I touched down in New York City with a slight feeling of sadness and worry. I was returning to my grandmother’s nearly empty apartment. But it wasn’t the stuff missing that was bothering me. It was that she was missing.
I worried if New York would ever be the same for me since this is the place I always came to be with her. And she was truly the glue that held New York City together for me. I never had to find a hotel when I came here. I never needed to search for some good bagels and lox… she already had it waiting for me.
So, after a four month stint in the sun and easy-life of LA, I was back in harried, frenetic New York City for ten days. I shouldn’t have worried. I loved it all over again and more.
In just my first five minutes walking on the crammed sidewalk amongst the people it hit me all at once how great this city is and what a contrast it is to Los Angeles. Even though they are two huge cities, New York really is a true city inside and out, uptown and downtown, down below in the subterranean jungle of the subways and high up above in the posh financial offices scraping the sky. I know this has been said before a zillion times. But I can’t help saying it again: it’s the stew, the potpourri, that good old melting pot. I don’t think I ever saw it as clear as I did now after being in LA. You can’t help notice it as you walk down the crowded sidewalk. New York is a true coming together of all races, all classes, and all kinds – young and old, sane and crazy, filthy rich and broke and homeless, every race, every gender, every class. People are walking alone and yet altogether in one massive sea of life. Wall Street tycoons in Armani suits ride the public bus next to Hispanic moms with three kids in tow next to gussied up teenage girls on their way for some cappuccinos.
I had just come in from a five hour flight from LAX and I was tired and famished. I thought I’d start my stay off here with a New York ‘must:’ a greasy, floppy, delicious slice of New York pizza. But unlike the old days when you could just stand in one place and do a 360 spin to spot the nearest pizza joint, now my view was crowded with Starbucks, CVS, and other chains. Then I spotted a guy sitting on a bench with the package I sought: a white paper bag, a white paper plate, and that famous gooey slice. I walked up to him and asked where he got it. He answered in a garbled voice and I realized I was talking to a homeless man. I asked him again. And he said, “I don’t know. Someone gave it to me.”
It couldn’t have been more perfect. New York strikes again. Although often misunderstood, it’s not uncommon that New Yorkers are friendly and generous and very tolerant of one another. Many people chat up their local bums everyday and when going for a bite, often get a little something extra for that ‘guy’ they pass on the way home. Whenever my friend Mark would go buy himself a hamburger at his local fast food establishment he would get two and hand one to the guy that stood outside on the sidewalk holding the door open for customers. Better that then handing him a dollar he’d drop on liquor or worse. Although… perhaps the McDonald’s burger was just as bad?
After I walked away from my new pizza-eating friend, he called after me and yelled out that he thought the place was just around the corner. I followed his gesture up 8th Avenue and around to 23rd street. There it was – the classic New York pizzeria. It’s nothing fancy – just a few tables, that glass counter which gives you a view of the pies on offer – cheese, pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, and a calzone or two – a soft drink fountain, a brick oven and big, white cardboard pizza boxes stacked up ceiling high. I ordered a simple cheese slice and sat down to enjoy the delicacy. And here I saw it just like I had walking around outside. Every kind of citizen was coming in for a slice – the construction worker, the student, the ladies discussing interior design, the lawyer in a suit, and a mother and son. Here everyone eats a slice. Here everyone rides the bus.
It was New York… always there and always accepting. It was the same as it’s always been – except the slice was now $2.75, not $1.00 like it was when I was a kid. So I picked it up, folded it in half and took that first fabulous bite.