The Engineer surprised me back in May with tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway for our anniversary this October. (If I hadn’t already known, this would clinch it – he’s a keeper!) So last weekend we flew up to New York for an anniversary weekend trip.
For me, New York as always been something of a mythical place. It’s the setting of so many stories, from Disney’s Oliver and Company (where astute readers will note I got the lyric to title this post) to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and it’s a place where so many stories get their start, with all the publishing companies and magazines headquartered there. I’ve read about it and seen it pictured so many times it felt almost unreal. But as I was absorbing all those different versions of New York City, I failed to realize just how much actually visiting it would mean to me.
It hit me when the Engineer leaned over my shoulder and pointed out the lone statue I had somehow missed as we flew in. “There’s the Statue of Liberty!” And then I saw that iconic skyline, and I felt a swell of emotion I haven’t felt since seeing the Tower of London for the first time in person. Without my noticing, New York had become something of a dream destination – and now we were here!
Like the Tower, which was so steeped in history I could feel the air thicken, New York seemed filled with palpable stories. Actual stories of buildings gave a visual representation of the tales upon tales that have piled up here as people live their lives and visit and go away and set their novels and memoirs and children’s books in this city. I wanted to roll down the window of the cab and hold my hand out the window. I was sure if I did I would feel the texture of all the narratives floating around us.
Immediately, I felt at home. I felt I could slip into the same stream and feed off the same energy as all these people surrounding us. Part of this is my weird ability to navigate cities; I hate driving, and I can barely remember certain routes through my own hometown, but if I’m walking around a city or figuring out a train map? Easy. I led the long-suffering Engineer (he hates cities) on walks through Bryant Park where they were setting up the Holiday Village (complete with ice rink!) to the stone lions at the New York Public Library, then down 6th Avenue to find the Macy’s where they hold the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Some iconic places we just stumbled upon, like the Chrysler Building on our way to dinner before the show, and Tiffany’s with its own diamond necklace draping its facade. We sought out the Empire State Building and the Plaza Hotel (though I didn’t go in to see where Eloise lived). I took a picture with the statue of Balto, and when I read the plaque below it a little girl’s voice surfaced in my memory from the introduction to the animated movie.
Everywhere I looked in the city, I noticed a fragment of a story slipping by. If it wasn’t a lyric from “N.Y.C.” in Annie, it was a line from From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. And when I wasn’t thinking of my favorite fictional characters, I could so easily imagine the narratives taking place in the little diner where we went for breakfast, or among the people meeting their friends on a street corner. Sometimes I didn’t have to imagine – the Engineer actually saw a couple get engaged next to the boathouse and overheard the whole story!
The Engineer liked wandering through Central Park, even going so far as to rent a boat so we could row about on the lake. “We’re in people’s Instagram photos!” he joked as we glided past the Bethesda Terrace. Sure enough, many of the tourists at the water’s edge were holding up their phones to capture the ridiculously picturesque day. The leaves on the banks around us were in varying stages of turning color, lending some wonder to the buildings rising above them at the park’s horizon. There was just enough sun to tempt some turtles to clamber onto the rocks near the lake’s edge – we spotted six in one cove, lined up by size like Dr. Seuss characters. The air was crisp, a perfect temperature for Pacific Northwest natives like us. Fall in New York City – in fact, New York City itself – was everything I had ever imagined it to be.