Riding in a cab last night, listening to BBC accounts of the bombing of Kabul with my driver Mohammed. There's a peculiar ettiquette in cabs. Ostensibly, the customer is in charge, but unless you're an asshole, it's more of a negotiation. In summer, you can demand A/C, but unless you really want it, you don't. You can refuse to tip for not taking the route you specify, but unless it really pads the meter, you probably do anyway. At night most cabbies listen to the radio. Unless it really bothers you, you let it go. You don't want their life.
I didn't know if he was curious about the latest of the war, or thought I would (or should) be. We were going south on the BQE, the skyline of Manhattan running along the right. It's still beautiful.
I go away many weekends, but every single time I have returned to that skyline and never failed to be inspired. And happy to be a New Yorker.
Not that living here is all peaches and cream. Far from it. There are lots of small infuriating things about it.
All the cabs are on roughly 8 hour schedules. Synchronized. So you've got trouble trying to get a cab about 8am or 4pm. Precisely when most people want one. Even for New York, this is egregious.
People walk wherever they want. Into traffic, on the left, everywhere. I'm a pedestrian, but they make my life harder when cars try to get through the fog of rudeness and almost swipe me. There's no sense of balance. Their turn, our turn. I call such people 'pigeons,' but even those birds know how to get out of the way.
But even in this most-status-seeking city, there is an egalitarianism seen nowhere else in America. Multi-millionaire stockbrokers riding the subway with washerwomen. New Yorkers spend lots of time with each other. There is a common spirit that transcends class.
I've got a permanent bruise from pinching myself. When I turned 10, double-digits, I tried to imagine where I'd be in 2001, at age 35. That's now, but I couldn't have imagined I'd be a New Yorker.
And now this.
First off, New Yorkers are much more sentimental about the Empire State Building. Even the much-maligned Chrysler Building is closer to our hearts. The WTC was a fait accompli. It's here, you might as well marvel at it for what it does well: tower over you.
The skyline is dusty as behind a cabinet never moved. I keep looking, staring at the absence, straining to see the bloody roots in the sky I feel sure are there.
One recent night in my neighborhood, I passed some Latin guys sitting on the stoop, smoking up, listening to Ray Charles' "America". Old Glory has temporarily replaced the Puerto Rican flag around here.
My parking garage is just uptown from ground zero. You couldn't help but see them. I like to look at them for the spectacle they are. Were. Will remain.
I went to get my car the other day. I was facing the still-smoking wound, rolling down my window to use my access card to exit the complex. I banged my funny bone hard on the not-down-all-the-way window. I was filled with rage and wanted to smash the window, but I refrained. I rolled it all the way down and punched the soft part of the door repeatedly. I was even madder because I couldn't give in to my anger.
"King Kong died for your sins."
I think of this famous piece of grafitti every time life in NYC gets me down. Things here are never quite what they seem.
On the subway: an old Irish grandma-looking woman nodded off on the subway during AM commute. Vivid color hot tamale tattoo on her forearm.
The spontaneous break dancing fest that evolves at Union Square on a Friday night. Mostly asian kids.
You can always draw a crowd in this jaded city. We're curious. Whatever it is, maybe it will be important, and you could say you were there. Cachet in this status-conscious city.
And yet you can't get anyone's attention for the mundane tragedies rife in the same space.
I was mildly surprised to see an organization soliciting for people to foster and adopt pets who lost their owners to the WTC. I was more surprised to see people in line to help.
I'm about to go nomad here in NYC. I will miss the street characters from my neighborhood. Like the guy who wears many hats. Even in summer he wears large furry hats, five or more, piled up on his head.
Or the bundled up bum I always saw jogging in East River Park, early in the AM. He had many, many layers on. No matter the temperature. He always had a friendly word and a wave.
Lying in bed I used to marvel at the amount of air traffic over the city, even at night. Every couple minutes a small plane or helicopter. All the time. Now I marvel that there's any. I seem to know that a plane is in the sky and look to see it.
I had to wait over 30 minutes to cross the street to work because the President's entourage was on that street. I almost got arrested trying to cross the street, even though the motorcade wasn't due for almost 10 minutes. The cop actually put his hand on his gun when he gave me the ultimatum.
I stood there as the motorcade passed, amid scattered mutterings and muted cheers, repeatedly squeezing my hand clay with a dyspeptic look on my face. I'm in some FBI file now.
The two white tourists fumbling in their bags, on a collision course with 4 black teens on a subway platform in Harlem. The woman bumps into one and puts her arm around him. The man does the same. One of the kids calls the woman "mom".
Take a cue from the city that got hit: don't hate people for their heritage. A comedian once said, I don't hate anyone because of their race, color, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin. There are far too many good reasons to hate people on their individual merits.
Comparison of the views: I always advise tourists to skip the WTC in favor of Empire State. Won't be much of an issue now. They'll go to both, but for different reasons.
In the TV show Futurama, satirist Matt Groening, the prime mover behind the most perceptive of commentaries on contemporary American life (The Simpsons), sees a future New York which has been rebuilt multiple times after being destroyed by waves of invading aliens.
It'll take more than a little annihilation to keep us down.