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Explorations

August 7, 2011

Another Sunday, another plane ride. It’s only my second since I started work, but it’s my fourth since April and it’s already starting to feel like old hat. I’ve got the routine down.

I love the drive to Brooklyn from the airport. The entire skyline of Manhattan is laid out before you. It’s moving and also sad, because I always see the big gaping hole where the World Trade Center used to be. It was my compass for many years. Now, though, you can see the new buildings rising where they used to be, topped with cranes. It’s more hopeful than the shattering blankness. But mostly I watch the Empire State Building, because I marvel that it’s now the tallest, because I see it and know that’s more or less where I’m heading in the morning, because I can’t stop thinking about its spire as a zeppelin dock. The zeppelin dock is a sign of the city’s hope for its future, completed six years before the Hindenburg disaster led us to give up thoughts of zeppelin travel. Maybe, then, the new tower at Ground Zero is even more hopeful, not just outliving the disaster but rising from its ashes.

Driving in from the lush green of Chicago, New York is an ugly city. I am thinking this while I’m sitting in the cab on the way from the airport. And then I think, no, that’s not right. New York has never been ugly or beautiful or dirty or clean or loud or quiet or any other adjective to me. It’s always been just “The City.” When I moved to Chicago, it didn’t seem like a real city to me. It was too pretty, too green. The subways are terrible and everyone drives. There are no bodegas, no Mr. Softee trucks, no food carts. After 20 years there, I’ve learned to love it. But it’s a very different place than here. After the 1871 fire, Chicago was plotted and planned. There was a vision for how it should be built and how it should work. New York seems to have grown like the weeds that sprout from its sidewalks, squeezing into cracks you never noticed before, marking its territory so someone else doesn’t claim it first. And no, it’s not pretty, but it commands a certain respect for its mere survival.

It was early evening when I arrived at Cranky’s. I’ve got the place to myself this week while Cranky and Baby J are vacationing. It seem quiet and a little lonely. After I got myself organized, I decided to head out in search of an ATM and some groceries. It was as much an excuse for a walk on a warm summer evening as anything else. I lived here one summer 15 years ago and that may be the last time I walked this particular way. The neighborhood has gentrified a great deal since then. I passed health food stores and a compounding pharmacy, organic bakeries and green dry cleaners. Two Boots is still there. So is the Community Bookstore. I found the wine shop I used to go to and bought myself a bottle, but it’s got fancier booze than it used to have. I passed one of the schools we’re considering for AJ. It doesn’t look like much from the street. Formidable, even, with its gated windows and doors. But the playground was full of children shrieking with laughter and their parents sitting and chatting with each other. Across the street, the Mr. Softee truck was parked, silent. I miss the Mr. Softee song. But everyone I know who has lived here for a long time hates it. In any case, they don’t seem to play it any more, whether due to city regulations or customer outrage, I’m not sure.

I stop at one store for bread, another for produce and a few groceries to get me through the week. I carry the groceries home in my computer bag, which I’d emptied out for that purpose. I count the number of languages I hear on the street. I lose count two blocks before home. The key turns in the lock on the first try now. I wait for the door to close behind me and head up the creaky wooden stairs. Tomorrow I go to the park.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2011 8:05 pm

    Harriet, this is a beautiful post: it projects a wonderful calm that you may not even feel right now. As a Chicago-area native, I don’t think that I could ever get used to New York City: the geography of the neighborhoods there still leaves me baffled, among other things. It is lovely, though, that you can walk to three stores and get your shopping done, as opposed to driving to a mega-mart.

    Continued good luck!

  2. August 7, 2011 9:14 pm

    I’m with Hugh – this is beautiful. I have tried New York and simply do not warm to it, but you make it sounds appealing and beautiful. P.S. All urban schools have protection elements these days. Focus on the kids who are laughing as a good sign.

    -lemming

  3. August 8, 2011 7:39 am

    Even rural schools are ludicrously locked and chained. I have to announce my business over an intercom and stand in front of a camera for inspection to get into the local high school now when one of my kids has forgotten something and needs it.

    Chicago has subways??

  4. eleanorio permalink
    August 8, 2011 8:43 am

    Your opening reminded me of that recent film with George Clooney where he logs over 1,000,000 air miles because he’s always flying for his job. But I agree with the others; this is a beautiful bit of writing.

  5. August 9, 2011 8:34 pm

    Jeanne, I don’t remember enough to know if you’re joking. When you were there, did you not notice the State Street Subway? Let alone the subways that connect to it?

  6. August 9, 2011 10:12 pm

    Thanks, everybody. Eleanor, they call them “els” but several lines run underground in the Loop. Eleanorio, I haven’t seen that film (nor can I remember the name of it off the top of my head), but I now what you’re talking about.

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