“Don’t look up.” That was the first piece of advice I was given after moving to New York City nearly 30 years ago. “Everyone will know for sure you’re not from around here.”
But it was hard not to. Everywhere there was magnificent, varied architecture stretching into the sky: the Empire State Building, my favorite Chrysler Building – an art deco masterpiece that looks like it’s topped with slices of kiwi fruit — and of course, the tallest buildings at that time, the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I had been to the World Trade Center restaurant, Windows on the World, in 2000, and the view at more than 100 stories high was both extraordinary and vertigo-inducing.
Several months ago, we made the decision to move back to Texas after living nearly three decades as Yankees. A week before moving, I went into the city for a meeting with the knowledge that I’d be leaving soon. And I saw the city in a different light.
After 28 years of going into The City, all the sights that AAA had written about in its Tour Books had faded into a familiar, blurry background. Presidential visits and movie shoots had lost their luster and had become annoyances that interrupted my commute. I had become complacent. I had gotten used to the wonders that were all around us and just assumed they would always be there. September 11th was a wake-up call when New York’s skyline changed so drastically and painfully in a single day. But even that slipped into memory as I grew accustomed to the new normal.
But on this last day, I was not taking for granted the world-renowned landmarks and history that surrounded me at every step. I took an earlier train so I had time to stop and watch the talented musicians in the subway: the old man playing Brahms on the erhu (I had to Google that one; it’s a two-stringed Chinese instrument played with a bow), the Peruvian pan flutist, and the R&B singer using a karaoke machine to share his soul.
I watched the fluid dance of the crowds in Penn Station and remembered the Grand Central Station scene in the Robin Williams movie The Fisher King where the busy commuters waltzed across the station in his character’s mind. And I danced, too, as I walked the four blocks to my meeting.
I was truly present on the streets of New York for the first time in a long time. I stood still on the corner even though the walking-man icon on the traffic light was flashing at me to cross the street. I just took it all in. And yes, I looked up.
Never be discouraged from looking up. Who cares if you look like a tourist? Look what everyone else is missing. Look up. So, as I embark on this next chapter, things are looking up.