In the Suburbs: New York, N.Y., it’s still a wonderful town
Published 6:25 am, Sunday, August 9, 2015
I met my friend Peter and his adorable 3-year-old daughter Mavis for lunch last week in Manhattan on a sticky, 92-degree day. They were originally going to travel by bike from Brooklyn in that abominable heat, but fortunately Peter opted for the air conditioned subway instead.
Once I’d parked at Fairfield Metro, much more convenient than Bridgeport and well worth the $6 parking fee, I walked across the totally unshaded parking lot and over the cross way to the train. The humidity was so high, my $20 bill wilted and wouldn’t go into the machine. The line was already snaking around a pole as I fumbled for a credit card, but it was certainly nice to pay the $8.25 senior rate.
These new train cars are cool and spacious, unlike the dingy, sometimes urine-scented cars that I boarded regularly as a commuter in the mid-80s to late ’90s. On those summer days, even at 5 a.m., patches of sweat covered my long-sleeved shirts and suit pants until the train arrived.
Yes, those were still the days of dress up, radically different than this day when a sport shirt and slacks were my outfit. When a gentleman in a suit and tie got on in Westport and sat across from me, memories of those sticky days flooded back. When he didn’t remove his jacket, I really felt warm.
Arriving at Grand Central was like coming home. As I came up from the lower level and through the food court and up the escalator to the street level, I watched the hundreds of daily passengers move back and forth, almost robot-like, focused on the huge center information kiosk, ticket windows and the gates where they might be meeting loved ones, friends or colleagues. This was the Grand Central I remembered as a commuter.
My intention was to go to a favorite book store right across from Rite Aid Pharmacy, but it was gone with no replacement in sight. So I continued walking east toward Lexington Avenue, hoping to find my favorite pen shop. But alas, ticket machines had replaced that treasure. Then I discovered Little Miss Match, a charming kids shop for multi-colored clothing,socks and accessories, and picked up a little gift for Mavis.
That done, I walked past Papyrus — still there — and out the 42nd street door into that thick Manhattan heat. Since I was way too early for lunch I decided to make the six-block, downtown walk and browse at Macy’s.
Despite the hot sun, I enjoyed the leisurely walk toward the restaurant on 39th Street between 5th and 6th avenues. Once I knew where it was, I continued briskly up to 6th Avenue and down four short blocks to Macy’s. As I crossed Broadway, I’d forgotten that it has become a city promenade, filled with workers, tourists and others seeking a shady or sunny place to have coffee, chat or eat lunch.
Sweat patches had covered my shirt by the time I went into Macy’s but they quickly disappeared once the air conditioning cooled me down. Almost blinded by the glitz of this Macy’s shopping experience, I remembered the very first time I shopped in Macy’s Herald Square store just after I’d started traveling to New York from Chicago in the mid-60s
That 1960s store was dark, almost dingy, with rows of bland retail tables and basic glass cases. It still reminded me of the Macy’s in the 1940s movie, “Miracle on 34th Street.”
My Szechuan lunch with Peter and Mavis was delightful and she really loved the little socks and change purse I gave her. We spent about two hours catching up before I sent them on their way to a downtown yoga class for kids.
My last stop was a visit to my former boss, Alex in his new digs at 53rd and 3rd . We both agreed that despite the heat, New York is alive and thriving. I told him that I really do miss the city and I said that I’d hardly noticed any pain in these old feet as I walked to various places and I was amazed at how much concrete I’d covered in just a few hours. It’s still the best walking city.
I decided to hoof it back to Grand Central and nearly forgot the pass through that starts at 48th Street and Park Avenue with access to all tracks. I easily made the 5:26, which is a semi-express to Bridgeport, and collapsed in a quiet seat to reflect on my thoroughly delightful day and my commuter days. It had been so good to be back.
Steven Gaynes’ "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.