I am sitting in a Starbucks in New York City. It’s funny how you travel 2,000 miles only to end up ordering the same drink that you have ordered in the same coffee shop back home a hundred times before. The only difference is the $3.90 price tag … with an extra buck built in as a surcharge for the privilege to sip this drink across the street from David Letterman’s 100-foot head (two-foot gap between his front teeth included) sitting atop the Ed Sullivan theater. As I sit here, pounding away on my laptop amongst the SoHo hipsters, freelance writers and NYU liberal arts majors, I can’t help but jot down some observations I’ve had in my short stay:
The last time I visited this NYC was in August of 2001. The biggest change between now and then is that people are actually nice to each other. In my previous trips to the city, I had become a pro at getting cursed at by cab drivers, store owners and just about anyone else I came into contact with. (The “hold the mayo and veggies, and could you throw a little extra cheese on there?” line doesn’t work too well in this city.) But so far on this trip, those interactions have been replaced with warm eye contact, heartfelt smiles and people who aren’t annoyed when you ask them which subway line takes you to Broadway and 55
. But, before I get too sentimental, allow me to point out that I still have had my share of experiences with rolling eyes and choice words … just with less frequency.
There is an abundance of “United We Stand” messages adorning cars, store windows and people. In a way, it feels like the tragedies happened just last week. In Texas, the stickers and T-shirts have been slowly vanishing to the point that it’s very rare that I see one anymore. I feel like we’ve been lulled back into our false sense of security, or that, as my neighbor who just moved from New York to Dallas put it, we’re living in a very Sept. 10 community. Up here, however, it’s very Sept. 12. I can’t decide which one is better.
I have not yet decided if I will visit Ground Zero. My first inclination was to avoid any reminder of the tragedies on this trip. After all, it is my vacation. Vacations are supposed to be spent being entertained, eating way too much and recharging for the “real world” that awaits back home. But as I’ve spent a few days in the city, I have realized that I do not need to visit the “official memorial” to be reminded of the tragedies. As I’ve taken my morning jogs through Central Park, followed my wife Amy on her shopping trips during the day and visited clubs and restaurants in the evenings, the memorials have been all around me. Whether it’s the plethora of patriotic material, the city’s newfound “niceness,” or the throngs of policemen standing in packs on every other corner, I have no choice but to embrace the sadness along with the joy that oozes from every corner of this island of Manhattan. Because in truth, the two are joined at the hip. You cannot take one without the other, either at home or on vacation.
As I stare out the window at the newsstand on the sidewalk, I am realizing that no matter where I go, Reese Witherspoon is watching every move I make. The covers of People, US Weekly and Marie Claire are all adorned with her perfect little blonde head, not to mention those 100-foot billboards. We get it; she’s really hot right now.
New York City has provided us with a burgeoning rock revival over the last two years: from The Strokes to Interpol to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. Even southern rockers such as Ryan Adams and Rhett Miller have moved here to be a part of the scene. How do I know this? Not only do I read Rolling Stone, but also it’s made evident by the countless twentysomething guys walking around with perfectly messed up hair. Oh yeah, and of course they’re wearing kitschy western shirts that probably cost $75 at a Greenwich Village thrift store. But I’m not really one to talk. I spent more than a few minutes in front of the mirror this morning fixing, er, I mean, messing up my hair. And, yes, I also donned my recently purchased western shirt. (Though mine only cost $9.99 at a New Mexico Wal-Mart). The con is working though, as I have been asked three times by tourists for directions. And although I likely sent all three of them in the opposite direction of where they needed to go, it still gave me a great amount of satisfaction.
Someone who works in this Starbucks loves me. They just replaced the Euro-trash techno that was playing when I came in with a Bob Dylan record. It’s my second Dylan experience of the day. A few hours ago in the subway station there was a street musician who hadn’t bathed in a week singing a truly beautiful, heart-felt, gut-wrenching version of “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man.” It was so moving that I almost tossed some coinage in his guitar case. Even though I’m gainfully employed and he’s probably not, he had a much nicer guitar than me. So I kept my 50 cents.
There is an actor sitting behind me in Starbucks. Not just any other actor, mind you, but a “serious actor.” At least, that’s what he’s telling his friends. Why don’t people ever try to convince their friends that they’re “serious accountants,” “serious teachers” or “serious engineers”? Makes you think. But I guess that’s just how it goes in New York City. People who move here are people with big dreams … dreams as big as David Letterman’s 100-foot head. As for the rest of us, all we can do is sip our coffee, pound away on our laptops and enjoy the ride. Because, face it, Reese Witherspoon isn’t going anywhere, and neither is New York.
On this weekend, let’s take a moment to remember the lives lost on 9/11.
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