Some kids are just made for the city.
Don’t get me wrong, millions of kids enjoy the city every year. They don cute little outfits to see a show on Broadway, or skate at Rockefeller Plaza. They window shop at Macy’s and marvel at the electricity of Times Square.
They see the sights and wonder how people can live here. It’s exciting but it’s so fast. It’s so dangerous. Too many cars, too many people, too much to do and not enough time.
The hours roll on and feet get tired. By the end of the day they yearn for their own house and their own bed. New York is great…once in awhile.
“Mike, instead of a party this year how about we go back to the city?”
His head jerks up from his homework and his eyes are wide.
“Best. Birthday. Ever.”
A few weeks pass and Mike is leading us to Platform 14 for the Metro North. So begins the first trip where he isn’t holding our hand. Pride and loss swirl through my heart.
We step into the concourse of Grand Central Station and immediately look up. Constellations trace the ceiling and the noise of thousands of people rushing back and forth evaporates into the ether. It’s my favorite building in the city.
We walk the six blocks to the hotel stopping to watch an enormous Veteran’s Day parade march down 5th avenue. A firefighter shakes our hand and gives mike a little American Flag. He waves it proudly as we hustle across the crosswalk.
The hotel overlooks Herald square, and if you stretch to the left you can see the Empire State Building out of our window. I watch him stare. He’s quiet (rare) and pensive, and I am dying to know what he thinks. I don’t pry because I understand. New York is filled with people and things to see, but sometimes the journey is more internal. Possibility abounds, and you can’t help but wonder where your place in it may be. It’s awesome and often lonely. He looks so at home here.
He declines a seat on the subway, though at least five people offer him one. He wants to stand, surf the rails, live the strap-hanger life. He wants to be a part of it, wants to feel the sway of the car as it races through the dark. They laugh at him in wonder, but I’m not surprised. My son has this affect on people. He smiles back at them, but does his own thing. What’s left to teach him?
The Staten Island Ferry is free. We make the hour round trip to New York’s most dismissed borough because he wants to see “Lady Liberty.” He snaps off a few pictures as she comes into view. He seems excited and this makes me happy. I hope symbols such as these maintain their integrity and worth to us as humans. In times of unease and mistrust, their importance is significant.
After a visit to my old apartment (Mike was not impressed) and a “full experience” cab ride, we walk the Highline. It’s an abandoned elevated train track converted to a park, and I am transcended. How cool. You can never walk two stories up. It’s either street level or looking down from the dizzying heights of gravity defying skyscrapers.
The experience is different and new to me. We start at Gansevoort Street. The gentrified meat-packing district is an interesting mix of grit and trendy “gastro-pubs.” Vegan restaurant here, a clan of cigarette smoking twenty-somethings spilling out of a bar there.
Paintings and sculptures line the Highline sparking discussions that span the topics of Spider-Man to reparations for slavery. There aren’t many nine-year-olds around us and Mike is a star.
The rest of the evening rushes past us too quickly. The smell of ink and paper from Midtown Comics, a hot pretzel on the steps of the New York Post Office, dinner at Macy’s, a $108 elevator ride to the top of the Empire State Building (my wife’s favorite) and dessert from a bodega in the hotel room.
In the end we walked 12.4 miles. No whining, no crying, no pleas to go home. “I want to live here one day,” he says as he drifts off to sleep.
The next morning he leads us down Park Avenue to Grand Central. He runs up a flight of stairs outside a building and jumps off the last few steps to the sidewalk. A pair of businessmen watch him. One smiles and looks at me. I know what he’s smiling at: the unadulterated joy of treating New York like a playground.
We drive to my parents house to pick up Benny. My mom grew up in Brooklyn and Queens and she misses the life. She listens to Mike recount every detail of the trip. She talks to me alone in the kitchen over a cup of coffee.
“One time I went back to the city to go shopping or do something,” she said, “It was great. When I got home my mother-in-law raised her voice and said to me with a shake of her head, ‘Why did you have to go to the city to do that?'”
She stares out the window and I feel her longing.
“Some people just don’t get it.”
Owner Spowerks LLC