There are days when I can’t wait to get out of Manhattan. I find myself running to the train after work and inevitably catching the rush hour crowd, and wondering why I live here. Mornings have been hellish trying to get to work. Trains are either too crowded or they don’t working properly. We are squished in like sardines, and when the doors finally open we all fly away like wasps.
Being in overly crowded neighborhoods of the city has made me hate it entirely. And this is no surprise since the last couple of months I’ve been working in Midtown. After returning from a mostly quiet New Orleans, I was struck by the change of pace in NYC. While walking in the Union Square subway, people were fast walking not looking anywhere but their phone. Everyone is walking fast, going somewhere, not sure where, but they know they have to be there now. I guess the pace caught me off guard, or maybe I’m just getting too old for this city. Being in the meatpacking district a few weeks ago further exemplified my need to get out of NYC for good. The city has become saturated by Disney-themed establishments: glitzy bars, clubs, and flashy restaurants. This is old news, but it always hits me when I come back from some place that is quiet in comparison.
Now that I’m free to set my own schedule, I’m where I want to be. Since my hours are truly mine the pace has certainly slowed down. I don’t feel the need to rush anywhere anymore. Last Friday I left my house for the simple task of returning clothes around Union Square Park and getting a library book. I love simple days when one is able to roam. I didn’t leave with the morning folks on the 8 or 9 a.m. train, instead I took the comfy noon train to Manhattan. I read a small book about our closeness to nature, and no one shoved me out of the way. Once in the park, I walked to the organic market. The street art on this day mostly consisted of a lady dressed in rags sitting on the floor with fake pigeons and rats on display. Also a guy was finishing a classical canvas painting. He was lying with his paintbrushes and fabrics spread out over the floor. This could be someone’s living room.
Up ahead I saw white tents from GreenNYC where they were distributing free black “I drink NYC Tap Water” canteens. In order to get one you had to sign the pledge to only drink tap water and not buy bottled water. The line was increasingly bigger by the minute, so I hopped in line, behind a guy who was on his toes, eagerly waiting to get a canteen. I was too.
I filled my new canteen with water from the fountains GreenNYC set up. Then I entered a store to return some shorts, quickly got out and made my way for Paragon where I found a tiny backpack.
Back in the park, I walked by the Krishna followers playing music as they do regularly near the fountain, and a guy was holding a platter of vegan sugar cookies. “Would you like one?”
The people were dressed in a beautiful array of yellow and orange. A bald guy with a nose piercing, smiled and handed me a flyer.
I walked with a cookie in hand enjoying its sweetness. I couldn’t deny the sun was out, and despite the heat, I loved being out here.
Over on another table there was a group of Hasidic men dressed in black suits. Are you Jewish? They asked as people passed them.
It was getting close to lunch, and I could enter a restaurant and have a meal. But no, I wasn’t in the mood to sit down. I walked by the organic market again. Everything looked yummy. They had an assortment of breads, desserts, cheese, eggs, and meats. I stopped by a fruit stand selling peaches. White peaches in this hot sun, I thought. I searched for one that was ripe. They also had tiny and cute apricots. The sign on top said, “very sweet.” I took a couple, and paid the lady two dollars for everything. I walked around the park eating my white peach.
Sometime later I took the train heading for the New York Public Library to get a book on hold. It was waiting for me on the shelf. And while I could have stayed to go somewhere else, I was all tired out from the heat.
I took the 7 back to Queens, which never ceases to surprise me. It’s at once the best and the worst place, though never as bad as the N, which chooses not to work during random hours of the day. I was reading my new book, when finally the train arrived. I went inside to find a group of kids wearing yellow shirts. They were dispersed throughout the entire wagon. From the letters on their shirt, I assumed they were from a Chinese summer program. Some were sitting on seats others on the floor playing cards. Their loud, screechy voices and laughter filled my ears.
A guy walked in behind me. “Can you believe this?” He looked incredulously across the wagon, and then back at me.
The kids had turned the 7 train into their personal living room. I felt a smirk coming on my face. In front of me a group of boys argued about cards, throwing them on the floor, laughing and giggling about their clever winnings, which ended with a smile to the side. They could be playing a version of Texas hold ’em I didn’t know the rules to. A girl with a pink backpack stood over them showing them her cards. On the floor five girls sat Indian-style playing Uno. One was wearing a cap leveled on the tip of her head. She was the ringleader calling the shots.
Others sat quietly, observing. A chubby boy in the corner calmly looked around and analyzed his classmates like a wise philosopher watching kids play. He was one of the few not to revel in mischief. Some boys carried water guns. I assumed they were returning back from the park since they looked wired and agitated.
I looked around: where are the monitors and teachers? An older girl next to me woke up from her nap and started yelling in Chinese across to the opposite seat for the boys to stop throwing water. The train had become their territory; it was suddenly filled with hustlers, con artists, detectives, and rebels. The children ruled over the train. And any adult who walked in had to submit to their seating arrangement. We adults had to hide by the corners, next to the door, or tippy toe around them so as not to fall over and disrupt their card games.