Just a few days ago I was in New York City. Now I am home, recalling all the things that surprised me. Here are my top ten.
10. What New Yorkers say is not always what we think they mean. Times Square is actually a triangle bordered by 7th avenue, Broadway and 42 Street. But theres more. Madison Square isnt square either. After learning all that, we stopped observing the true shape of squares. Whats more, Madison Square Garden isnt on Madison Square. It used to be, they say. But now its on 7th Avenue. But then, this should not surprise us. The New York Times Building is no longer on Times Square either. Things may be big in New York, but they move around anyway. And then there are the shows on Broadway, which dont actually have to be in theatres on Broadway. They simply have to be in theatres with more than 500 seats. Shows in smaller theatres are said to be öff Broadway, even if the theatre is on the street named Broadway.
9. You can get on the David Letterman Show. Even if the website tells you you have to order tickets far in advance, and hope your name will be chosen in a lottery, there are days, March 26 2007 for example, when a representative will approach you on a New York street, tell you there have been cancellations, and offer you free tickets to tomorrows show if you will show ID, put your name on the list, promise to attend so there wont be empty seats, and answer two skill-testing questions. Not to worry about the questions, the man will keep giving you hints until you stumble upon the correct answers.
8. New Yorkers can spot the tourists in the crowd. This is a bit surprising, since they are expecting 50 million visitors this year. Thats just under a million a week. But if you stand on a corner peering at a map, New Yorkers will approach you to ask if you need help. If you hesitate, they will ask again just to make sure your foolish pride doesnt limit your opportunity.
7. Central Park is more than a square of grass. It has roads in it, streets pedestrians have to cross. There are fields of crocus in late March. It also has a lot of horses and five bodies of water. You orient yourself by reading the numbers on the lampposts.
6. You can eat cheaply and deliciously without cooking any food. Delis and diners are the places to go. Eggplant is big there, and so are mushrooms. Pretzels are sold hot on the street corners. I didnt like them, which isnt surprising. I dont care for them at home either.
5. All Subway cars are not equal. Some stations are shorter than others, so the walls can block the exits of the rear cars. We learned this from an Ohio couple who had already discovered that they would have to move forward at a larger station stop. The cars on the Subway are connected so you can run between them when they are not in motion. She who hesitates might be lost.
4. Ground Zero will find you. We didnt go to Manhattan to see the former site of the world trade Center, but our feet drew us there, surprisingly, on our first day, just after we crossed the Brooklyn bridge, passed the courthouse and City Hall. Five-and-a-half years later they are still trying to safely demolish an adjacent high rise. Fenced off in the centre is the deep whole New Yorkers call The Bathtub. It goes several floors down. They dug this hole when they built the World Trade Center and used the diggings to expand the size of Manhattan Island. Seven buildings were constructed on the spot. Now The Bathtub has returned. New Yorkers did not necessarily love the buildings, and it is clear that they want to move on. But moving on seems slow and difficult, like adjusting to a disability, or an amputation. There is a huge emotional scar that could never be repaired by the reconstruction of a replica. In fact, there is no intention to construct a replica. When The Bathtub is filled, the new filling will be different entirely.
3. A short visit to the United Nations can convince you that the U.N. is vitally important. It doesnt seem as important when you hear about it on the news. But when you walk among its displays, sit in its chambers, and see that people bring their children and help them ask questions about world peace, then you know how absolutely essential it is for us to be talking to one another about our hopes for peace and prosperity. How will these hopes ever come to fruition if we do not share them and feel our collective energy moving in that direction?
2. It is surprising that so many people stayed on Manhattan Island. Why did this happen when there was so much unexplored land just beyond? The island is only 2 miles by 13 miles. 1.5 million people live there, stacked up in layers. Many thousands, maybe millions work there, stacked in layers. How surprising it is that they didnt spread out!
And the Number 1 surprise
1. I can have a good time in a really big city, crossing streets with hundreds of others, shouting over the constant honking of horns. This is true even though I dont care for crowds, and cannot imagine living in a high rise. I was raised on a farm, ten miles from a village of 200 residents. When horns honk in my home town it means that a couple have just taken their marriage vows. Still, I really loved New York. Isnt it amazing how adaptable we humans can be?