I made my first trip to New York City last week. My first trip, not second or ninth or some other even bigger number. In the 58 years I have lived on this planet and been an American citizen, I have never been to New York. I’ve studied education, history, and religion and have two degrees to show for it. One might think that anyone interested in history would have long ago found a way to go to New York City. After all, this city is one of the oldest in America and one of, if not the most, influential in so many ways.
I stayed at a modest hotel on Broadway. It was a Days Inn with a wonderfully helpful staff and an international clientele with an amazing range of languages. A hotel guarded by two lions bracing the main entrance and seeming to watch over those who come and go. And the Turkish restaurant located directly in front of their never wavering stare.
I used the metro for a few days, and then tired of that, I walked everywhere. I walked form my hotel on 94th street to my meetings which took place along 72nd street. I walked and I enjoyed the mixing of cultures and languages and sights which the countries of the world are busily exporting to New York City. And I looked up to admire the faces of these old buildings which still stand, like old, tired warriors gazing down onto humanity rushing here and there with hurried conversations. Warriors who’ve seen countless thousands rush by for decades and for a few of them, centuries.
I met people, like Scott the taxi driver and a former stock broker. A guy who lost his job when computer trading took over the trading floors to such an extent that many had to find work elsewhere. Instead of being angry, he is driving and listening to many different audio books. He is all into “help yourself learn”. And the young medical school student from East Carolina University who sat beside me on the train and worked seriously trying to learn definitions for words I can’t even pronounce with the help of a dictionary. Then there was the young waitress in the coffee shop who told me that her home is in Burkina Faso and that she “wanted to work for me”.
There was the young man from Guinea in the market on 116th who told me of being from West Africa and that he has been here about 7 years now selling clothing imported from West Africa. And the old Jewish man in the hole in the wall restaurant about 102nd street who swore that I had a twin in New York City who had been in that very same place “Just the other day”. That restaurant was Jewish, but the cooks were Mexican. The music playing in the dining area for the patrons to listen to was Jewish, the music playing in the kitchen was Mexican. I loved the food! And speaking of food… the yogurt shop around the corner from the hotel became a favorite stopping off place for me. The Arabic speaking gentleman there was extremely helpful. Another small part of the ethnic diversity which can fire the imagination of any social science student or teacher!
I walked a bit along the park pathways along the Hudson and saw the huge memorial built to honor the soldiers and sailors who fought to preserve the union of these United States. It felt strange to me, being from the Deep South. Down there, I have often visited memorials and monuments dedicated to the southern heroes of that terrible war. And last but not least, I walked past huge old churches with their signs promoting their various programs to provide free concerts or free food for the homeless and several other programs to serve the people of the area.
So yes, I made my first trip to New York City last week. I doubt it’ll be my last.