Two weekends ago when I came into the city for a 24-hour visit, I went out to lunch on the Upper West Side. Within a minute of my first gulp of NYC air, I crossed paths with someone I knew. While stepping into the restaurant, a man I had had a nice conversation with nearly ten years ago walked out. He had been the executive director of a non-profit I greatly admire, and I still remember his face.
Then, last Thursday afternoon, I made my move back to the city. The following morning, I was watching the NY1 morning show and a story came on about the rapid development of Long Island City, a neighborhood in Queens. I did a double take at one of the people who was interviewed for the “man on the street” soundbites. It was Charlie, a window washer in the skyscraper where I worked for five years until 2015. He is the friendliest guy and I used to love asking him questions about his craft, which consists of dangling out of windows forty stories high to clean the glass. Funnily enough, I also spotted him one summer many years ago, on Orchard Beach in the Bronx (far, far away from both Long Island City and midtown Manhattan where our building was). He was walking around with a boombox, shirtless and glistening in the sun, and I pretended not to see him because I didn’t want to snap him out of his leisure element.
Then, the very next day, I went to the women’s march with my high school friends. The streets were packed with people – the New York Times estimated that 200,000 people were there. My friends and I wedged ourselves into the sea of marchers and started inching our way along. After about a block, I looked directly to my right and noticed that I had been walking alongside a freelance filmmaker with whom I have worked on several video projects (for the same organization that was housed in the building where Charlie worked). We jumped in recognition and shock – what were the chances?
And what were the chances that I’d run into (slash spot on TV) three people I know over the course of my first four days in one of the world’s biggest cities? It heartened me, maybe even more than the joyous, raucous march (during which we happened to get into formation behind the Rude Mechanicals marching band, who provided an amazing soundtrack for our six miles of dance-walking).
Perhaps I have (much) more to look forward to in New York than I give it credit for.
I am moving back to New York on Thursday and I’m excited to (re)start there with a bang: a social gathering, a party, and a protest all within the first weekend. But beyond that, I can’t say I’m enthused about heading back. In fact, I was in the city overnight last weekend and though I was very happy to hang out with friends, New York itself did nothing for me. I did not feel even a slight thrill to be back amongst the skyscrapers and yellow cabs and sidewalks overflowing with people. Just a resigned, “Alright, fine, let’s do this.”
So… clearly I need an attitude adjustment and to remind myself of what I have to look forward to in the city. Off the top of my head:
- Being close to my friends and family and being able to squeeze my niece and nephew, who live an hour away.
- Picking out books at Albertine, the lovely French bookstore, and at my favorite used bookstore in Prospect Heights.
- Having fewer language-based misunderstandings than in Senegal or France.
- Visiting the next exhibit at the Met’s Costume Institute, which opens in May.
- Storing my bike at my friend’s place in the Bronx so we can go on impromptu adventures together.
- Having hundreds of movies to choose from in theaters, and not having to confirm that they’re not overdubbed in French.
- Being eligible for the jobs I most want. (In Paris I did not even bother trying to break into the French documentary industry because I was too intimidated by my imperfect French.)
- The ubiquity of clean and well-equipped public bathrooms – as well as private ones you can easily sneak into – so that you need never walk around with a full bladder or pay to pee.
- The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, my soul mate institution.
- Gluten-free pizza is relatively abundant.
- There’s a volunteer oral history recording project I’m excited to get involved in.
- I can become more deeply involved in the “Resistance,” as the expat Americans activist group I was part of in Paris calls it.
- Weaving classes at Brooklyn Brainery (I decided I wanted to learn to weave while living two blocks from this studio and never went. Senegal re-inspired me, and I finally took a class last year in London and loved it.)
- Driving my parents’ cars when I’m in the suburbs – it’s been way too long since I’ve been behind the wheel.
- Picking back up where I left off with my Spanish learning and being able to practice with NYC residents.
- Going back to New York as a French speaker and someone who, on a good day, can call myself bilingual.
I suppose that was somewhat refreshing…
I won’t bother listing what I’m not looking forward to – what’s the point of being negative about it?
I finally made it to Grant’s Tomb last week, crossing one more item off my NYC bucket list. It had been on my to-do list since college, when I lived less than ten blocks away but somehow failed for four years to muster the enthusiasm to visit.
I’m more motivated this summer than I have been during other times in my NYC residency, when the feeling of being here indefinitely made it easy to put them off for another day. Now that I have a sense that I’ll be leaving the city soon for an indeterminate length of time – which, in all honesty, could be as short as a month, who knows – I’m making more of an effort to see the city as a tourist would. Which is fun, even if I end up being a New Yorker for life.
Here are the other long-neglected items on my NYC (and environs) bucket list:
I’ve gotten it down to a reasonable size, I think. Here’s what I’ve crossed off the list in the past year or so:
[Photo of Broadway Restaurant, one of the many amazing old-school diners where I’ve eaten over the past few months]