NYC – Why? Why not!
Soon after the clock struck midnight and 2015 began, I realized that for the first time in my adult life I had no more obligations. My children were grown and responsible for themselves and their children. I had just turned Of Counsel to my law firm, so my duties were whatever I chose them to be. I had no entangling alliances. The last one had ended and my then-girlfriend took the dog, a wonderful, loving Bischpoo or Poobisch, but nevertheless a responsibility.
I was not lonely.
So, in the summer of my 74th year, on a whim, I decided to stay in New York City for two months. It was the first time I had ever lived alone outside of Houston, Texas, and hardly alone – period. I will tell you now, without giving away anything, that those two months would be the happiest time of my life to then.
In March, I learned that wonderful experiences were to be had if I was just open to the new and the unplanned. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, as I was planning to leave to go to an intensive writing class I signed up for, I got a message that the class was canceled because the instructor got the flu. I was thinking I would stay at home and watch sports or something.
Almost immediately after receiving the message, a notification from Facebook popped up. I had been invited to attend an event celebrating the second anniversary of the 8th Wonder Brewing Company. The invitation had come from a young friend who once worked in administrative services at my law firm. She had taken off to study the music business at the London School of Economics. I guess if it was good enough for Mick Jagger . . . .
I found a parking place and, wearing a waterproof jacket with a hoodie to protect me from the rain, I walked toward the venue. What I thought was a small puddle of water turned out to be a deep pothole. My right shoe, right sock, and right pants leg (up to the mid-calf) were wet. I sloshed to the entrance. My friend was at the admissions desk. She was surprised and very happy to see me and said, “Please sit with my husband and my friends.”
She led me to a delightful group of young people, mostly in their mid-twenties. I proceeded to drink more beer than I had consumed in the aggregate in the past twenty years. Even though I was about fifty years older than they were, they treated me like one of them. We played “Heads Up” for a long time. Then someone yelled, “The Suffers are about to start.” We went out to an open area and everyone was jammed together and dancing. The Suffers were amazing.
After they finished playing I took a picture with the lead singer, Pam Franklin. Then the group went over to the nearby Little Woodrow’s and had a few more drinks. When I got home, I couldn’t stop smiling. If I hadn’t gone someplace I hadn’t planned to go, I would have missed an unforgettable experience.
Not long after that, someone asked me if I was going to go back to North Carolina for the summer. I quickly said, “No, I’m going to New York for two months.” That was the first I knew of it, but as I said it, I knew I was doing it. Soon after, I bought a ticket to arrive in New York on July 1 and to return on August 31.
I started looking, definitely not at a feverish pace, for a place to stay. I checked with people I knew, Airbnb, other possibilities. I didn’t really know anything about the neighborhoods. Or the choices to be made within the neighborhoods. I didn’t know how to read into Airbnb’s descriptions.
By late May, I had not secured accommodations. I went to my granddaughter Sandhya’s UT graduation in Austin and hadn’t booked a room for the first night so I stayed with friends in their garage apartment. I told them what I was going to do. They said they were also going to NYC for a month and were renting a mutual friend’s apartment in the Village. That was one of the areas I was considering. Our mutual friend Marie had wanted to rent it for two months but they were just taking it the last week in July and the first three weeks in August. I said I’ll take July 1 until the day before you arrive.
I contacted Marie and sent her a check. I made no plans other than accepting invitations to two parties, a July 3rd party in Southampton celebrating July 4th a day early and a party celebrating the sale of the company owned by a good client and better friend. The party included staying the nights of the 24th and 25th of July at a hotel, which coincided with the end of my stay in the Village. I wasn’t worried about finding a place for the rest of the time.
My daughter, Lee Ann Grossberg, drove me to catch a United flight to LAG. During the ride, I felt some angst. It wasn’t about the trip. It was another of my panic attacks for not doing more for people at the right time, people who are now gone. “Flatliners.” “Field of Dreams.”
The ultimate fantasy, fixing things with people who aren’t around anymore. It can’t be done. “Forgive yourself,” my daughter said.
I had two bags to check. A large suitcase and a duffle bag with wheels, plus two carry-ons. The first omen was that my large suitcase tipped baggage scale at 49 pounds, one pound under the extra-charge limit. That was a good omen.
NYC SHORT CUT
If I write a tour guide for my NYC adventure, it will begin like this: There is a circulatory system that courses through the veins and arteries of NYC. I put two clamps on a vein to isolate a single neighborhood and, a month later, another.
I have been places and had experiences that the people who live and work in these same neighborhoods tell me they have missed and want to try. The reason I could do what they had not may be that my stay was for a finite period. I was, therefore, on borrowed time. But, I think not. I think I had somehow magically released myself to living in the NOW. Initially, it was not purposefully. I had no agenda other than just to go where my green light told me that an intersection might be interesting.
The person whose apartment I was renting told me it is on the “best street, in the best neighborhood, in NYC,” a short block on bricked Barrow Street, off Hudson and around the corner from the Cherry Lane Theater. After I had given her reports of my excursions, she said, “I’ve lived there for fourteen years. You need to write a guide for me and the other people who live here.” I was living on that block.
If all that follows is a guide, you can take a short cut. Just do this:
- be open,
- be unmindful of time,
- step out of your comfort zone,
- dismiss any thoughts of what other people might judge (and, for that matter, yourself – c’mon – let go) about where you go and what you do or wear,
- ask questions of and talk to strangers and make sure you listen,
- and when you do, trust your stomach and acknowledge and take advantage of the fact that unless you make yourself look like Lady Gaga
- you are anonymous.
- You are away from all your rivalries and competitions and faux pas of the past.
- Try not to acquire any new ones.
I’m not sayin’ any of that is easy. It didn’t come easy for me, but do the best you can.
Of equal importance: walk, walk, walk. This may confine your experience to your tolerance for walking. Although mine was more, a three to four miles radius (don’t jump in a river – make that a land radius – but there are some great bridges) can be filled with discoveries and experiences and tastes and conversations that you are not likely to exhaust in NYC.
With that in mind, limit the places to which you return to the ones you feel really drawn to or the ones you want to share with friends.
If you can do these things, you really don’t need to read further (but, of course, I want you to). Therefore, come back for part two!