Like John Grisham’s rambling collection of novels, the Manhattan trips of my youth all sort of run together. I remember the broken toilet at Le Parker Meridien. Leslie and I pilfered the ashtray as compensation. I remember lying to the ticket taker at The Frick, per my mother’s strict instructions, claiming the age of ten when I was really only 8 and a half. I remember seeing a Penn & Teller performance and then referring to my sister as MoFo for a week afterwards, unaware that it meant anything more than the silly name of the magic duo’s psychic ape. I remember begging my mom to let go of me as I teetered on a round collapsible stool in the back of a retro checkered cab. Two seconds later, the taxi came to a screeching halt and my head slammed into the glass partition. My mom resumed her grasp of me while uttering 'I told you so' under her breath. I remember eating rice pudding at Rumpelmayer’s only to be disappointed by the plump raisins littering the dessert. Hey, nothing was going to top the time I sipped Frozen Hot Chocolate a mere two tables away from Walter Mathau.
I hold all of those memories close and to this day enjoy the character found only in Manhattan. Over time, I’ve come to know the city pretty well. Or at least pretty well for a non-resident. The subway doesn’t intimidate me and I know how to hail a cab, even when there are ten other people on the corner attempting to do the same thing. Think theatre district on a rainy day. I’ve also become a repeat offender at certain spots, identifying them as my neighborhood favorites. Not much tops biting into a tuna burger from Union Square Café after perusing the tables of the open market. Same goes for warming up on a chilly day with a hot chocolate from City Bakery or farm roasted coffee from 71 Irving.
This past Saturday, I headed up to the city. With my messenger bag loaded up with essentials like a book, my iPod, train schedule, sunglasses and gum, I stepped out onto 7th Avenue and began my adventure. There was lunch to be had at Sarabeth’s, a play to be seen at Lincoln Center, a light bite to be had with Caralyn at Café Lalo and three different exhibits to view at the Met. It was sure to be a long day.
By the time I’d tackled everything on my list, it was around eight o'clock in the evening. I dropped my Met tag in the bin by the doorway and exited out into the chillier-from-earlier-but-still-balmy-for-January air. I zipped up my fleece as I worked my way down the grand stairs and without even thinking about it, I turned right and strolled in the direction of Penn Station. A few blocks down, with the park to my right and the bustling avenue to my left, someone stopped me for directions to the subway.
"You need to cut over to Lex," I hurriedly replied.
"Take 81st," I said while pointing to the street sign. "When you get to Lexington, either turn left up to 86th or right down to 77th," I said with the same annunciation one might use when communicating with a foreigner.
With my directions complete, I turned on my heels and continued on my way. I left my iPod in my bag, letting the sounds of the city be the soundtrack for my stroll. As I neared the edge of the park, I stopped just long enough to retrieve a Zabars bag of goodies from my purse. I peered in and plucked free a chocolate rugalech. In three bites it was gone, crumbs clinging to the front of my jacket. Satiated and tired, I raised my arm in defeat and waited for a yellow chariot to take notice.
"Where to?" the cabbie asked as I slid into the backseat.
"Penn Station, please," I replied.
We sped off from the curb and slalomed our way through town. I cracked the window to offset the mingling scent of curry and cherry air freshener. And as the city streets and people bustling about them whirled past, I smiled. I heart New York.