TUESDAY AFTERNOON IN THE BIG APPLE

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I was born in New York City, lived all but seven of the first forty-seven years of my life there, and always yearned to come back — not only during the seven years I was away, but also for many of the years after I left for what turned out to be the final time. I knew all the songs from “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town.”  I could warble (badly):  “I’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Sta-ten Island, too.” While I lived there, I was so proud to be a New Yorker, whatever that meant. I think it’s probably just that I had an intimate knowledge of Manhattan geography, skill with elbowing my way through crowds and with hailing taxis  —  and diction that gave me away every time. Even today, no one who hears me speak would ever imagine I’m the out-of-towner I’ve been for thirty-five years.

Nonetheless, the times they are a-changin’ — both for me and the Big A. Yesterday, a glorious early fall day, Bill and I came in to the city from our leafy Eden in New Jersey because he is a medical snob and will only undergo necessary medical procedures at the hands of renowned Big City M.D.’s.  The procedure yesterday was cutting the stitches after a minor operation last week at HSS (Hospital for Special Surgery) for carpal tunnel in his right hand.  Don’t ask how he got it.  He neither types nor performs any repetitive motions with that hand, and never has. (He’s left-handed.) But as D. Rumsfeld, one of our unlamented former Secretaries of Defense, once remarked, “Stuff happens.”

My presence was from a medical point of view unnecessary.  But Bill is unfamiliar with either the layout or rhythm of New York, has no sense of direction whatsoever, walks with a cane and would be a pushover for any unscrupulous taxi driver looking to run up the meter by taking the longest, slowest way around Manhattan to get to the surgeon’s office on East 72nd Street, where the stitches were going to be snipped. So I came along, to hold the unbandaged hand, run interference through crowds, serve as human GPS and speak with the inimitable New York accent that alerts said unscrupulous taxi drivers not to mess with me.

We came in by bus, not my preferred mode of transport to New York but Bill hates, hates, hates (admittedly crowded) Penn Station, where the train would have smoothly brought us after seventy minutes or so. He feels arriving at the New York Port Authority after nearly two hours of bumping along by bus is a less traumatic experience. The Port Authority is at Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street; Dr. A’s office is at  523 East 72nd Street, between FDR Drive and York. That’s 30 blocks going north, and 8 1/2 blocks going east.

Twenty New York blocks is roughly a mile, but the east-west blocks are longer than the north-south ones, so let’s be generous and say it was a two and a half mile trip each way.  The meters on New York taxis run on time as well as distance.  We took a taxi because an out-of-town man in his mid-eighties with a cane, no matter how sharp from the neck up, would not do well taking the 42nd Street crosstown bus  — crowded, lurching and v-e-r-y slow — and then waiting for the uptown York Avenue bus, which normally runs infrequently and is also pretty slow. After that, there would be a longish walk to FDR Drive anyway.  (Longish for Bill with his cane, that is.)

The snipping of the stitches took fifteen minutes, which time also included a steroid shot for tendonitis of the wrist.  Despite this blog’s name, I don’t normally mention these sorts of accompaniments to getting old. The blog is for the most part about living our allegedly golden years, not qvetching about the tarnish on them. I note what happened in Dr. A.’s office not to dwell on it but to compare the time it took for these two brief medical events with the time it took to get there, and then the time it took to get us back to the Port Authority (where we only had to wait an additional twenty minutes for the next bus to Princeton).

The two and a half mile trip northeast consumed forty-five minutes and cost $26.00.  The two and a half mile trip back was fifty minutes and cost $28.00.  In each instance, I’ve included a $2.50 tip in those amounts, which is only 10% of the total and makes me, in my own mind, a cheapskate. I used to tip 18-20%, because driving in New York traffic is not a barrel of laughs, but we can’t do that any more because we are, as they say, “old” and have no more earned income stream. We also hope to last as long as possible, for which we need to conserve what funds we have. But we do what we can. Also, I digress.

Why did driving two and a half miles in New York City on a Tuesday afternoon take forty-five minutes, the return two and a half miles take fifty minutes and the whole damn thing cost $54?  Let me show you.  Consider it a preview tour of Manhattan, if you’re thinking of coming yourself.

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Nearing Sixth Avenue on 48th Street.

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Note congestion — aka “traffic” — at bottom of photo. To avoid staring at it in frustration from inside your cab, the only place to look is up.

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Our driver is trying to turn north on Sixth Avenue here. Operative word is “trying.” They renamed it “Avenue of the Americas” when I was young, but the old name refused to go away. Now the street signs have both names on them. Since I’m old school, I still call it Sixth Avenue. That doesn’t make the traffic disappear, though.

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You could try to meditate, I guess. But it doesn’t really help. If you didn’t already know what “gridlock” looks like, now you do.

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I’ll stop commenting and look out the windows for a while. There’s a TV monitor in front of the back seat, but it only shows garbage, so we always turn it off.

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Glamorous, isn’t it?

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See, it’s not really faster by bus.

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When you get tired of the gridlock, you can always look up again. Different building.

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In case you didn’t know, this is why taxis are known in New York as yellow cabs.

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You can look at your watch and fume. Or look at the meter and fume. Or tell yourself not to get an ulcer; it will all be over by the end of the day. Maybe.

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Oh, I think we’re moving. A little bit.

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This is not the destination. But enough already. We did get there eventually. Two and a half miles, as I believe I already mentioned. $26.00, as I believe I already mentioned.

After the fifteen minutes of snipping and needlework at the incomparable hands of Dr. A., we had to get back.  When we had come in the week before for the actual surgery, our driver had tried to return us to the Port Authority by going south on Park Avenue.  Not a wise decision:

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Everyone who explained to us that it was particularly bad yesterday because the UN is in session was full of it. It was also particularly bad last week, when the UN was not yet in session.

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Approaching Grand Central on Park Avenue. These buildings are “older” — probably pre-World War II “older,” or built just afterwards.

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Looks Kafka-esque, doesn’t it? (Yes, this is still Park Avenue, in the high 40’s.)

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While we were stalled in the street below, people were actually working, getting things done. See the lights?

So going south on Park Avenue was not such a good idea. Yesterday, our driver tried Fifth. As the young might say: “OMG!”

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See what I mean?

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Scenic, isn’t it?

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Relax. Go with the flow. (What flow?)

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I bet the view overlooking Central Park from one of those (extremely expensive) apartments must be lovely.

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The view down here is less lovely. At least now you know where to phone for Eli (Zabar)’s bread.

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We’ve moved about a block and a half since I began this photographic journey with you.

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Trapped! Trapped in a New York taxi! The only way out is to walk! But even if we were hale and fit and young enough to do it, the sidewalks are pretty crowded, too, because it’s such a beautiful day! (I refer to the weather, of course.)

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A bus? Don’t even think about it!

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Lift your eyes up and pray.

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Yes, dear readers, we — who had pulled out of our driveway at 10:40 a.m. to be on time for the 11 a.m. Coach USA bus to New York — did eventually get home to Princeton again.  At 6 p.m. But there’s an upside to all this angst-in-a-taxi. I discovered something. The Big Apple may still be a helluva town, but it’s a different sort of hell.  I no longer yearn to live there — a relatively new development in my life.  You see? There’s no upper limit at all to the age at which you can learn and grow.

I’m so happy we live here instead:

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It’s good to be home.

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19 thoughts on “TUESDAY AFTERNOON IN THE BIG APPLE

  1. LOVED NYC! My friend moved to Staten Island about a year ago and we just visited last month! We had the best time! I didn’t realize the amount of things there are to just see without paying any money! I can’t wait to go back. I think we will go back next spring or summer!

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  2. Ahh, this brings back memories of the years I spent in NYC. I too admit that I don’t miss all the gridlock & congestion & cars honking…not to mention the crowded sidewalks. I can imagine it’s only worse now since people seem to be looking down at their smartphones instead of what’s going on around them.

    While I did enjoy my time there as a student – and loved the museums and architecture of the buildings – I knew I could never live in a huge city as a working adult (which is ironic that I’m living in Tokyo now…sigh). I love the last photos of your neighborhood – so green and peaceful and lovely! 🙂

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    • Ahh, Takami — It’s always fun to review one’s memories of places one enjoyed, so I’m glad for the “ahh!” Although Tokyo? I understand that takes the prize for gridlock and congestion! If you like the look of our modest Princeton neighborhood, you and David must plan to come for a visit! We have a double bed in the finished basement!

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  3. What scared me when my husband and I visited NY in 2002 ,was the way cars, at many intersections in New York governed by traffic lights, could make a right turn when the light was still on red. We don’t have that here and the first time I nearly got run over. The honking saved me ( and the colourful language) . I really wanted to go in a yellow taxi but , I guess, I would have been stuck in a traffic jam like you were. I love going away on holiday but coming home is the best.

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    • Turning at red lights, unless specifically prohibited by a sign, is common in many states — not just New York. What drove me nuts, and nearly got me killed, when I first returned by car to New York as an adult was the institution of one-way streets while I was away; the even-numbered ones now go east (usually), the odd-numbered ones go west, and the north-south avenues you have to memorize!

      On the other hand, I often had to jump back onto the curb when in England because I was always looking in the wrong direction for oncoming cars. Why do you all drive on the left side of the street???? (Joke. But I would never try to drive there. Old habits lie too deep to try to change.)

      Yes, coming home is always best. At least for a while, till the travel bug starts biting again…..

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      • Because our left is the right. :D. We were always told that it started because we must have our sword arm free when passing traffic. It’s been too long since I last used my sword. Joking apart , thank you ,it’s interesting reading about the one way streets. When I was in New York I didn’t notice that. My niece videoed our tiny streets with the cars parked on both sides of the road so we took turns to drive up the middle. She didn’t like the roundabouts . I never saw any when I was in America. When in France, we went the wrong way around a roundabout. Police ignored us.

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  4. Jools

    As an outsider, and one with an over-romanticised view of New York, I really enjoyed your tour! What I saw was the sunlight, moments of classic urban architecture, those iconic yellow taxis. Thank you for sharing your traffic-eye journey, frustrating though it must have been. I can see why you were glad to get home. I have that exact same response when I’m forced to haul myself into Central London. 🙂

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  5. I can well understand your frustration, and identify with you. Though I have a car, I stopped driving in downtown Jerusalem a few years ago, because it just made me nervous. I can still remember when I really enjoyed driving, but it’s been a lot less fun for some time now. Still, there are certain routes which are much more practical by car. When using public transportation, I use a book or a recording to distract me… and sometimes photograph as you did. Nice post.

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    • Thank you, Shimon. I agree that being behind the wheel in big cities is not for the faint of heart (which definitely includes me). I too read on busses and trains. Can’t read in taxis, though. Would interfere with my backseat driving! 🙂

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  6. You take me back. I, too, grew up there. =) Went to Stuyvesant. I’d never raise my son there, as I wrote in Sex in the City. Yes, I do think outsiders romanticize the city. I know a lot of yuppies and friends eager to make their mark fresh out of college (way back) who found how lonely NYC can be. Everyone is so BUSY. Nice post, N. Glad you’re blogging again, though I was bummed about your book. Thanks for keeping up with me again. =)

    Xxxxx
    Diana

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    • Thanks, Diana, for reading again. However, I’ve been blogging again for well over a month. Did you miss all those posts? (You might have liked the eight about Anna, and the two after them.) Don’t be bummed about the book. I’m pretty sure everything that happens, happens for the best. That book, however well written, was probably not quite ready to surface in the form it was in. If I ever work up the energy to restructure it, maybe then it will deserve to see the light of day.

      As for keeping up with you, I never stopped. Sometimes, though, WP knocks blogs off the list of those I follow, and then, when I notice there hasn’t been anything from that blogger in my Reader for a while, I have to scramble to find them again.

      You’re right that outsiders certainly do romanticize the city. Although one can raise children there (I have two grandchildren growing up in Manhattan), it takes a l-o-t of money and is usually not a choice but a necessity for other reasons. Hope you’re recovering from whatever it is that’s been plaguing you, even if they can’t identify it….

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      • I know you didn’t just now step back into blogging. Yes, I’d visited earlier – I believe I put up a like. That was terribly sweet of you to stay with me while knee-deep in your book, N. Yes, WP has knocked me off many READERS. You’d think WP encourages follows. ^^ That’s something: two grandkids who’ve taken root in the City. Been over a week and I still feel the cut into the stomach. Thanks so much for the regards.

        Love,
        Diana

        Liked by 1 person

      • It takes a while to recover from internal “procedures.” Our insides weren’t designed to be messed with! By the way, you might be interested in a piece I reblogged today by a young Korean American writer. Has your experience been similar?

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