Back when I was living in NY, my favorite T-shirt read “Welcome to NY. Now go home.” Still makes me smile. And having been back on those so-familiar streets, I remember why.

I lived in NY for 32 years; 26 of them in the same brownstone in Park Slope Brooklyn (a locale that still has the power to send me into trembling fits of happy nostalgia.) I knew those damned streets like a lover’s hand. The city and I, we fought. We made up. We took long walks together. Sometimes we hated one another. Sometimes it broke my heart. Sometimes I just couldn’t stop smiling.

This second day of my four-day trip was like that. Like all of it.

I don’t recall NY being this busy; this full of people. That might be because the ad agency at which I worked was far enough west to let me avoid–as so many New Yorkers do–the tangled mess of foot traffic in midtown. Near the subway on both ends of the commute, I avoided much of the craziness. Not on this day.

Were there more people? Or was it just my lapsed familiarity with the amount of traffic there always was? Not certain. I know that my city legs came back right away. And it’s a task far different from an ordinary stroll.

It’s strategy. It’s the long view down the sidewalk. It’s the ability to accelerate on a dime. It’s dodgeball. If you want to air out your gait and walk to the length of your legs, it takes total attention. And grace. That part I like. Fail in your focus for a minute, and you’re gonna be up somebody’s backside before you know it. You’re going to step on someone. Or get stepped on. Or get hit by something with wheels. I was ready.

Broadway and 34th to 41st and Second. Then back down to Fifth and 14th Street. The back up Fifth to 44th. Then back over west. And that’s not counting the lovely riverfront walk back and forth to the path train, a real leg-stretched if ever there was one. Not winded, not once. Not achy or leg-sore. A little blister on one toe; not bad.

I love to walk to get where I’m going. I love to walk fast; with purpose. I love the strategy of finding an opening at a crowded stoplight, finding your space, guessing which of those pedestrians lined up to cross the street is going to be the half-step too slow to let you slide into the gap. I love being agile enough not to have to elbow the gawkers out of my way, even if I’m tempted to.

Cycling in the city had challenges all its own. I started riding NYC streets in the 70s, back in the day when few people did it. I became a sport-cyclist more than a transportation-cyclist, for the most part, but I still did love the challenge of riding a fixed gear bike drilled for a front break, an addition to my everyday bike.

In riding, overall, I loved the higher vantage and faster get-there about it. Didn’t much like the occasional aggressive driver who decided it was right to punish a rider for speeding down a roadway he felt he owned. Did love the sense of being alive and present in the diligent focus that city-riding takes. And caution is not nearly the same thing as fear. You get used to it; you stay careful and you stay safe.

But walking. Sailing the street. Listening to the snippets of conversations around you…even if most of them seemed to be in any language but English. One misses that feeling of getting somewhere under one’s own steam. A long-legged gait is faster than the subway. It feels better. It lets you see more. In the city, a long-legged gait is an expression of love.

Tomorrow, It’s all about Saturday and Sensory Overload in NY.

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