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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.

Empire State

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.

Jefferson Market

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.

Father Demo Square

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:

Diner table

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


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Your short visit to NYC sounds wonderful. I could feel the joy and excitement come through. Ronni, you are an excellent writer, but this post is more than words.. it is feelings. Happy and true feelings.

What a wonderful post! Who says you can't go home again? Your love of NYC came through loud and clear.

Beautiful post, Ronni. I can feel your love of NYC all the way from here.

My fantasy every time you write about NYC is you get to have your Bedford home again.

I believe in miracles.

I know you are doing well where you are, but I too imagine that someone gives you an NYC apartment just to honor your voice. For some of us, even when we love our homes, there's nowhere like New York.

I hope I said welcome home yesterday. Glad you had fun but sorry it was such an emotional ride.

Welcome back. You were missed, as you know.

A place, much like beloved music, can easily bring on the tears, the joy, the ache. A place will flood my senses with those memories, more to the point,
the feelings from those memories.

Thanks for sharing this. I've never been to NYC, but have an idea of it through your heartfelt writings.

Thank you Ronni for sharing your NYC love, and letting us practically taste the diner food and participate in your wonderful chance deep-dive subway conversation. I, a Manhattanite through college, find suburbs scary or boring; and so when I kvetch about the Tel Aviv dog-pooh-covered sidewalks overrun by motorbikes (YES!), I must humbly acknowledge that the cosmopolitanism, liberalism, and yak-yak-yak of dense city living among other "features" keep me here.

I totally get how you feel about NYC. I feel like that about San Francisco. There is a curve on 280 that opens to a panoramic of the city that just makes me so happy when every time I go around it. My soul literally sings.

Thank you for sharing some of the experiences of your visit - the sense of community you shared was wonderful.

Your visit to NYC sounds incredible, Ronni. I'd love to hear some stories from your time living in New York one of these days, I bet they would make a great post! I think one of the best things about leaving a place, and then returning, is that wave (or flood!) of emotions and memories that come surging back when you visit.

I know how you feel Ronni...as I feel the same way about the same city. When it was time for me to leave I moved a five hour call ride away,,,Burlington Vermont. I go to the city every three months for my fix. My friends are happy to have me stay with them...I'm lucky that way...and will probably never make friends like that again. When when on my trips and time to go back to Vermont...I am happy about that too. It's a different kind of good.

Having worked in the West Village for nearly 20 years (303 W.10th St.) I know how you feel about the neighborhood. Greenwich Village, despite its urban location, has many of the qualities of a true village. People still frequent "Mom and Pop" stores and non-chain local eateries. I remember going to the post office and was surprised to hear the clerk refer to people by their first names. Yes, it's expensive, but a real New Yorker can always find a bargain.

I’m glad you got to have that visit, Ronni. Not everybody has a ‘soul place’ but for those who do, it is something that cannot be erased, no matter how long you are away. And that first glimpse…I know how that feels. When I first came back to visit England in 1977, after an absence of 19 years, I came by way of mainland Europe so my first sight of my native land, seen not through a plane window but from the deck of a cross-Channel ferry with the salt breeze in my hair, was the white cliffs of Dover. I’ll always remember that heartstopping moment.

I grew up in western Pennsylvania and lived in the Midwest for 15 years, but when I moved to Seattle in 1982, I knew I was home. Some places just call to us, for reasons it's hard to articulate. I'm happy I found my soul place, and it's lovely to hear about yours.

Sounds like a perfect mix of memories, friends, research and more.

I hope you don't feel like a prisoner back in the Oregon suburbs ....

My daughter lived in Manhattan for just one year attending a performing arts school and her feelings for that city are so similar to yours. We all went there for five days this last Christmas and she was so thrilled and so sad all at the same time!

Ronni, I first visited New York when my daughter was managing a "hostel" a little south of Canal Street--over what she suspected was a brothel. I stayed in an artist's loft in Soho through what is now an airbnb. My first night we just walked around, and there were sights everywhere--a resplendent robot, among others, which I'm sure must have been the one in the intro to NYPD. Then too, there was a garbage can drummer my daughter had told me about. It was a short trip, way too short, but I was hooked. I've been back a number of times and am needing a fix now.

Years later, I got to participate, through a friend, in a reading at the Cornelia St. Cafe from my new poetry collection, with three others, and it was absolutely the best audience I've had. Friendly, enthusiastic--and this after wandering in lower Manhattan with the friend, visiting Poets' House, the Sept. 11 construction, etc. Saw plays, ate in great little restaurants. . .I could go on for pages.
I dream about the place frequently.

I hope you can get back soon.

Isn't it funny how when people yearn for some lost rural homeland, it's OK, even heartwarming?

But somehow it's vaguely bad when we city types long for the old neighborhood. I've been noticing that for decades, and it's just wrong.

I, like Tamar, find suburbs a weird mix of scary and boring. One of the great blessings of the Internet is the ability to escape our immediate surroundings and look at our old streets and buildings again, even if it's a little sad. Not to mention back issues of our old hometown newspaper, a particular guilty pleasure of mine.

Go cities!

Thanks for taking me on that trip to NYC with you. I felt like I was seeing and feeling the things you were experiencing, even that good old breakfast.

Looking forward to part two of your wonderful trip.

Welcome back, I know that feeling. Last time when I returned from visiting my sisters I had that feeling I was going in the wrong direction. Home is where my heart is, not necessarily where we live.

I used to get teary eyed the minute I spied Pikes Peak. It was always 'home' to me. The last time I visited I knew I would never see it again and the feeling was bittersweet.

If a place grabs your heart it is there forever and there is no escaping.

I am so glad you were able to visit that place in your heart and wish you could move back to that empty apartment.

Thanks Ronni. Whenever I think of Manhattan I think of meeting you there.

Have a delightful time savouring every second! There is nowhere like it. Even though I live in another marvelous big city, still head there when I can, humming "New York State of Mind".

I feel exactly the same about London. I moved there from a dull middle England town to go to university and stayed on, but only for a total of 10 years. I've lived in Sydney for half my life but when I'm back in London, Australia feels like a guest appearance in someone else's dream. I no longer have close family in England so I don't have a pressing reason to make the massively long and expensive trip but I ache for it. Yes, Sydney is beautiful, the weather is wonderful compared with London, I have incredibly good friends here - but it just doesn't feel like home.

I was in Manhattan last Wednesday with my daughter and granddaughter who both love the city as much as I.

Don't think I wasn't keeping an eye out for you.
After all stranger things have happened right???

kept an eye out for you last Wednesday while strolling the streets of Manhattan

Oops...
That last part should have been deleted....

Ronni - a truly bittersweet visit - given that you left NY in the emotional trauma of no work/money considerations etc - do you ever think that perhaps there could have been other ways for you to continue to live in NY? I know you've made a good life for yourself but I just wondered.

Thanks for sharing this post. You write so well. I also understand the love of a place as I have a special place also. I believe there must be an energy with some places just like there is with some people. Perhaps your Bedford home is still calling you!

Ronni, what would have to happen for you to once again live in NYC?


Know full well what you mean. For some of us New York City is a magical place, and when we go back we realize how much we miss the magic and being a part of it. I tear up as well when I go back there. When you leave NYC, you leave a chunk of your heart behind. I've lived in other cities but never as intensely as in NYC.

“It was sad to see that my apartment on Bedford Street is still unoccupied, as it has been since I sold it in 2006.”

Should think so! A dear place in your heart with no human to love it and make it a home. Do you know why it remains vacant for all these years? Reads like a worthy blog post.

The heart wants what the heart wants, as the old expression goes. You were blessed to have lived and thrived in a place that so suited you.

Still, wishing that you had not been compelled by circumstance to leave it behind and move away.

I so agree with Millie. Thanks for taking us along! I had the same longing for the home of my heart for 40 years. I'm back in the state if not quite the exact location ...yet!

I noticed you didn't mention travel difficulties or sheer exhaustion. I hope there were no glitches, and your joy and new fitness level gave you much energy to make it an easy trip.

I've never been to New York City, but it sounds like a wonderful, "alive" place. I think I remember reading about your Bedford apartment when I first discovered TGB several years ago, but I don't recall why it is still unoccupied. (Reminder?)

Anyway, I was once a "California girl". I loved sun, the ocean, swimming--all that--and I miss it still. We don't get a lot of sun up here in the Pacific NW, but then I don't appear in swimsuits any more--and who knew that sunbathing would show up on the Top 10 "high risk behaviors" list?!

I didn't have a chance to read this until today, Wednesday, but I'm so glad I did.Your descriptions -- of views, feelings, conversations, meals -- are so vivid and poignant; they are too good to have missed. Along with others here, I understand those strong emotions felt when returning somewhere with such a strong claim on your heart, if not your very soul, especially after an extended separation. I'm so glad you had this opportunity and were able to take advantage of it. May the memories of your visit carry you until you return again.

"...New York diner breakfast: greasy scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, fried hash browns and toast."

That sounds like a "diner breakfast" from anywhere, USA. I'm wondering if there is a difference in the tastes of that breakfast, around the country. I did not try breakfast, at all, during the week that I spent in Manhattan in 2007. I carefully bought fresh fruit from a vendor each evening for the following morning's breakfast. Too bad that I missed out.

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