Summer had come to sit on New York’s face said Tom Robbins. I was pink, the sun had retired for the night but her memory was painted lightly on my skin, reminding my freckles to come out to play, to which they replied ‘I’m exhausted’. Blisters occupied the sweaty space between my toes and flats. The wrong choice of footwear for a long day of pavement and tourist attractions, that was now, already, a small part of the past. That evening, ignoring the signs posted on the hostel walls like an over cautious teacher, Sam and I crawled out as gracefully as possible through a window opening made perfectly for the size of two delinquent Canadians. We needed to pay tribute to a day of feet torturing tourism and friendship.
We sat on the the fire escape and dangled our feet over the human concentrate of Manhattan. A brown bag between us clinked holding two bottles of wine next to a couple burritos. I lit a cigarette, and blew into the air an imagined sophistication. This was the New York we’d been sold on television, and I’d be damned if while I was here I didn’t somewhat embody the movie archetypes.
Four stories below strangers were heading home, and above the hustle we smile silently to one another. We are both unsure of what the next few days would hold, but there was a quiet excitement sipping wine and letting the wind as a relief to the humidity dance around us.
Sam can pick a silence just as well as she picks conversations, thoughtful and effortlessly. The combination which I’ve admired since we became friends in the summer of 2011 is one of the things I miss most about not sharing the cities we’ve lived and travelled together now.
Two days from now she’ll light up the conversation and find her way into a short lived friendship with the bouncer at a club. With a smile that can only come from the friendly Canadian suburbs she’ll ask him where the Biggie Smalls mural is in Brooklyn. To which he will stare at us and reply, “What’chya know about Biggie Smalls.” There will be not a hint of humour in his voice, he’ll cross his giant arms across his chest and look at Sam quizzically. The length of silence is awkwardly growing and not orchestrated by us, we are utterly speechless and slightly terrified. But just as suddenly as the question came about, the quiet is broken with a laugh as big as the bouncer himself. He laughs and laughs at us, and then finds us a round of drinks that we don’t need. Playfully teasing, we learn a little bit more about New York that night, and never end up seeing the mural.
Long before we take on big city night life though, and soon after we perched ourselves like high park pigeons above New York we met Paulo. He was our Italian server at a patio restaurant a few blocks north of Time’s Square. A new immigrant he was positive and outgoing as the service industry in North America intends servers to be. I was trying to manifest the hip, nonchalance, romantic hustle of New York on that fire escape, but Paulo was the true New Yorker. He was the poster child of the American Dream. He was sending part of his earnings back to Italy, and was almost ready to bring his brother to the land of opportunity. Working two jobs, as many as 60 hours a week, and he had fifty stars of hope in his eyes. He had guzzled the red white and blue cool-aid and smiled back at us with a milk moustache of patriotism. He was the underdog story we all love and that hollywood reinforces.
We spent five days tramping around New York, and close to twenty four hours sleeping uncomfortably on a bus to get there and back, while the lives of the people we met, and enjoyed so briefly roll on. Are they still chasing the dream, playfully terrorizing the tourists? There are few countries that can’t look to New York and see their reflection in one pocket or another. Its mystery I think comes from the combination of an elusive diversity in a shared space. I was and I think Sam was also sucked right into that enigma.
The evening on the fire escape was just the beginning. We didn’t know what was in New York’s bag, and it was easy together, like with any good travel partner to bask in the uncertainty, and listen to the locals.
[Memories, adapted from my journal and further romanticized in my head from New York, June 2013]
[NYC cycling map spray painted, and screen printed by unknown street artist]