I’ve got this peculiarity, as my Dad would call it, wherein I genuinely enjoy arriving at an unfamiliar place after dark. Really, I'd almost prefer to get to there, whether it's the Grand Canyon, the Gulf of Mexico, or Glasgow in the dead of night. Waking up in a new place makes me feel like I’m waking up into a new world.
Kate and I landed at a dark JFK around 8:45pm and promptly donned most of the clothing in our carry-ons as we waited for an Uber. Big-city cold is different. From the Kennedy Bridge we glimpsed the skyline for the first time, but like seeing the mountains rise west of Denver, it's impossible to grasp until you are standing in the middle of it, looking up.
Half of my time in New York was spent looking up. One World Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, Trinity Church, the Flat Iron Building all rising triumphant out of the cracked-asphalt bedrock. It's difficult to imagine these monuments of mankind existing as mere dreams in their creator’s heads. It’s also difficult to imagine living among those concrete dreams come to life. But for all its faults, after just four days I understand, at least in part, why New York City is the best city in the world.
New York is a place where there is no norm. There is no model New Yorker more true than any other. And in that, all are welcome. An associate at Goldman Sachs stands in line and buys chicken shawarma from a smiling, first-generation immigrant. Around the 9/11 Memorial, 5 different languages are spoken with hushed reverence. A fashion icon in what I can only assume is a patent-leather onesie sits side by side on the subway with a well-mustached man in a pea-coat. A harried cabbie squawks at a PA to hurry up and vacate the intersection. A Thai waitress proudly details to Kate and I how full of grace Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, was throughout his reign. This is New York. This is freedom painted with a very broad brush.
Yes, New York is difficult. Without a norm, comfort doesn’t come easy. It must be sought out in front of a Rembrandt at the Frick Collection or on a bench in the endless Central Park. Comfort does not come easy in New York but who said comfort was all that great anyway.