I’m coming up on my 10 year anniversary of moving to New York. That’s right. I am a New Yorker by choice, not birth. Maybe that’s why I’m so obsessed with this city. I spent years dreaming of moving here; planning, scheming, visualizing what it might be like. So to this day I still find myself looking up at the towering buildings at night or glancing bleary eyed out of a cab and saying to myself,
“I can’t believe I get to live here.”
No joke, this thought crosses my mind at least once a day. I think it when tourists ask me to take their photo at some shitty bar that I’ve just stumbled into with friends. For us it’s a place to stop because our feet hurt. For them it’s a moment worthy of preserving and sharing with friends at home. I think it when I walk home from a Broadway show that others have flown in from distant cities just to see. I think it while looking at people’s faces as they take in the Metropolitan Museum for the first time.
Of course, none of this would mean anything if it weren’t for the people of New York. New Yorkers are what give the city its incredible energy. Contrary to popular lore and tired Hollywood cliches, New Yorkers are not rude or heartless. We’re just in a hurry and don’t have time for bullshit. We won’t call you “sweetie” or “sugar”. And we sure as hell won’t tell you to drop by for a visit if we don’t really mean it. Have you seen the size of our apartments? There’s barely enough room for an extra roll of toilet paper, let alone your ass. No, we’ll meet you at the cafe on the corner.
But we’re happy to give directions to your hotel. We’re even happy to interrupt someone else giving directions to say they’re doing it wrong and offer an alternate route. There is a basic, work-a-day kindness that can only come from people who are surrounded by other people all day long. There’s nothing more comforting than sitting in a cafe with a roomful of fellow New Yorkers as we all clack away on our laptops, write in notebooks, listen to music, text friends and sip coffee. We are alone, but together. I never feel lonely here. I think there is a basic understanding that we’re all in this together. People look out for each other in very mundane but sweet ways. Complete strangers have helped me over a snow bank, silently walked up next to me and shared their umbrella in the rain, thrown a dollar my way when I didn’t have enough money at the grocery store. Better yet, New Yorkers are great at commiserating. You can almost guarantee if the line is too long at Duane Reade or the bus is stuck in traffic, someone will casually stretch out their upturned palm, nudge you a little and say, “Can you believe this?”
After 10 years of living here, I have a ton of funny and strange stories to tell. But there’s one in particular that I think really captures the New York spirit…
A couple of years ago, I planned a lunch hour birthday celebration for my friend Alison. The idea was to surprise her with some cake and lemonade in a little park near her office, just the two of us. Naturally, I wanted everything to look pretty by adding some decorations. So when I got to the park, various construction workers, office assistants and other midtown employees who were on their lunch breaks watched with amusement as I draped a small table with a pink table cloth and arranged flowers and birthday presents on it. They asked whose birthday it was and when she’d be arriving. There was an air of anticipation in the park as we waited for her.
The park manager descended upon the scene and barked out “No private parties!”
I said, “It’s not a party. It’s just two people.”
He said, “No private parties. You can’t have that table cloth or those flowers. Get rid of that stuff.”
Although disappointed, I was about to do as I was told when the whole park erupted in outrage.
One construction worker bellowed, “What the fuck do you care if she has a table cloth?”
Then a woman leaped up, ran over to the park manager and said, “You’re an asshole! She planned a nice thing for her friend. Why do you wanna ruin it?”
So then the park manager yelled back, “It’s none of your damn business! I wasn’t talking to you!”
Then all hell broke loose and everyone got in on it. I mean EVERYONE ganged up on the park manager. Some little old lady I hadn’t even noticed called him a “piece of shit.” It was a crazy scene. But amazingly, we worked out a compromise: no table cloth, but I could keep the flowers. By the time Alison arrived it had calmed down. Everyone wished her a happy birthday as if nothing had happened.
I’m pretty sure it’s because of stories like this that I say a silent prayer each time I go to my Cathedral.
No, I don’t mean St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th.
Not St. Bart’s on Park either.
Grand Central Terminal is my house of worship.
I walk through late at night and look at the ceiling, pick out my astrological sign and send up a prayer. I pray for success. I pray that someday I’ll live George Plimpton’s life. I pray for good health. But mostly I pray that I’ll never have to leave New York.