Against the coffee house’s window-side ledge, a poet labors over her verse. The words just don’t sound right, she thinks. She repeats the lines to herself until her city talks back.
“Excuse me, miss,” says an on-the-go latte drinker. “You have a very distinctive voice. Where are you from?”
“New York,” the poet answers. “Born and raised.”
She gets ready to leave the coffeeshop roughly 15 minutes later. Her purse spills, and her driver’s license hits the floor. She did not always live in New York. She admits she has only spent two years in the city. But she believes her life began here.
How could anyone live in that place? Old friends and family from out of town will never stop asking. No matter how annoying the question might get, it’s understandable. New York is, after all, a city of bright-eyed advertising and subtle criticism. People seldom admit their flaws. Colleagues overreact to their co-workers’ slightest quirks. Landlords charge way too much for that shoebox of a first apartment. Cashiers sometimes hand patrons the wrong bagel order, de facto a mistake. And the streetlights always turn red too soon.
Still, eager college freshmen relocate here each year — they may not love the city’s problems, but they admire its valor. This is where commuters swarm into dark underground subways without getting claustrophobic, where intimidating open-mic nights quickly become like small conversations, and where the most awkward dancer boogies on the sidewalk and rakes in the money.
New Yorkers dream of new solutions – the next great novel, the Webster Hall performance, the business that saves a community. People don’t accomplish those dreams often. But when they do, yet another challenge persists. Will residents simply read, listen, and stare? Or will they push newer questions and move conversations forward?
People travel quickest once they see the past with a critical eye. This city demands its residents to know why they came here and why they have yet to leave. Perhaps the young man in the park saw kids play catch by that old, tall tree and he envisions his future kids doing the same. Maybe the confused woman across the street was dropped off and abandoned here one day. Could it be that the other students in the classroom just can’t imagine another city that compares? Don’t take stories and reasons like these lightly. Together, they insure policies of hope when flaws craft trouble.
Date nights crumble apart. Drunk strangers vomit on pedestrian shoes. Ten-page papers are written the night before they are due. Lovers run away at 3 a.m. and never return to bed. Students read entire books without recalling a single word the author wrote. Most New Yorkers sense vulnerability. But only the strongest of them admit their own weaknesses before others can.
The city’s toughest residents also make its most engaged students. They ask themselves what to learn without locking themselves in a library. And they sit down with professors, share coffee – even a meal – never shuddering when reminded that there are more stories to grasp. New York is a model venue for dialogue.
But words can often get abstract. Brevity is ignored, ideas are replaced with aesthetics, and worries enslave minds. Take a moment in front of a mirror. Smile and laugh, even if it’s forced. It will become sincere soon enough. Watch over a stunning landscape. Admire silence. Tranquility needs a place here.
For all the city’s intellectuals – or aspiring logicians – a little fresh air is good. Or stand behind a soup kitchen counter in the South Bronx. Bid the barista a good day in Chelsea. Ask an acquaintance what his or her name is. Learn to unearth faces in a crowd. And never be cynical when someone does the same. That just means the neighborhood is alive.
Satisfaction cannot be rushed the same way New Yorkers dash through streets and elevators. Newcomers imagine near-instant stardom. But finding storefronts that are like second homes comes with two-way concern and a bit of time.
New York holds countless titles. This place accommodates the rebellious twentysomething begging to escape suburbia. It shelters the exiled foreigner, the diplomat and the retired soldier. Its landscape backdrops paintings and memories, even for those long gone from the city limits. Because of the prying spirits of New Yorkers, this city remains a fascination – in classrooms, novels, films and news outlets. None of that ever stops when the streetlights turn red.