Tuesday, 01 July 2014
A Week in Manhattan: Part One
When, eight days ago, Manhattan burst into view through the windshield of my taxi from JFK, tears dribbled down my cheeks. And so they did for the rest of my visit whenever I was careless enough to allow my love for that particular piece of earthly real estate to overtake me.
I don't know how to account for such a strong attachment to a place (as compared to a person or beloved pet, for example). That I have a preference for big cities over smaller ones and suburbs is part of it but I didn't feel a particular affinity for Chicago or Houston or San Francisco when I lived in those towns.
There is nothing wrong with them – or any others, I suppose. It's just that, for me, it is perhaps like cats other than my Ollie: they're nice but they aren't Ollie.
On the face of it, Manhattan has a lot going against it. It is crowded, noisy, dirty and wildly expensive but I don't care. And that's as far as I will go with that thought. It is enough to say that for the entire week, I ached with joy at being there and with despair knowing that I would have to leave.
My room on the 25th floor of the hotel was perfection for someone besotted with New York City. Is there any view more iconic than the Empire State Building lit up at night? And if you look beside it to the right, that upside down white triangle is the top of the Chrysler Building.
On my first day, I walked the Greenwich Village streets where I lived for nearly four decades. Here's one of my favorite old buildings on Sixth Avenue – the Jefferson Market Library, once the Jefferson Market Courthouse and undoubtedly, the Jefferson Market before that.
I've forgotten the historical details but you can read them, if you are inclined, at Wikipedia.
It was sad to see that my apartment on Bedford Street is still unoccupied, as it has been since I sold it in 2006. I was curious how it fared in Hurricane Sandy, but there was no one to ask. And I have no photo for you either – I was too busy soaking up the sense and sensibility of city to remember to pull out my camera phone most of the time.
I did manage this one at Father Demo Square a couple of blocks from where I lived. When I moved from the city, the parks department had just redesigned the square and it was ringed with a bunch of just planted, spindly trees. Look what's happened to them in eight years - wow, plenty of shade on a hot day.
As I explained before I left, I was in New York to cover the New York City Consumer Electronics Show, CEWeek, for the Senior Planet website along with two other reporters, Erica Manfred who is a columnist for Senior Planet (“Aging with Geekitude”) and Mike Lee, senior advisor digital strategy for AARP.
We were each charged with finding our individual “best in show” for seniors among the exhibits and I will give you links when our stories are published at Senior Planet.
Electronics shows are always fun – you get to play with all sorts of delightful gizmos and gadgets – and it had been quite a few years since I attended one. More on that in time.
There were some simple pleasures I wanted during my visit. One of them was my favorite New York diner breakfast: greasy scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, fried hash browns and toast. Undoubtedly enough cholesterol to last a month.
My table, at a 23rd Street diner a few blocks from the hotel, looked pretty that day and is typical of most diners in Manhattan:
My breakfast tasted the same as the last time I had it several years ago (as I wanted it to be) and the ambience reminded me of the importance of neighborhood diners to the locals.
The waiters greeted a blind man who was obviously a regular, his breakfast unchanged through the years so that he didn't need to order; it just appeared a few minutes after he arrived.
He and other customers – probably at their favorite stools at the counter – listened to the waiter recount his recent vacation. They discussed some ball games, mentioned some mutual friends and joshed with one another.
It felt like home. Even if it wasn't my home diner, it was for the others and I liked listening to them.
On my way to meet friends for dinner one evening, I had in interesting age-related exchange on the subway. It was a bit crowded but no one was scrunched together and I was happy to stand - no big deal.
As soon as the train lurched forward, a young woman across from me rose from her seat and gestured for me to take it.
As I said, I didn't need to sit but I've never liked those please-do-no-not-necessary-oh-go-ahead-etc. type conversations, so I sat. Then I got curious. Although I'm not certain, I believe this was the first time anyone has offered me a seat. Ever. So I tapped her arm and asked:
“Did you give me your seat because I'm old?”
“No,” she said. “I gave you my seat because you look so elegant.”
Elegant is not a word I would apply to me in any circumstance but I was dressed nicely: white-striped, taupe pants, a patterned blouse in the same colors worn unbuttoned over a dark brown teeshirt, glittery gold shoes and a white hat with a gold band. I was well turned out, as people used to say. But elegant?
Whether or not, it was an admirable recovery if the young woman, as is true for many people of all ages, was uncomfortable with my use of the word "old." That turned out not to be so.
I thanked her for the compliment and then we discussed the words old, elder, senior, etc. along with some less savory euphemisms for several more stops until she reached her destination, and we found ourselves in agreement on the words we like and don't like. She is an enlightened young woman in more ways than one.
It was such a New York encounter. I could tell you dozens of good stories of chance conversations in the city over the years and I love having a new one to add to my collection. It made me feel at home and as weepy again as I had been when the skyline out the taxi window popped into view when I first arrived.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Girth Control and the Pizza Lobby