New York. Not Like I Pictured It.


I’m just back from New York City, a place I haven’t been in almost 20 years. My daughter was working there as an intern and we had big plans: A Broadway show. A Bobby Flay restaurant. The Guggenheim. Central Park. Katz’s Deli. A Woody Allen movie. We had a great time together – she and I – but the city shook me, rattled me and practically spit me out.

I think I’ve recovered now,  but it took about a week.

I’d forgotten about how fast the city moves and how it demands that you keep up. From the minute I landed, there were decisions to make, pronto! Was the driver’s fee better than a cab to get into the city? Was there anywhere in the city without a line 12-15 people deep for the bathroom?  And what’s the secret to navigating the sidewalk with all these people?

It was a strange feeling because I grew up in Philadelphia and spent a good chunk of time in NYC; I even lived there for a short while. I thought it would all come back to me, like the taste for corned beef sandwiches did when I inhaled the salty, meaty aroma at Katz’s. I thought, I know how to do New York. But it turns out, I don’t.

I’ve lived in Chicago now for two-thirds of my life now and though I have felt like a midwesterner for many years, this trip stamped, licked and hand-delivered the certificate into the envelope to seal the deal. I am a Chicagoan. Hear me roar! Sure, Chicago has tough-talking drivers, restroom waits and crowded streets. But it all feels a degree less frenetic. Notched down. Perhaps a few seconds less rushed.

What I found most interesting is that the city is crammed with indoor and outdoor art, oozing with scrumptious food on and off the street, preening with natural and human-made beauty and random dancing in the squares, but my senses were overstimulated. Overloaded. Clogged. There was plenty to take in but no room to process. No space. No quiet.  All of these goodies competed with another for attention to the extent that each individual goodie’s goodness was somehow slightly diminished. Times Square being a prime example (see photo above.) I thought, there’s so much here, the city is bountiful and fat with goodies, if only there was a way to spread some of it around, across the US, around the globe. 

But I only came to this conclusion after landing back in Chicago, where there is just a little more space between the riches, and where I could think more clearly. So glad to call this my home.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish