Tuesday, April 26, 2022

New York City

"Imagine" artwork inspired by John Lennon, Central Park

I had the opportunity to spend a week in New York City, helping my sister-in-law, Laurie, after knee replacement surgery.

I have been traveling to NYC for years, my first time in January of 1996, in the middle of a blizzard. The airline did not cancel the flight despite weather conditions, and so I went. I remember stepping over piles of snow up to my thigh on street corners as the city dug itself out. I arrived at my company's corporate headquarters hoping to get trained on some software I really needed to learn. Instead I filled in to get work done for the many employees who couldn't make it in due to the weather conditions. Weather conditions that, in Minnesota, would have caused a hiccup but not a work stoppage.

That same trip I got hungry around lunchtime and was given directions to a little deli around the corner where I could buy an amazing sandwich. The employee's recommendation was, "You'll never get sick there." I replied, "Wow, that's quite a recommendation." She looked at me and said, "Honey, in New York it is."

Aah, New York. I grew to love it after years of traveling there multiple times a year. I stayed in different hotels around the city, explored different neighborhoods. I remember being in the Minnesota office, travel bag in my car, expecting to head to the airport later that afternoon. It was September 11, 2001. Our cohorts in New York could see the smoke and chaos from their office building. I called several clients who I knew lived in the city out of concern, before the phone lines could no longer handle the traffic and all calls stopped. We watched the TV in our office in silence until some of us could no longer hold back our tears. Many of our New York coworkers who lived in that area weren't allowed back into their apartments for weeks. We closed the office that day and went home, in shock. We grieved with them. We grew strong with them. And we felt like New York was a part of us, not some distant city.

Years after 9/11, I remember walking the city and having someone ask me which way Madison Ave was. And I knew!! I knew we were west of it and that they should take a right at the next corner and go down two blocks to reach Madison. How crazy was that, that someone mistook me for someone who KNEW something about the city, and I actually did?

Central Park

George Washington Bridge, as seen from Wash Heights

And now, most recently, I got to know the city the best. I arrived here to take care of my sister-in-law Laurie as she recovers from knee replacement surgery. She moved to Washington Heights 6 years before, far from her previous home in Midtown. I'd visited her a few times in Washington Heights, but it always felt foreign and a little not like the New York I knew. It was quieter here, not bustling. You could not buy a New York t-shirt for blocks around -- no "I heart New York" hats or little Statue of Liberty trinkets. Just grocery stores, local marts, doctor offices and places for people who live here.

I had lots of time to myself as she was in the hospital for two days after her surgery. I took the subway downtown to visit her. I walked Madison Ave, walking in and out of stores far out of my league, smiling at the doormen who opened doors for me, even though it was obvious by my appearance that there was no way I was buying anything in those stores. 

Flowers planted around a tree in the sidewalk, Upper West side.

I walked Central Park, savoring the sun, lilacs and crabapple tress that were in bloom while Minnesota was experiencing the longest "gray out" of any April. I ended up in a different neighborhood on the other side of Central Park and figured out how to transfer trains to get back to Washington Heights. Once there, I learned the local bodega, the best liquor store, the local pharmacy where I picked up prescriptions for Laurie.

I visited a grocery store in the neighborhood where Lin-Manuel Miranda lives, picked up a bottle of wine from the wine store that Laurie has seen his wife shopping in. I didn't run into either of them, but I got to meet the sweetest massive doodle you ever met and talk with its owner for a while. The dog walked up to me and expected to be petted. His owner was embarrassed, I was thrilled. 

Artwork provided by students over a footbridge, Wash Heights.

The local church's community fridge, Washington Heights

There is so much greenery in New York, so many hidden walking trails through flowers, trees, and along the all surrounding waters, be it the Hudson, the East or the Harlem Rivers. The parks I travailed were not filled with garbage, were not littered with the belongings of homeless people seeking refuge among the trees. They were peaceful, only disturbed by the occasional bicyclist or walker. 

Aah, New York. Until we meet again.

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