In a continuing attempt to assimilate what I experienced during a recent trip to New York City, bear with me as I explore this paradox: the city is both bigger and smaller than I expected.
Through a lifetime of watching movies and reading novels set in New York, certain locations and place names have taken on larger than life stature. Entire thrillers have been set on the streets, subways, skyscrapers, and bridges of this throbbing metropolis. We’ve collectively been scared silly. It didn’t help that I’d just listened to an audio book, Gone Tomorrow, that began with a suicide in a subway car and continued on the mean streets, subway and bridge tunnels, and darkened doorways for twelve unabridged disks.
Add to that years of being Seinfeld devotees, which have coloured, for better or worse, our perceptions of what it means to be a New Yorker. Each of those episodes exaggerated and exploited a germ of truth. We can’t help but remember the attempts to parallel park or buy mulligatawny from the soup Nazi or hail a cab or ride in a Central Park carriage drawn by a farting horse.
We saw the location of The Original Soupman. We walked (and walked and walked) past brownstones, subway entrances, food vendors, newsstand operators, and ordinary Joes hustling to wherever. We dodged around people pushing rolling racks of clothing in the garment district. We had our bags searched at Madison Square Garden and the Beacon Theatre when we arrived to see Wanda Sykes during Comedy Week. We wound our way around vehicles and jaywalked with the best of them. We could not, for love or money, hail a cab.
Times Square is smaller. Ground Zero is smaller. Smaller than I imagined. Maybe that is inevitable. I remember thinking the same thing when I saw Canada’s parliament buildings and the location of the media scrums televised into our homes each evening. It was tinier, less grand than I thought. In so many ways it was the same with NYC.
During the wait for the flight down we talked to the Oilers? Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish, both of whom our daughter, Hilary, knows. Imagine our shock when two days later we bumped into them again on the street in New York, a city of over eight million people squeezed into just over 300 square miles and speaking over 800 different languages. It blows one’s mind.
Only in New York would you see three stories devoted to the M & Ms store. Or the flagship Macy’s store occupying an entire city block ten stories high. Or take an elevator up seventy stories to get the grand view from one of three Top of the Rock observation decks on Rockefeller Center in the time it takes for the elevator to come at the Fantasyland Hotel in Edmonton.
I’m not sure how or why but to me NYC is both larger and smaller than real life. Best to test my hypothesis on a return trip, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.