March 29, 2011

There and Back (AGAIN!)

I learned something about myself yesterday. It took all day (or ten years, depending on how you figure) to learn it, but I think. I. finally. did.

My sister and I took Katie sight-seeing in the city. The Hudson Line took us down (courting the river for miles and miles giving us beautiful scenic views). Grand Central. I love the great expanse of the Main Concourse. I love the sea of people in black coats which swarm across its floor. We grabbed bagels at our favorite bagel place. The ladies working behind the counter barked at the mob before them, "Who's next! Who's next! Who's next!"

Weaving our way down to the subway (keeping an anxious eye on gawking Katie), we figured out which line we needed to get on and went through the turnstiles. The crowd pushed closer, "Maybe we should do more hand-holding," I joked anxiously. But then there was our awaiting subway. "Let's get in that one" said Sarah, indicating the car in front of us. 

New York City always brings out the fiercely independent streak in me. I stepped onto that car with confidence. I had already woven two good steps though the crowd towards a seat when I heard my name being called. I turned around. The doors had closed. And Sarah and Katie were on the other side.

It should have been in a movie. Separated by glass. Train taking me away.  The roar of the engines. The frantic gestures, "Wait for me!" The look of shock, the pounding heart, then the stunned silence.

Eventually I looked around, a young woman caught my eye. "Don't worry, it happens all the time." I exchanged pleasantries, but silence brought thoughts pounding into my head. Another woman spoke to me, her Indian accent thick, "How will  you meet up with your friends?" I told her I would wait at the next stop. She seemed to approve.

I got off. The platform grew quiet. Union Square. I suddenly had a panicy thought. I had our shared metro card, what if they couldn't ride the train? No, it wasn't a train, it was a subway- we'd already paid.... but what if they got an Express line and they didn't stop at my stop? I would check the next train's cars very carefully.

It was a good thing I did- because Sarah and Katie had had no intention of getting off at my station- they were going to wait at our destination, the Bowling Green. But we saw each other and reunited. Laughing. Amused. Relieved. My stomach a little shaken.

After the Staten Island Ferry we walked down to Ground Zero, which was gated and thick with construction. We approached one worker to ask where we might be able to get the best view and he replied, with a swinging Italian accent, "Wella, you're not'a going to see too mucha." An Irish man intervened. "Take ah right, go 'round tha block, take tha overpass to tha building, and yah'll be able tu see it froom tha bridge." Thank you.

We walked through the World Financial Center- with its marbled floors and countless young men in ties and suits (chatting, presumably, about desperately important things like interests and loans and the stock market).

While we were riding the subway up to 86th street two men boarded with drums. They greeted all of the New Yorkers with their blank faces and ear-buds in. "HI!!!" I replied. They were struck. The man addressed the car: "That's what we LIKE! Hey, ya'know if more people show respect like THAT then the world be a better place, ya'know?!" They played, their inner beat flowing to their mouth and the palms of their hands. Just before they left one turned to me, "Where you from?" he demands. "New York." "Are you sure?!" and he's gone. "California" probably would have satisfied him more.

We walked thirty blocks down Madison Avenue window-shopping. We gushed over flounced baby-girl clothes and strapping little-man clothes, laughed at frilly purses displayed on ostriches, and compared decorating styles. (While Katie and I related to the modern, sheik style, we agreed that we would always pick warm and woody over glass and steel). We shared a sourdough baguette, and bought ourselves treats from La Maison du Chocolat. [The man behind the counter claimed he remembered me from past years (I think he didn't) and  he began speaking in French as we left.] I always look at that tiny piece of chocolate (smaller- maybe half the size of a  Girl-Scout Cookie)  in my hand and wonder why I pay so much money for something so small. We all wonder. But then you bite off the corner and the tender delicacy of that long-brewed chocolate potion completely and in every way overwhelms you. Perfection in a bite. THAT is chocolate. THAT is why it is worth it.

We had a splendid time in Tiffany's ring department comparing cuts and styles and marveling at the fiery brilliance of the sedentary gems. The salespersons were surprisingly accommodating. We were, after all, three young women. For all they knew we had some of the before-mentioned snazzy-looking business men interested in us. (We laughed because all three of us girls couldn't imagine anyone spending so much on a ring when an equally pretty one could be found that wouldn't burn your fiance's pockets and leave you with guilty feelings for the rest of your life.)

After Tiffany's we saw St. Patrick's Cathedral. On a whim I asked one of the caretakers to see the crypt (we're family of Bishop Sheen) and who of all people should be available but Father Joe, (whom our family had met at the Bishop Sheen memorial party two years ago). He recognized me- even remembered where we lived, and started talking about his findings to a theological question we'd been arguing about. He told us some great juicy stories about each of the men buried under the alter and afterwords we said the Our Father together.

By this time we were exhausted, so Katie texted her fiance and he gave us directions to the nearest Starbucks where we got hot drinks, put up our feet, and delighted in girl-talk for an hour or two. Rejuvenated, it was off to Time Square (where  we bugged a policemen about directions to a movie theater and took lots of pictures) and then we wrapped up with pizza, gyros, and Indian food at Grand Central.

We were on the train. We were done visiting. We were going home. Rivers. Trees. Quiet. You know I've always liked the city.  I really do. How can you not love history and beauty and people? But I've always known I could never live there. And that night as we journeyed home I realized something more. Maybe it was being in the city twice in five days. Maybe it was our conversations about work and life and how hideous certain dresses, offensive certain adds, expensive certain baby-clothes, and extravagant certain rings were. Maybe it has been being  at my college and getting closer to drugs and alcohol and the image-consciousness of our culture, but I think my materialistic streak (which I spoke of in my first New York post) has been somehow severely subdued.

I have learned, or discovered, or maybe just decided: I am a country mouse.


  1. Loved reading this! And the chocolate sounds A-MAZING! Sounds like so much fun, but I have to agree with you, I'm a country girl myself :D

  2. I'm glad! OH. The chocolate IS amazing. truly. Haha, exactly. It's... FUN. But... not home. :-) And when you're away from home it's fun for a while and then you get homesick (and tired and depressed) and long for the sweet, warm, and familiar.