Monday, December 28, 2009

World on an island

Walking in midtown Manhattan the week after Christmas is akin to forging through the wilderness. The frigid wind blows relentlessly down the canyons of glass and steel. I was prepared with gloves and a scarf, but since I had a suit on today, and I don’t own an overcoat, the chill burrowed through to my bones. We all are familiar with aggressive drivers; however, as one enters the domain between 5th Avenue and Time Square, only aggressive walkers survive. The sidewalks are a mass of hundreds of thousands of pedestrians moving and pushing into the streets in semi-total chaos. Every momentary gap between humans must be entered or lost. Forward motion feels like fertilization; only the strong get through. I am not that strong anymore, but I am experienced in this urban jungle.
To escape, I descended underground only to find a dead-end as all three Metro Card dispensers in the 49th Street station for the N-R trains were “out of service”. I climbed back up to face endless tourists walking toward me as I headed for the 42nd street station. They were all looking up and pointing their cameras and cell phones toward the walls of the surrounding buildings to collect photos of advertisements for Twizzlers and Nivea Face Cream. I wonder how many will go to Target to print these pictures to show their friends and say, “See this three-story high M&M, this proves I was in New York.”?
Finally, I made it to the station in Times Square, and like a well trained rat, worked my way through the labyrinth there to the stairs for the R train to Brooklyn. As I waited, I heard the sound of percussion and my curiosity drew me down the platform to see a young man playing a very unusual ‘drum set’. “This guy is good.”I thought to myself. I had just missed the previous train, so I had time to enjoy his performance, and it was truly a performance. His primary drum was a 5-gallon bucket. But he also had a small snare, cymbal, chimes and maybe 8 other small and unusual percussion devices. As the station slowly filled and provided an audience, he began to interact with them and was soon rewarded with dollars and coins filling his cut-off 2 liter bottle. Directly over his head, people were paying $140 to see a musical. Within 2 minutes he had engaged an audience of 100 people, some dancing, all smiling. Then the train came and we moved on.
I love New York. To me, Manhattan is the whole world on one small island. Not the physical world, but the world of humanity. Whatever peoples and cultures exist out there, they each own a small corner here. Today an older gentleman, well dressed, emerged from a limousine as a chauffeur assisted him to the waiting doorman of the building 8 feet away. Sitting to the side of the door was a man of similar age looking down at nothing in particular fighting off the cold with layers of bags and newspaper. I don’t judge either, they are each products of their decisions and circumstances. But they reminded me of the diversity of extremes that co-exist here in such close proximity.
New York is a collage of many villages juxtaposed against a paucity of space, all pushing and maneuvering to carve out their little piece of pie that is the ‘Big Apple’. There is an energy here I don’t really feel in any other city. A part of me will always feel at home here, but New York is a walking city and I tire out after about 15 blocks now. That just means I have to stop, sit for a while and just watch the humanity go by, all hurried to get somewhere to do a million things; most of them completely unaware of the other humans that surround them. I will often pick an individual out of the crowd and wonder who they are. Are they happy? What experiences have they had? I will watch them as long as I can until they disappear into the crowd, never to intersect with my life again.



Jennifer Brailsford said...

By the time you get this comment I am sure you are back in Lincoln but we are sad we missed you here in NYC. John and I just moved here 4 weeks ago for his postdoc. Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kevin and Barbie, hope all is well and your holidays were wonderful. They were for me but so glad it's over. We spent the last 5 days at our trailer on Clear Lake. I love being there. I rested and relaxed. So now its 2010 and I pray for us to have good health and to make moments that take our breath away. I thought each day this year I will do or make a moment that takes my breath away and document it in my journel. I should post it on my blog but sometimes i get so busy I forget to do a blog. I have heart biopsy on Tuesday the 12th. I hope everything goes well. I'm feeling good. Gaining weight again from the Decadron but I am working out again twice a week with my personal trainer and it feels wonderful. I just need to ride my bike or start walking again. I will do it to stay heathly. I'm glad you are traveling. I'm going on a cruise to Alaska in May. So excited to see the land, animals and the little villages. I wish you and Barbie wonderful moments. Hope to see you soon. love, Debbie

Emma and Dan said...

You put things in words so well. I have felt/thought a lot of those things while in NY, but I could never articulate it the way that you do. It's a gift.

Anonymous said...

i just stumpled upon this post and got reminded of my short time in NY last summer.
your description of the city is so beautiful, and like you i think that NY has a special character which no other city has.