Monday, June 16, 2008

Taking my city back...

I love New York City.
For three decades, NYC has been mecca--the land of wonderful food, something new and interesting around every corner, so many places to explore and things to do that never in a lifetime could I or would I be bored or lacking for something to fascinate me.

As an beginning art director, I came to NYC for one or two conferences a year, back in the days when you could hop a plane from Syracuse to Newark at 8 a.m., be in the city by ten, spend the entire day hopping from place to place, take a bus back to Newark and catch another plane that would have me home by midnight--all for $69 round-trip. I miss you, Peoples Express, with your courtesy carts pushed up and down the aisles of the small commuter jet, the steward collecting both fares and money for whatever snacks and drinks passengers wanted. I could come to NYC even though I didn't have a credit card, because on Peoples Express, you had to pay cash. Cool. NYC was suddenly available for less than bus fare, to a broke college kid with no credit card.

Then came the dogs, and NYC was Westminster in February. And as I got better paying jobs, it was the Rockettes at Christmas and maybe a one or two-day shopping bus trip.
Yeah, I love NYC.

When Adam and Brian were 15 and 12, I asked my sister if she thought it would be okay to take them to NYC. Well--sure...could she come too? I found a great deal on a fancy business hotel for arrivals during Thanksgiving weekend. Grandma came too, and of course it was 70 degrees and sunny when we'd all planned for 30 degrees and winter. But the boys loved it. They'd never seen so many people try to cross a street at the same time, never seen six lanes of taxis playing chicken, never stayed in a hotel that didn't have a public ice machine (the bellman brought ice to the room). They'd never seen street vendors, been to a street fair, eaten in a tiny Italian restaurant where the menu was in Italian and the fresh pasta was cooked to order. They'd never seen store windows decorated for a holiday with so much abandon. They'd never seen so much of anything before.

After 9/11, I decided to go to NYC again. Brian was a senior in high school by then, and Adam was away at college, so it was a smaller crew--Brian, my sister, and my mother. And while we saw the Rockettes (again) and caught a Knicks game, it was a more somber trip that time--Brian did a phote essay on the flags and memorials that were on every block amidst the holiday excess he remembered from his last trip.

NYC. Someplace exotic and familiar at the same time, always a friend, always fun--my favorite city, my favorite quick vacation.

And then, I got cancer. I was referred to Memorial Sloan Kettering. Now, traveling to NYC was also associated with feeling like crap, with scary tests, with stressful doctor visits, with extended hospital stays.

I was in the hospital during Christo's 'Flags' installation in Central Park, and watched them wave as the town car taking me to Miracle House cut through the park. I now have a 'neighborhood' on the west side in Hell's Kitchen, where I've spent several weeks in recovery after surgery, and a 'neighborhood' on the upper east side, where my brother has a share and where I've spent lots of days and nights traveling to the city for chemo, or tests, or both. And of course, there's midtown, and the 'hood around the 53rd Street doctors' offices, and Bedpan Alley from 64th and 1st to 75th and York, where the main hospital and many of the satellite treatment offices are centered.

Sometime during the months of treatment and tests, I lost my city. I lost that special feeling I used to get when the train left Yonkers and the excitement that would make me smile when we entered the underground that is the staging area for the trains in Penn Station. I can't walk all day from neighborhood to neighborhood like I used to be able to do, and I can't just decide to hop a subway and spend a day in Chinatown, or at the museum of my choice. NYC became an obligation for awhile, a place I went to try to get better, a place where I always ended up feeling sick.

But today, things were different. Dr. C. removed a stent and pronounced me 'fine,' and said I could stop the meds he's had me on for two months. And when we came out of the doctor's office, into the hazy half-sunny humidity, I didn't just come out of a doctor's office. I came back into my city.

The kids were slamming around in the play park across the street. The bakery on the corner was calling my name. We cabbed back to Scott's (I felt good, but not good enough to walk home), and when we got back to Mad Ave., I took a walk up the avenue all the way past Dean and DeLuca. I went into Ventures, my favorite UES stationery store, and shopped. I ate some truffle samples and D&D, and bought sushi for lunch and a sandwich for my late train. I watched the other people window-shopping and hustling to their next 'thing' and realized I am one of them again, a New Yorker in love with my city.

NYC is not just the place I have to go to deal with being sick.
It's my town, and life is too damn short to let anyone or anything take that away, every again.

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