“I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance,” says Rachel. This lovely lady, who is the heroine in Heartburn—a novel inspired by the life and love of its author Nora Ephron—was a New Yorker through and through—it was the sight of her creation, her longing, and her renewal at the end of her marriage (as well as the book).
New York has such a reputation of being the perfect site to start fresh (need I quote the modern American musical where it clearly states that in New York you can be a new man?); for me, NYC had only been a stepping stone as I moved on from one middle of the world to another, only seeing the city through the window of a LaGuardia-JFK shuttle.
That changed this past summer when I packed my bags, boarded the Empire Builder, and chugged my Amtraked way to the East Coast for a three-city tour. It was to be my own personal American Experiment—an opportunity for me to see the greatest of the great in our great nation, a chance to ignite something in this American soul.
My start in the city was what anyone would expect, as it was more New York Cliched than it was New York City (which was most appropriate, as most origin stories do have similar themes). I rolled into Penn Station after nearly 30 hours of cross country travel; the sun had set, leaving the city light by its own energy and more than a few neon lights. A late dinner of Fish + Chips with a vanilla egg cream fueled a venture into the iconic Times Square, where this lifelong people watcher found a new form of heaven on earth. The following day brought me to the lower east side, the Tenement Museum, and Katz’s Deli (NOT PICTURED: The pastrami sandwich with the top bowed because of the pile of meat in the middle or the big ass matzah ball swimming in warm, wonderful, flavorful broth). This gave way to a delicious dinner at the Empire State Building and my very first experience on Broadway where I found myself in the room where it happens at the Richard Rodgers theatre where I got to experience first hand the American experiment that is “Hamilton.”
The next day was a bit more somber, as it presented another side of renewal: Sacrifice. The morning started amongst the memorial pools at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, which had a tour that was as much a therapy session for the city as it was informational for tourists. From there I found my way to one cemetary where I did not find Alexander Hamilton, and then to another where I did, which lead like a Fearless Girl into the greater Wall Street area (NOT PICTURE: A changing bull, as he was too busy posing inappropriately with visitors who more impressed with his endowment than Columbia’s). Drifting down to Battery Park, I boarded a ferry not for the Statue of Liberty, but rather for the Hard Hat Tour of Ellis Island, where I learned about additional forfeits made by the many would-be New Yorkers in the name of freedom. The day closed with one additional Broadway show, “Come From Away,” which, akin to those who cared for the willed ill at Ellis Island, demonstrated how we are all New Yorkers to some extent, as we are all in together.
Before I moved onto Philadelphia the next morning, I enjoyed one more New York-style diner breakfast and walked into one more form of heaven, B&H Photo, where a couple additional rolls of film were acquired that would carry me through another 72 exposures as I traveled down the coast and into American history.
But for 36 frames, I paused “the city that never sleeps” for a few forever memories…