Home > Character Essays, Culture > Ode to New York

Ode to New York

New York City 1932

Apologies to those of you who could care less about Gotham, but I feel the need to wax poetic about the sights and sounds and stories of one of the most fascinating cities on earth.  There have been so many films, TV shows, songs, poems, and books written with New York City as a backdrop that it’s nearly impossible to not feel like you’re walking around on some kind of a movie set when you make your way around this town.

Today for example, I grabbed the B train to Rockefeller Center.  The first thing you see as you emerge from the subway station is Radio City Music Hall.  The history and tradition of that place; the precision dance-kicking, the famous Christmas shows, the myriad events that occur in there that people don’t even know about, from political debates and movie debuts to big awards shows.

Then you turn the corner and there’s Rockefeller Center.  They’ve put up the skating rink already but the floods of Christmas tourists aren’t here yet so you can actually see the first folks to strap on the skates and go for a spin on the ice.   I walked a few more blocks and hit the intersection of 49th and Lexington, hung a right, and there, on display in all its architectural majesty was the looming presence of the Chrysler building, once the tallest skyscraper in the city until the Empire State building was constructed.  And here’s a real weird fact I bet you never knew.  That building was once owned by former Washington Redskins owner, Jack Kent Cooke.  Most of you wouldn’t care, but as a former Washingtonian and as a current long-suffering ‘Skins fan, I think that’s kind of cool.  Maybe Daniel Snyder should buy it for luck.

A couple more blocks and I passed the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.  How many Presidents and Kings and Queens have slept in that storied establishment?  Another block down and you’re on Madison Avenue.  You look north and see the canyons of high-rise buildings that stand tall like monuments to the nation’s advertising industry.  How many familiar jingles, TV ads and marketing campaigns were born on that street?

But New York is more than physical, iconic locales.  It’s also about people.  If you look for them, or sometimes just flat run into them, there are thousands of tender moments that take place here on a daily basis.

I’ll never forget crossing a street on the Upper West Side about a year ago and seeing what must have been a 95-year-old woman with a shock of white hair struggling to get her grocery cart up the curb.  I bent down and lifted it up for her and put it onto the sidewalk.  She said nothing but did give me the warmest smile I think I have ever seen.  I noticed her incredibly deep blue eyes and for a second, I saw 60 years drop off her face and imagined what a beautiful young woman she had probably been at one time.

This week, while rushing to an appointment, I passed a black nanny pushing a cute little white boy in a stroller.  She stopped in front of an apartment building that had a beautiful flower-bed growing around a tree.  She picked one of those bright, purple flowers and held it in front of the little boy’s gleaming eyes.  And he smiled.  Kind of like the 95 year old lady did on the Upper West side a year before.

My mother and father once lived in New York City.  They’re gone now but I think of their time spent here and that I am walking the same streets they walked and seeing many of the same sights they saw.  I am certain they also experienced many of the same moments of tenderness and acts of human kindness.  They probably felt the same awe at the bigness and power of the skyscrapers and the famous streets.  They probably marveled as do I, that this place is home to so many rich and poor and black and brown and white; that you can hear five different languages being spoken as you walk down one city block.

When I look at this place through their eyes and think of the smiles of babies and old ladies, I realize that this is the real magic of New York City-  it is completely and utterly eternal.

  1. Laurie
    November 19, 2009 at 2:14 am

    Just think about how amazing NYC was to your Mom when she was new to the States & expecting you. You certainly have gone far beyond her dreams for her first generation American baby boy.

  1. November 24, 2010 at 1:58 am

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