[Note: I wrote this on July 4, but am finally posting on July 6 because the promised wireless connection at our NYC hotel never materialized. Tonight I'm in Danbury, CT with Helen.]
This morning I landed at JFK at 6:30 AM, after a smooth red eye flight from SFO. On the plane, my neighbor and I quickly discovered that his light switch turned on my light, and mine turned on his. He kindly told me to let him know when I needed my light turned off, and eventually did so without me needing to ask. This is because I rapidly tried to get to sleep, instead of following my usual plan of reading the contents of six books during a long flight.
I wanted to be as awake as possible for meeting Helen in Brooklyn (she came down from Connecticut last night and stayed with a friend, so that we could see each other sooner.) I'm not sure how well I did, because plane sleeping is never easy. But it was definitely nice to see her after five weeks. We didn't see each other once in June, which has never happened since we started dating more than nine years ago.
Breakfast in Brooklyn was tasty and eventful. At one point a police officer came in to ask people to move their cars before the 4th of July fireworks that night, and apologized twice for interrupting our breakfasts. (Who says New Yorkers are rude?) And I was happy to discover that one of the waiters was from Ohio, something I inferred from the Ohio t-shirt he was wearing. He grew up in Cleveland and Dayton, I can now confidently report. (Last night on the BART train to SFO, a high school girl had a t-shirt of Ohio on too--I think she was on a volleyball team that was on the West Coast for a tournament. I'm not sure what to make of all these Ohio t-shirt sightings.) After breakfast it was time to jump on the subway and head to Manhattan.
One stop on the 2/3 and we were in Wall St; the crossing to Manhattan from Brooklyn was so much quieter than the screeching noise that BART makes as it traverses the San Francisco Bay. Pretty soon we were zooming up 7th Avenue, and before we knew it we were at 72nd St. and making our exit to go to our hotel. This all felt perfectly natural to me, as though I hadn't been away from New York for almost a year.
This was my second subway ride of the day, and it was still just 10 AM. My first ride had been on the A train to meet Helen. While riding the A I read the Times (the New York edition, which means there's a separate Metro section rather than a few pages grafted onto some other part of the paper.) Clyde Haberman discussed how New Yorkers are more subtle in their displays of patriotism than people in many parts of the country. Unlike the days right after September 11, you can go for long stretches in the city without seeing a single flag. I've always had trouble wearing anything associated with the flag, because this indicates (or at least implies) a belief that the US is the best country in the world. I don't believe this, and haven't for years. To me America is in an elite category of nations, but not head and shoulders above everyone else.
But who cares about me? Why won't New Yorkers display the flag, especially after September 11? I think it's because they are furious that New York's tragedy became the grist for a tragically unnecessary war in Iraq--a war that had been on the drawing board in some circles well before 2001. President Bush manipulated the trauma of this event to justify the war (to himself too; I don't think it was a cynical deception of the populace) and wrapped this manipulation in the flag.
But maybe I'm exaggerating. In Times Square late this morning an electronic flag was the backdrop for one of the news feeds. On the Upper East Side tonight, Rathbone's Bar and Grill had draped a large flag above its storefront. At a Citibank ATM in the West Village this afternoon, an elderly lady walked in and said "God bless America, boys" to two young men who were walking out. And tonight, the annual Macy's fireworks show (which we watched on TV, not among the crowds as in years past) had the usual mix of pomp and patiotism.
As is clear from the above paragraph, we moved around a lot today. Sometimes by subway, once by bus, and by walking as often as we could (highlight: a west to east stroll across Central Park in the late evening.) We even made it back to the stoop of our old apartment building, and looked in to see that the apartment doors are now painted bright red. That was a bit jarring, but I really liked the new logo on the taxis. It's much more cheerful and inviting than the old look...
This post has gone on for a while without saying very much, because I can't contain myself now that I'm back. That's OK--this entire blog is a product of my New York years; one of my earliest posts was about how I'd become a movie fanatic since moving to NYC. I still list "New York Life" as one of the blog categories.
The last thing I want to be--despite all evidence to the contrary right now--is a New York blowhard. I know it's much more difficult to do simple things (like, say, go a few miles) in New York than it is elsewhere. I know that Manhattan is becoming a rich person's paradise, which can make it hard even for people with very good incomes to live here. And I know that there's a guardedness and excessive rush to the city that you don't find in the Bay Area.
Warts and all, though, I love New York. It's highly likely that we'll never live here again--and all things considered, the Bay Area is more than alright with me. But be that as it may, a large slice of my soul will always be here.