City folk—particularly New York City folk—may want to avert their eyes from this little essay.
I’m writing about how much I ADORE the city. I know those who live there may sometimes take their environment for granted. I don’t, however.
Last week I spent a few days in New York at a cookbook conference. I’ll write more about the conference itself once I finish going through the copious notes I took. When that time comes I promise not to subject readers to a blow-by-blow (bite-by-bite?) description.
For now, I thought I’d just share my excitement about New York.
When I was small going to New York was a big deal. I’m old enough (shudder!) to recall putting on a hat and white gloves to go into the city as a little girl. In my mind’s eye I can still see my reflection in a department store window—shiny patent-leather shoes, pink dress and matching coat, white gloves, white bonnet, big smile.
Times have changed. This time around I arrived in jeans, although I did wear a little makeup. Despite my casual wardrobe I was again smiling as I stepped off the bus at 33rd Street. Going to New York is still a big deal, even without the gloves and hat.
Within my first five minutes in the city I saw more people on the street than live in my hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts.
My friend Peter and I sped through traffic in taxis—first to my friend Bobbie’s house to drop off my luggage, then to Peter’s high-rise apartment, where his dogs Lucca and Marco greeted me and led me to the window to admire the view.
Over the next few days, in between conference sessions, I spent time with old friends. Peter and his partner Ken took me out to a cozy yet elegant Indian dinner.
I shared onion soup and show-business gossip with Jani, my former colleague at the Paley Center for Media, who spent much of our time together looking up potential publishers and agents for me. (Jani is the Paley Center’s head of research and never stops thinking about how to use her knowledge to help friends and colleagues.)
And I received love, food, and a little too much motherly advice from my hostess, Bobbie.
My college roommate Amy used to say that Bobbie and her late husband Buddy were the best excuse for New York City that she could think of. This was at a time when New York’s image was slightly tarnished in the public eye. Buddy and Bobbie imbued the city with humor and restored its glamour.
They dressed well, talked loudly, laughed and sang infectiously, and were intensely interested in the people around them. It would have been hard to find people more colorful or charming.
If New York still needed an excuse today, Bobbie would provide it even without Buddy, who has been dead for 20 years. She is a passionate city dweller, going to theatrical or musical events just about every day (sometimes twice a day) and expressing her opinion of every one with gusto.
Staying with her was both fun and maddening since Bobbie likes to express her opinions about people as well as performances. My coat was too light. My shoes were unsuitable for snow (of which we had but a few flurries). I drank unhealthy beverages. (Diet soda is my only real vice.) My luggage was disorganized.
When I told her that I was trying to revive my career and make more money this year she said flatly, “You don’t have a career, and you’re too old to start one.” Ouch.
Somehow—probably because I wasn’t staying with her permanently—I managed to ignore her criticisms and even find them slightly endearing. They came from love, after all, and were intended to be constructive. And I enjoyed catching up on her family’s news, talking about the theater, and hearing her sing Stephen Sondheim tunes as I was dressing in the mornings.
To and from my destinations in the city I generally walked or rode the bus. I know the subway is faster, but when one is only in New York for a little while one likes to see everything.
During one late-night bus ride I marveled at the diversity of the city. My fellow passengers were a very large man in a wheelchair, singing off key at the top of his lungs; a woman in a red coat talking in Chinese on her cell phone; and a fur-clad woman discussing job prospects (in English) on another cell phone.
I was the only one looking out the window at the people, dogs, and lighted buildings we passed. I was tickled at my own silence.
And I loved the fact that at any hour of the day or night people are bustling about in the city.
I remember only one exception to this activity. I was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2011, commuting back and forth from my mother’s house in New Jersey.
No one was allowed to enter or leave Manhattan on the night of the 11th so I stayed with my brother and his wife in their apartment.
The next day my office was closed. I learned that a few trains were running from Penn Station to New Jersey so I hoofed it down Seventh Avenue to catch one.
As I walked down the long street I heard absolute silence. I saw no one else walking. No buses or taxis passed me.
I got to Times Square—Times Square, which is filled with people even in the middle of the night!—and saw nothing but bare pavement and a few pieces of paper fluttering in the breeze. Storefronts had their grills firmly shut. I felt as though I had stepped into a post-Apocalyptic science-fiction film.
It took days for people to start moving in the city again. And it took months for Times Square to regain its bustle.
So now when I see people, cars, and buses moving about Manhattan I can’t take the city’s activity for granted. It is something to be savored and celebrated.
I’m still smiling as I type this, and I’ve been home for two days.