I’m stepping as lively as I can, heading into Grand Central Station, absorbing the hot wall of air and train exhaust, scents of perfume, cologne, deodorants on overdrive (or lack of them). We tread like lemmings, a community on an unthinking course towards civilization as it exists in the city that never sleeps. Out on the street in midtown, the sights and sounds are familiar, though fuzzy, even as I am quietly amused by a comment overheard on the train by a young father to his toddler “If you break it, don’t come crying to me.” Parents still say that? There is a certain crispness to men’s shirts, a certain healthy complexion on so many young women. Common to seemingly every hand is the ubiquitous mobile device, ready at the waiting. I am mobile-device deficient, being the last know geezer hold out, in the world perhaps. Okay, I exaggerate. I am foolishly proud of the fact, even when the politest of persons responds to my admission with – “wow” or “No? Really?” Admittedly, it provides me with a certain level of angst on a trip of any sort, while I stubbornly maintain that one just needs to make a plan and stick to it.
I walk up three blocks and over and spot my daughter’s small chartreusy car double parked. I head towards it and soon am dumbfounded to come face to face with Patricia, a former co-worker who I’ve not seen in three years. We are struck almost speechless. Days later I will recall how, when she first came to work at the same job I was at, we’d discovered we’d both attended the same parochial grammar school in Queens NY, some forty years before. What to make of these strange coincidences? What is it about the paths we travel and who has trod on them before, and who will after we are gone?
Manhattan to Brooklyn we go; skyscrapers to brownstones. The streets narrow. Glass and steel morph into fire escapes and flowerboxes. Crisp linen pencil skirts and teetering high heels become scarce, replaced by flowy dresses and simple shirts and skirts, though pedicured toes peep from most sandals. Traffic, construction, bicycle riders commuting everywhere, with or without helmets, with dresses or pants; more spandex, more sneakers. The pace is startling, the traffic frenetic.
My daughter takes me on tours of Red Hook and Williamsburg, tracing some family roots. Back then, ancestors nested near the waterfronts, closest to available jobs. When they found themselves a bit ahead, they moved into Manhattan, a step up. Today, it works in reverse, as Manhattan prices couples and singles and families out, they move to Brooklyn, and it builds…and builds. To me, it looks like the buildings will topple, top heavy, into the river. I think of the picturesque Ashokan Reservoir back home, having displaced eight towns and villages in 1910, to build the reservoir to provide water for New York City residents. Here we are, nearly one hundred and ten years later and I cannot fathom how all those people are getting their water from the beautiful reservoir round which I walk.