Monday, May 16, 2011

10 Things I Love About New York City

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to New York City last week. I could surely come up with lists, one titled “Things I love about New York” and one titled “Things I hate about New York,” and each list would have ample items. From what I gather, New York is a love-hate thing for most people who live there, as it was for me. When the scales tip too far toward hate, you become a Jaded New Yorker. As a general rule, I try to avoid becoming a jaded anything, so let’s stick with the good things. With that in mind, here are 10 Things I Love About New York, gleaned from the enormous amount of time I’ve spent there.

1. The people For me, people most usually make the experience. It was pretty cool to see my friend from college, Brenna, maybe the truest Tiger you’ll ever meet, showing the world how we roll in the biggest arena on earth. She's got that near boundless energy that seems necessary for living in New York.

She seemed patient during my Bambi-on-ice moments of learning how to stand on a moving subway. She gave helpful advice such as “watch your wallet.” In a number of ways, she made the trip special. Made it possible, too. Big thanks to her.

As for all those other hordes on the sidewalks and in the restaurants and on the subway? Many seemed (surprisingly) friendly, just regular people, like the volunteers at the 9/11 Museum, the Yankees fans on the subway after the game, the doormen at the apartment building. I saw a young lady in a Mizzou shirt (other than Brenna) and a guy in a Kansas State shirt (touring the “other” Manhattan), as well as some Royals fans. It’s a different pace, a different world, but they’re still people. You just have to keep an eye on them.

2. Downtown For my money, I’ll take Downtown Manhattan. Midtown is a lot of fun, and Times Square and the Empire State Building were breathtaking, but that area is overrun with tourists. Uptown lacked the tenderloins of Uptown Gilman City. It was also okay, but seemed like the hinterlands from my 90 West Street base near the tip of Manhattan.

I enjoyed the (relatively) quieter Financial District. It felt a little less like a circus, a little more real. Maybe this makes me boring. I enjoyed the walk/run/bike trail along the edge of the Hudson River and New York Harbor. There was something uniquely fun about eating in the middle of a street at Ulysses near Wall Street. And Ground Zero provides a somber balance for things.

Then there’s 90 West Street, Brenna’s historic apartment building. It’s a triumph of building style over the size of its neighbors, the coolest building on the block, a fine place to go when your feet are politely telling you they’ve had enough walking.

Way back in the day, Wall Street marked the northern boundary for New Amsterdam, which became New York City. I wouldn’t quite say that street would be my northern boundary, but I would just say there are subtle delights in Downtown Manhattan. And I like subtlety.

3. Lombardi’s Pizzeria My first meal in New York was at the oldest pizzeria in America, located in Soho. Simply put, it was the best pizza among the hundreds (thousands?) of slices I’ve had, fresh and flavorful. And in the spirit of the big city, with Brenna's urging, I expanded my world and tried the marinara dipping sauce. It was delicious, although future forays into marinara will now likely result in disappointment.

This may have got me on a try-new-things kick, which is about like John Stockton getting on a dunk-a-basketball kick. We went to a frozen yogurt place called Pink Berry. After sampling the “regular” flavor (decidedly un-regular), I tasted chocolate and then said, like Barry on Take Me Home Tonight, “I’m going to try this.”

4. The skyline, the lights On the way in, as my plane was descending, suddenly out my window was New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty and that jumbled, iconic skyline of Manhattan. My aerial view was somewhat different from what all those huddled masses of immigrants first saw, but the effect was the same, both overwhelming and inspiring.

At one point, perhaps when I was commenting for the second or third time about all the glitter on the steps leading out of the subway, Brenna asked if the streets made me feel brand new, if the lights inspired me. Lines from a song, but with definite truth. New York City has an aura, a personality. The sprawling skyline and countless lights are a relentless reminder or where you are and what this place is.

It’s a city for hungry, striving people; a place for those “huddled masses, yearning to be free.”

5. Veselka It appears brunch on Sunday mornings is a big deal in the Big Apple. I was fortunate to get to eat my Sunday morning meal at Veselka, a Ukranian place in the East Village. I had a waffle with powdered sugar, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and coffee (yes, coffee). Throw in pretty much perfect weather and outdoor seating, and it was a near-perfect way to start the day.

6. Central Park The old park is a vast, sprawling expanse ready for exploration. In the midst of all those buildings and noise and bustle, it’s stunningly green, stunningly… natural. I especially enjoyed the Ramble, an area of dense timber near the park’s center in which you can almost forget you’re smack in the middle in one of the world’s largest cities. Oh, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and its Gossip Girl steps are right by the park. So there’s that.

7. Delivered food I’m serious. Call me lazy, but the ability to have exceptional food of about any kind delivered right to your door while you watch Jeter hit two home runs for the Yankees on TV is pretty cool. After initially responding to what kind of pasta I wanted with, “Oh, you know, Italian food,” I selected penne with meat sauce.

In Manhattan, it seems all food is fast food.

8. The Journey church Wherever you go, no matter how different or daunting it may be, God is there. I was blessed to get to go to the Journey Church in the Village on Sunday night. It meets at a school, and you can dress casual.

I got to help set up some stuff for the kids ministry beforehand. God bless whoever came up with the idea to color code everything connecting a TV and a DVD player. I also got to meet a couple of the kids before I went to the normal service. Rebecca talked on and on. (“My daddy love love LOVES the Yankees! So do I!”) Pedro did not talk hardly at all. I think I was more of a Pedro growing up.

I liked the upbeat music at the service, songs of hope and counting on God. The message was nice as well, part of a series on getting “unstuck” in life, about rising above the mediocrity that’s easy to slide into. This week’s message was on family, an interesting topic for a 24-year-old who is out on his own but not married. It was still useful, both for future reference and for now. The speaker talked about putting God first, communication, and when to simply forgive and move on as opposed to when to reconcile.

I also liked what I heard about the church’s “service evangelism.” It’s an often forgotten activity that could also be called, you know, being a Christian. Seems like that’s much of what Christianity comes down to, serving and giving.

9. #42 Mariano Rivera was playing catch one day in the mid-1990s. The person he was playing catch with was having difficulty catching the ball, because it was darting with this wicked late movement. Suddenly he was a new pitcher. The devout Rivera will say his signature cutter was a gift from God. The game’s preeminent closer for 15 years, one of the best pitchers ever; he makes quite an entrance at Yankee Stadium. Jeter is the Captain, the heart of the Yankees. Rivera is the team’s soul.

I have long wanted to see Rivera pitch in the Stadium, and there he was last Tuesday night, warming up in the bullpen with the Yankees up 3-1 in the 8th. After Royal Blake Wood worked around a leadoff walk, the show was on.

Rivera, wearing his now-iconic No. 42, trotted out of the gate in right-center. The opening strands of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” floated through the Stadium. The crowd roared. Group after group was featured on the video board, singing along, often with air guitar: “Sleep with one eye oooopen, Grippin’ your pillow tight…”

After a Jeff Francoeur leadoff single, my new hero Eric Hosmer struck out, and then Rivera began a double play off a Mike Aviles grounder to end the game. Now it was Frank Sinatra’s turn to pour from the Stadium speakers.

Even though the Royals lost, to see that scene, to feel that moment, to watch the pitcher in the pinstriped No. 42 come trotting to center stage…

Dreams come true, kids.

10. The dreamers They are everywhere in New York City. They are 20-somethings, often a lot like myself, who don’t really know what they want to be when they grow up but still know they fiercely want something, be it success or happiness or purpose or love. Or all of these and more. They know, like a recent graduation speaker said, that you only get one life, and if you do it right, that’s all you need.

Everywhere in the city, there they are, scurrying and scrambling with vibrancy and energy toward a future they don’t know and yet at times can vaguely visualize. There it is… isn’t it beautiful? Always hoping, always dreaming; it’s what makes our sleighs fly. It’s what makes New York New York.