It’s funny, but I barely remember the first time I visited New York. I was nine years old, and went with my Dad and brother to see the World’s Fair in Queens. I remember the It’s a Small World Exhibit, but mostly I remember the car ride home on the Jersey Turnpike, gazing out at the brightly lit New York skyline and realizing for the first time that if it’s dark outside, you can actually look sideways out the window and not get car sick.
The next time I visited New York, I was on an eight grade class trip. I think we went to the United Nations, but I don’t recall that. Here are the two things I do remember – (1) singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”while stuck in traffic coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel onto 42nd Street, which in those days was lined with Peep Shows and Porn Shops and (2) being a smart-ass with my friends and leaving a one-cent tip at the restaurant in Tudor City where we were packed in and served overcooked Salisbury Steak, which was basically inedible. (Even then, I was a food critic..)
The third time I visited New York, I fell in love.
It was a day trip I took during college with my best friends. I think we must have seen a play, but for the life of me, I don’t remember what it was. This time it was lunch at Mama Leone’s, which even I, the rube from Philly, recognized as cattle call for tourists – the place was loud and packed and I felt like a number. And the portions? HUGE. Like “I think I’m gonna’ be sick”, huge. So we decided to walk it off with a stroll in Central Park. And it was there, sitting under the Wisteria Arbor on the West Drive, that I fell. Hard.
Maybe it was the intoxicating floral perfume. Combined with post-prandial carbohydrate overload and a bit of a buzz from the wine we had with lunch. And a warm spring day and best friends. And that skyline. (Clearly, it was not the food…) All I knew was – I was in love. With a city. And I knew – I had to move here.
So after college, I did. I spent two years living in the Village and going to grad school at NYU, a time during which I moved four times with a succession of three different room mates, ran out of money after 6 months and started working full time and going to school at night, lost my innocence and my baby fat, suffered a few bouts of great loneliness, fell in love, had my heart broken and broke one myself, and tried and failed to get into medical school, until I tried again and was accepted to a school back in Philly. I was so happy to just get in that I didn’t think twice about leaving New York. I had more important things to do than be in love with a city.
So, I moved back home. Where I got my MD, did a residency, joined a med school faculty, moved a few more times. Alone the way, I met Mr TBTAM and the rest is history on that front. We had a kid, bought a house – you know the deal. I think I came back up to New York to visit once or twice, but my heart was in Philly. Or so I thought. Until one day, during a time when I was feeling a bit frustrated in my job, someone offered me another one here. It took me about a minute to consider it before I knew the answer had to be yes. It took Mr TBAM a little longer than that to warm to the idea, but he pretty quickly did (not that I gave him much choice). So we sold the house and the car, took the kid and moved to the Big Apple.
That was almost 16 years ago. Since then, we’ve only moved once, within the same building, to a bigger apartment. We lucked into the world’s best nanny, had another kid and sent both our girls to NYC public schools, which have their problems but have overall served us well. And I learned that while New York City can sometimes be a lonely place for a single person, it’s heaven for a family.
Needless to say, New York City and I are still going strong. Which is not to say that I am happy 24-7, or that life has been perfect. Because it is not. For a time there around 9-11, New York and I were in a rough patch. Not that I ever thought of leaving, because I didn’t. But it wasn’t fun in those days – how could it be? And yet, we came through it, New York and I, stronger than ever. We made it through the worst and are still together.
Now, I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t get that little jump of joy to realize that I call this place home. Like when I walk home from a play on Broadway. Or head to the bus after a parent teacher conference and find myself on the steps of Lincoln Center. Or stop in at St Patrick’s to light a candle for my Mom. Or strike up a conversation at the hair dressers with another client and find out she’s getting ready to sing in the Opera that night at the Met. Or ride my bike in Central Park, shop for dinner at the Union Square Market, go to a Friday night movie at the Film Forum, get off the subway at Bryant Park to meet a friend for lunch, stop in at the Metropolitan Museum after a doctor’s appointment or gaze out the window of the bus home from Laguardia Airport and realize I’ve just passed 5 Equadorian restaurants in two blocks and wonder how soon I can come back to try one of them.
You know that feeling you get when you walk in the door of your house after a crazy day, or a long trip away? You drop your bags and your heart rate slows down, your spine softens, your feet sink into the entryway carpet and you feel every muscle in your body relax. Everything’s right again. You’re home.
Well, that’s exactly how I feel now when I come out of the Lincoln Tunnel onto 42nd street. It’s absolutely true. I just sink down in my seat, look out the window, take a long, deep, contented breath, and smile as I head into that bright as day all night long, neon-plastered, subway faster, tourist gawking, vendor hawking, corporate whoring, pigeon soaring, traffic stalling, theater crawling, Big Ball falling, pedestrian malling, tour bus loading, restaurant rowing, taxi honking, honkey-tonking place called Times Square.