Greatest City In The World

So, last month I visited the Eastern Seaboard of the US for the first time. I've been to the south east coast--Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia. But never anything north of West Virgina (and that was just a drive-through to get to North Carolina.) Most of what I know of New York and New Jersey comes from movies or television. Sure, I know trivia about the place. I can pick out the skyline in a lineup. But everything I know about New York City comes through someone else's lens with other connotations to it.

"This building is where Big and Carrie were in that one episode of Sex and the City."
"Holy shit, that building looks like Stark Tower."
"Guys! We're driving past the alley where Steve Rogers got beat up!"
"I can't tell you how to get to Sesame Street, but holy shit, it's somewhere in Brooklyn!"

And so on...

And because my experience of this iconic place is largely spoken in the language of pop culture, I have built up some of the same associations with it that I have with Hollywood. I've been to LA. I've been on the Walk of Fame, and the backlots. And honestly, Hollywood was a disappointment. It was fake. Things were smaller than expected. It was like watching a magic show from back stage. Too many of the tricks are obvious, so I'm jaded about Los Angeles.  I'd formed similar theories about New York City. I expected another Emerald City: something that looks pretty through the right filters but isn't really like the rumors.

Friends, I'm here to tell you that I was wrong.

Holy fuck, guys. After just two jaunts into the City that Doesn't Sleep, I get it. I understand the strange idea that the universe revolves around Manhattan. I get the cult-like love and obsession that people have with New York City. That City is alive. It is living entity with its own pulse and flow. It's loud. It's crowded. It's beautiful. It's got ivy walls and green gardens sprouting up in between monolithic skyscrapers. It's a maze of asphalt and glass. And in the walls of this labyrinth are enticements--restaurants, museums, graffiti, protests, shops, shows, pieces of history, and the bleeding edge of pop culture--shouted out at high volume in dozens of languages.

I legitimately worried at one point that I was gaping like the hayseed hillbilly in from Ma and Pa Kent's farm, seeing the Big Ol' Apple for the first time.

Like I said, we were in the city for two non-consecutive days, and we had children and spoonies with us (myself included in that latter group) so, we didn't see nearly half of what we wanted to, ya know? On day one, we visited Ground Zero. The 9/11 Memorial is ... well, it's like Pearl Harbor.

For those who haven't been, Pearl Harbor is an odd experience, specifically the Arizona Memorial. Out on the water, you can still look down and see the skeleton of the Arizona. You can watch rainbows form on the ocean as oil bubbles up to the surface. Colorful coral grows there, climbing from the ship ruins up into the memorial's pool. It's quiet and peaceful. Respectful might be a better word. There's no doubt that you're standing on a mass grave. Tourists comport themselves in that way; hushed voices, soft steps. The soundtrack is a gentle one composed of murmurs, waves lapping at the stone, and chimes. The bells on board the memorial play America The Beautiful and Aloha Oe. However, each song ends with a note that is just a little too flat. It's slightly wrong and somber.

The 9/11 Memorial is similar. This is a sacred space. People died here. Horribly. And there were stories of heroism. And those empty spaces where towers once stood served as rallying points, places for grieving humanity to come together and learn to love, to connect through fear. It has been landscaped and paved in such a way to make it artful. Because that's what we do with modern cemeteries and memorials: we make them beautiful. We put pretty faces on the terrifying and horrific. The surface that remains is so incongruous with reality.

We were standing there at the edge of one of the pools that marks where a tower stood, and all around me was a constant murmur of rushing water, talking crowds, and just beyond--on the periphery of my attention--was the horn-honking, construction-rattle song of the city. The sun glittered off the waterfalls, off the glass buildings.

And all I could think about was black smoke, feathery grey ash, and the memory of watching live on NBC the people jumping to their deaths.

And this is where the wrong note comes in. I looked up from tracing the names of the fallen firemen who rushed into the South Tower to see people posing for beaming selfies. I saw girls pass the phone to their boyfriends before doing a quick primp. Toss the hair and pull the shirt down off the shoulder. Get my good side. Pop the hip and give just the perfect pout for a stellar Instagram of this moment.

I know some might look at this and see it as a testament to our resilience or something. Life goes on and all that. But wow... I just...  I staggered out of the Memorial area with an odd sort of heaviness to my heart that had little to do with grief. I still can't quite unpack my feelings about that visit.

That day we also went to visit Trinity Church, just a few blocks away from Ground Zero. This was my daughter's request as she is a big fan of Hamilton and wanted to see Alexander's grave. We walked through the church yard marveling at the weathered stones marking the lives of people born before our country let out its first cry. The earth was dark and new, the grass green--refreshed from recent rain. Pennies littered Alexander's marker, and that of his wife, as well as the memorial plaque dedicated to all Secretaries of the Treasury. We were in the Financial District after all.

We paid a visit to the Wall Street Bull and the Fearless Girl. We ate lunch in a repurposed bank vault. We walked a lot. Took the Staten Island Ferry to visit Lady Liberty. And subway rides bookended the visit.

Our other excursion into NYC saw us visiting the American Museum of Natural History. It was an incredible, all-day experience that I cannot sum up here. Seriously, if you have the opportunity, please go take a day or two and visit the collections there. The dioramas are works of art, the meteorites are kick ass and holy crap DINOSAURS. My favorite parts were probably the life-sized model of the blue whale, the scale outside of the Hayden Planetarium, and the entire area devoted to Polynesian culture. So awesome. We left the museum and went to a lovely Italian restaurant with a full gluten-free menu. Sometime in the middle of my pasta, I realized I was eating at an Italian restaurant on Central Park West. And that's such a MOVIE thing to do. (And it was delicious.)

Those were my experiences with the city itself. And it wasn't nearly enough.

I legitimately don't know how to be a spoonie in New York, but I'd like to find out so I can go back and see more some time. I fell in love with that place. I could never live there. I'm West Coast all the way. I go with the flow, but my tides are slower than those found on the East Coast. There is a magic to that place, though. It is captivating and I think that if you love it, you love it immediately. Or you don't.

Me...? I know it's cliche but...