This morning, I got out of my car service at 53rd and Madison and decided to hoof it the remaining mile-and-a-half to work. That's been my regimen for about the past six months as I attempt to battle the ravages of age and adipose.
It also put me back in the center of the city, a welcome melange that I miss since I started working on 11th Avenue (East New Jersey) almost two years ago. I like the cacophony and the mayhem. I like the noise and the bustle. I like how everything, even a leisurely walk in the morning, is done at double-time.
On 53rd and Park, I saw a well-dressed 50-something couple waiting on the corner for the light to change. Standing in front of them was a young woman--their daughter, probably next to a gowned soon-to-graduated Columbia man, wearing his skyblue robe and a mortar board.
I'm not sure where they were going. I was sure Columbia's graduation is up on campus, some 60 blocks north. But I stopped and said to the old man--the father, I guess, congratulations.
36 years ago I graduated and the world was more like the photo above than it is today. Somehow, I was more comfortable in time.
New York, of course, was more dangerous, and grimier, and dirty. But we didn't know any better. That was the New York we had always known, and for all the collapsing of the rafters like "The Fall of the House of Usher," there was a comfort to the place. Change seemed to come a little slower.
That's probably not true.
Change always comes too quickly.
And even back then, the tides of change were sweeping clean the beaches you had grown up with. Even back then, Salters, the great bookstore and Columbia institution, had given way to a 24x7 food market, and rumors were afoot that the giant Chock Full O' Nuts coffee shop with the serpentine formica counters and the 32-cent cup of coffee was being razed for a trendy Chinese restaurant.
My old man used to joke that New York will be a great place when it's finally finished. Though I'd love to give my father credit, Thomas Wolfe--not Tom--said it better: "One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years."
I've been in New York, been eating, breathing and living New York since 1957, just a year after Diane Arbus took the photo above. Sometimes I hope a 1950s Checker will pick me up in the rain and take me through a wormhole back to the black-and-white world I miss.
Where, like I said, you could get a cuppa for 32 cents, rent an apartment for $90/month and the future was still in the future.