Another Wheaton wedding meant I spent three days in New York, NY a few weekends ago. There were of course, festivities: a bar-hour with the couple before their big day, the lovely wedding ceremony in the suburbs, and a swanky reception in Lower Manhattan. But there were also many liminal moments to observe the city, which provided me with plenty of anecdotal fodder for my mental image of America’s First City. In brief:
1. New York’s dungeon of a subway did not disappoint: before Robby and I arrived at our Airbnb we’d spent two hours on the train during which time we saw four rats, more than we’d seen in Chicago all of the previous year. The third hour we spent at Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, which had no tables, music blaring above us, and a closing time of 4AM: the quintessential way to end our first night in New York.
2. Central Park was very beautiful. Yes, there is basically no green space anywhere else in Manhattan, but the trees! the lake! There was almost enough space to forget the self-consciousness that comes with being a tourist in Manhattan.
3. We stayed in a neighborhood populated primarily by immigrants from Africa and the Carribean. The ad hoc bus system, the hundreds of tiny corner stores, and the accents I heard as I walked to the Metro all reminded me of life in Bujumbura, if only because so little in Chicago does.
4. I got lost. A few times. All I had was a fold-out map some French tourists had left at the Airbnb (it was in French); my Blackberry was no help in lower Manhattan’s mess of unnumbered streets. I asked directions. A few times. I found out that even New Yorkers get lost in New York. And that they’re very happy to help.
5. Monday morning I walked across Brooklyn Bridge to Trinity Church Wall Street with all my bags, since we had to check out of the Airbnb by 10AM. I must have looked the consummate tourist, lugging my rolling bag across Brooklyn Bridge; still, the sun was bouncing in jubilant salutation off the skyscrapers as I walked, warming my body enough for me to take off my fall coat. When I did arrive at the church, the priest spoke with such grace and artless self-assurance in her homily that it was a blessing just to listen to her.
A single, three-day visit to a city like New York can only serve as an introduction. Still, it was enough to disabuse me of the extrapolation I’d patched together from pop culture. The city I saw was ordinary — a place where people live — not the glittering citadel of commerce and culture I’d imagined New York to be. And for that reason, it was much more interesting.