I just came back from a 5-day trip to New York and am trying to readjust to my suburban life in Tennessee. I keep thinking that if I could transport my house to Manhattan I would be a millionaire. But would I want to do that? Probably not. My house is too big and it takes a lot of upkeeping. I’m convinced that, if I lived there, I would be happier in a 1200 square-feet 2-bedroom apartment. The cleaning would be cut in less than half and we probably wouldn’t have space to accumulate so much junk. And, oh boy! We have so much junk. Organizing takes a lot more time than cleaning at my house and I would want to spend my time outside.
I lived in New Jersey almost twenty years ago and used to commute to New York every day. I never got tired of it. For me, the best thing to do in New York is to walk around. Every corner brings a little surprise: the small restaurants, boutiques, souvenir stores, and the people that you see and hear on the streets. The big chain stores almost get lost amidst all of it. One of the things that I always find disappointing when I travel is that everything looks the same. The landscape changes, but the layout and the things that you find are always alike: one big main street that connects to an interstate and has all of your big chain stores and restaurants on either side. One could literally travel across the country and eat the same meal every day in the same chain restaurant. I always tell my kids when we travel that we will not eat at any restaurant that we already know. No Chick-Fil-A, no McDonald’s, no Cracker Barrell, no Texas Roadhouse. I really like for them to try new things and be open minded. But in New York is easy to do that. The whole-in-the-wall restaurants are everywhere and some of them have a line that goes around the corner.
In one of these restaurants, the owner came to our table to check how everything tasted. My younger daughter, who’s only six years old, hugged the man’s leg. She hugs everyone, even the TSA agents at the airport, and people tend to be really uncomfortable. In general, people look at me as if I had let my dog out its leach and want my consent to pet it. Then, if the person is nice, she’ll get a little pet on the back. This time, however, instead of being uncomfortable, he looked at her, held her face with both hands, and kissed her forehead. My daughter had a grin that went from ear to ear. She was never met with spontaneity. After all, how many trainings people go through to learn about all the possible grounds for a lawsuit? I’m sure that hugging a kid is at the top of the list. I’m a teacher and I, too, have had my share of such trainings. According to my boss, touching a child’s shoulder might be perceived as sexual harassment. But, in that restaurant, none of that seemed to matter. A loving child finally tasted reciprocity and I have the feeling that she liked that taste better than the food. I wish I lived in a world where hugging a child is okay. Sometimes, kids just need a hug.
Out of all the touristy things, my favorite is the Empire State Building. All the way from the eighty-first floor all you can see is one big city. You can’t see who is male or female, who is black or white, who has a Turkish or Spanish or German accent, who is gay or straight, who is muslin or scientologist, etc. Everyone is a small part of what gives that city its panache. All the way from the top of that building, New York truly is a melting pot. Down on the street, however, it looks more like a beef stew in a slow-cooker. Some ingredients are softer than others, but only the potatoes are starting to melt. One can still recognize the different ingredients; but, at least, they all belong in the pot.