In June 1946, my parents emigrated to America on the SS Marine Perch, docking in New York. They didn’t stay in the city long. My father enjoyed a sign he’d noticed from on board, “Shapiro, We Are Here,” but my mother was sad. They had no one waiting for them. Within days, they were off to St. Louis, where they lasted less than a year before getting on a bus to California, which is where I came on the scene. New York remained a continent away.
On the West Coast, I picked up on the usual cultural references and early on knew who Mickey Mantle was. A year after the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, I discovered baseball, and thanks to the already-great and ever-benevolent Vin Scully, I was raised in a certain New York state of mind. Then again, Brooklyn wasn’t exactly New York. Its distinctive name and sense of itself made sure of that. The truly memorable moment came when the Dodgers returned to New York during their sweep of the Yankees in the 1963 World Series. Sandy Koufax’s presence on the mound in Yankee Stadium towered over any monument in the distant outfield.
When I left California for graduate school in 1971, I settled in the Midwest, too chicken to make the leap to New York—which I didn’t see for the first time until applying for an exchange fellowship in the Soviet bloc several years later. It was just before Thanksgiving. Manhattan was packed with shoppers, and the smell of chestnuts roasting at street corners was heavenly. My grad school friends and I sampled all the museums. We went into Chinatown for dinner. The skyscrapers left us swooning. Flying back to Indianapolis was like returning to the middle of nowhere.
Over the years, short visits to New York became the norm, usually for a weekend conference, or meetings with writers, or on some other magazine-related task. But that always meant staying in a midtown hotel, and never venturing into areas where New Yorkers actually lived and never doing things New Yorkers did—though a blizzard in February 1984 shut down the city shortly after I’d arrived and made it easy to gain entrance to a performance of the Zeffirelli production of La Bohème at the Met. That was a start.
Fast-forward a few decades, and up to the West 70s, where our postcollege son—Indiana-born, northern Virginia–raised—has taken an apartment, wonderfully insisting that he can live only in New York. Who knew that scaling long stairs to a two-room, fourth-floor walk-up would be so invigorating? On our long-weekend visits, we walked extensively, in between subway and cab (and now Uber) rides. He took us everywhere: in Brooklyn, all over Greenpoint and Williamsburg and Park Slope and someplace called Dumbo; in Manhattan, downtown and Battery Park and Little Italy and south of Houston, and all his favorite spots in Central Park, and to my favorite spot, ever since I saw Barefoot in the Park—Washington Square. Not to mention the underappreciated Riverside Park and the marvelous walk to Columbia and Grant’s Tomb and Saint John the Divine.
Even better was the walk along the Hudson in the other direction—all the way down to 23rd Street, as we did last July. To listen to my son holding forth several years ago on the work that Donald Trump had done in restoring this area was enough to convince me that Trump had a political future. And until a few years ago, it hadn’t dawned on me that ships from across the sea dock along the Hudson side, and not the Atlantic side, of New York. Fleet Week is an especially fine time.
Lately, we prefer to drive up to New York from Washington. Parking is easy along my son’s street and safe enough that no one will steal a tire off our 2006 CR-V. He used to meet us at Penn Station and see us off there, too, but Amtrak travel isn’t for older folks, I’m afraid. Shopping-spree-like mad scrambles down narrow escalators in a race to claim empty seats in distant train cars might still be fun for younger riders. My only regret is that there’s nothing like a train ride from New York to Washington to make our nation’s capital seem no more exciting than Indianapolis.
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