New York City for the day on a bus and we were going to the New York World’s Fair. By then I was 18 and this would be one of the last trips with my parents. But I was VERY excited to be going to the World’s Fair.

The bus went through the Bronx on one of the freeways. Traffic was all backed up, and I just remember looking out the bus window and seeing a man lying in the road; he looked dead. I can still picture the scene.
The World’s Fair lived up to its hype. I remember the Unisphere and all of its promise was a united world. I marveled at the house of the future and the cars of the future, and came away feeling that I had been given a glimpse into my adult life. For sure, it would be easier than my parents’ life.

The next time I went back to New York was December 1968. I was then 22, and going to meet my future husband’s family in Queens. My mother made me a beautiful green plaid wool suit with leather buttons, and I brought my best clothes. I wore my best black pumps and my camel hair coat.

His family was great, if not a bit overwhelming. He is the oldest of eight children, and I am an only child. “Nuff said. But they are wonderful people and welcomed me warmly – and still do.

Christmas was coming soon and we went on a shopping expedition. First, he needed some sort of electronic part in Jamaica. We rode the subway there, if we didn’t walk the whole way back to the shopping area at Queens Blvd., we came close. Somewhere along the way, we stopped at a record store where I bought at Glenn Yaborough album. We stopped a Macey’s and bought matching flannel nighgowns and hats for his two youngest sisters. (Steve’s Dad took photos of them in those nightgowns Christmas morning, and those photos are always source of amusement today). My feet have never been the same – so much for the black pumps.

Steve took me to meet both grandmothers, and I got to meet some aunts as well. Clearly, their culture and lives were very different from mine. The differences between suburban Alabama and Queens were hard to absorb.

But I guess we all passed our respective tests and we were married in summer of 1969.

We visited New York frequently over the years. It took a day and half to drive from Illinois and nearly a week from California. It was just about five hours away by car from Maryland.

In the decade of the ‘70s, we saw the city grow pretty dismal. Mostly we spent our time in Queens, but once each visit we would go to Manhattan. We would eat out and go to a play. I remember stepping over drunks, once being offered drugs while standing in a ticket line in Times Square, and being appalled by the filth and graffiti.

But the years passed by and the city started to change. The changes were gradual and they were subtle, but eh city did get cleaner; there was less graffiti. I began to appreciate the beauty of the city and its energy.

On September 11, I grieved for the city, as I knew life would never be the same. The bravado and brashness of the city with a big ego was gone. It was humbled and wounded, but it was still the Big Apple. There was still graffiti on the subway: there were still drunks on radiator grates. But there was still 5th Avenue and Central Park, and somehow both extremes of modern culture co-existing. But the brashness of gone!

As I write this, I sit on train going between Penn Station and BWI Airport. We are headed home. Actually, Steve and I have had a lovely weekend in the New York City. We had lunch with representatives of my printer from Hong Kong,. They are delightful people and it was so much fun to meet them in person. Steve suggested Fraunces Tavern so they could get some sense of US history. It was a great choice, as the food was well prepared and typically American.

We sat in the bar of the Waldorf Astoria and pretended we were rich enough to stay there without even thinking about the price.

We had another drink in the bar of our hotel, The Barclay. This is a very lovely, traditional hotel. Fortunately for us, we were able to trade my husband’s Priority Club points for a free night,

We had dinner at a small Italian restaurant near the theatre. No place special – just a small restaurant with good food and drink.

We went to a Broadway show, The Year of Magical Thinking, with Vaneesa Redgrave. It was an amazing performance!

By the time we got to the theatre my feet were hurting – not just a little bit, a lot! I thought the low-heeded black pumps would be comfortable. But candidly, they were no more comfortable than those black pumps for 39 years ago, except they do have lower heels.

New York is an exhausting place to visit. It is the relentless walking that wears me down. You would think after all these years I would know to wear comfortable shoes. Problem is -- I think I AM wearing comfortable shoes, but when put to the NYC test they turn lethal.

When I get home tonight, I am going to order some nice comfortable shoes --- forget if they are pretty or not. We’ll see. I’ll be back to New York in July.