It’s not often I’m glad I’m short. Clocking in at five foot tall, if I don’t see the dust on the top shelf of the pantry, it can’t possibly be there. I have no idea if my husband has a bald spot and I’ll often forego ice cream because the freezer is just too darn far. When I shave my legs, I save hours compared to poor Heidi Klum who has to deforest four-foot-long stems. Then again, she can afford to have her leg hair hand plucked by indentured Chinese servants, so I doubt she complaints much about the time difference….. but I digress.
No, it’s not often that I’m glad I’m short, but on a 12-hour bus ride toNew York Citywith 42 teenagers and a handful of vertically gifted chaperones, I actually found myself thankful to be eligible for a booster seat. Taking up minimal amounts of room has its advantages in small bus seats and overcrowded cities. Whereas the lanky high school athletes were no doubt in a bind, I could actually stretch my stubbins on occasion. Combine that with the fact that teenagers avoid moving port-a-potties on wheels like the plague, leaving me with a my own private commode equated to one hell of a decent time for me on the trip out. Relatively speaking, that is.
But the bus ride wasn’t the point. The point was a high school choir trip over spring break 2012 for a group of farm-fresh Hoosiers headed to the big city. We’re country people and ours is a small community. I didn’t poll the kids, but I have my suspicions that this was a first-time visit for 95% of the people on the bus, my 17-year-old daughter included. That we would be cultural fish out of familiar waters was a given, and as we rolled through Pennsylvania for what seemed like 150 hours, I couldn’t help but wonder what the next few days would bring.
For me, this wasn’t my first trip to the Big Apple. Working in the finance industry, I’ve visited a few times both pre and post 9/11. In September 2000 I spent several days taking a bond management class at the New York Institute of Finance in Tower Two of the World Trade Center. Two years later, I made the trip again, though this time I stayed in mid-town, unable to bring myself to tour the gaping hole that was now residing on our trip itinerary as the 9/11 Memorial. Such is the capriciousness of life.
So when we rolled into town that morning and were immediately deposited in Central Park – a trip to our hotel would have to wait until 9 p.m. that night as we were staying in New Jersey– I was ready to greet a fond friend with open arms once again. And over the course of the next few days as we ran from one site to the next – Soho, Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, so on and so forth – one thing became readily apparent to me.
New York, for the most part, has changed.
For one, it smells better. A LOT better, in fact. On some of my visits, I distinctly remember the smell of urine. This time, I didn’t catch so much as a whiff, not even in Chinatown which seemed tantalizingly close to the New York of the 1990s. And it’s cleaner too, though I can’t say why as I barely saw a trash can in sight. Where it’s all going, I have no clue as I’ve heard Staten Island has long since told Manhattan to haul it crap elsewhere. Are New Yorkers just greener than the rest of us? Or are there some old abandoned subway tunnels we outsiders don’t know about crammed full of high-class city garbage? Is that where the rats went? Who knows? Who cares? It’s just different.
And it’s quiet, oh so quiet compared to my memories of New York of old. Our tour guide, a local woman who lives in a condo where George Gershwin wrote Rhapsody in Blue but which now apparently smells ironically like urine because the woman has four cats for heaven’s sake, didn’t notice that it was quieter. When asked, she guessed it may have something to do with a $350 fine for honking. As someone who thinks $350 is a pretty heinous penalty for a few seconds of spouting off, I’d say she’s probably right. After all, flipping the finger is much quieter.
Though, even finger flipping was few and far between, oddly enough. New Yorkers, relatively speaking, have gotten nicer too. Tragic world events that unfold on a local scale often have a way of gut-checking people about the things that really matter. Could it be that New York really is a kinder, gentler place? And could it be that the New York of my memories is, in reality, it’s evil twin, Skippy, never to be seen or heard from again?
That remains to be seen. For now, it’s enough to contemplate the older, wiser, more mature city that never sleeps. Whether it sticks remains to be seen. But for now, it’ll do.
More on our big city shenanigans will follow next week . But I’ll leave you with this teaser to whet your appetite – tickets to the very physical Broadway musical “Chicago,” skimpy costumes plastered on the taut, twisting bodies of professional dancers and 42 wide-eyed, hormonally unbalanced teenagers packed in the theater seats. Up close. Need I say more?
By Robin Winzenread Fritz
A spring break trip survivor.