February 25, 2014
My Walkabout—Part I
Headed for my first conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) I have arrived in New York City. On our descent into the city I spot The Stature of Liberty, so I know this is it. So much water. So many buildings. So many BIG buildings! It is like taking the entire city of Minnepolis/St. Paul and turning it into one big downtown filled with IDS buildings! I suppose that is slightly exaggerated, but only slightly. There are a lot of freakin’ big buildings every way I twist about to look!
We land and an hour later I’m bumping along in a crowded shuttle van headed for various hotels in Manhattan. It is lunch hour in New York, but it looks like rush hour in Minneapolis coinciding with a Vikings home game. I wonder what “rush hour” looks like here?
Finally, downtown Manhattan. Except, from what I can see, it’s ALL downtown. They divide it up by calling it Lower, Mid, and Upper. My hotel is on 42ndStreet, part of the Grand Central Terminal. I walk in and know my credit card is in trouble. It is a beautiful hotel. My room on the 27th floor is sleek and modern with the most comfortable king sized bed I’ve ever slept on! My window looks up 42ndStreet. I can barely see the sidewalk for the people.
Unpacked and settled; time to head out for a walkabout. It’s 2:00; the sun is shining and it’s 40 some degrees…ABOVE zero. What a change from Duluth! I head down 42ndStreet to 5th Avenue and per the suggestion of the concierge, turn north on 5th heading for Rockefeller Center and then Central Park. But, oh…there on the corner of 42nd and 5th is the famous New York City Public Library! Oh my…I’m all about books…but, if I go in there, I won’t make it to Central Park which is 20 blocks away.
I head for Central Park. I don’t know if I’ve ever walked on a street amongst so many people. I’ve been at events where there were hundreds of people all crowding to get in or out but the event was never just about walking down the street, and up the street, and across the street…block after block.
There is a very tall, very thin woman ahead of me wearing a black floppy hat, an ankle length black coat of some material that allows it to billow a bit in the breeze—and red high-heeled platform shoes! Her naked foot must be nearly a foot off the ground! Maybe she isn’t really as tall as she seems.
I pass an old woman in a ragged coat and dirty tennis shoes hunched on the sill of a storefront step. Yes, I noticed the plastic cup of coins she was shaking. I keep dodging the oncoming human traffic. My heart is suddenly as heavy as a stone and demands to know why I’m not keeping my promise. Sighing, I steer toward the wall and stop. After watching Change for a Dollar and helping my husband with his film, Sawubona, I promised myself I would never ignore the homeless and the beggars. I turn back. I drop some coins in her cup and look into her eyes as she smiles up at me. She has two teeth missing. I pat her shoulder and hurry on my way wondering why I get so nervous—what is so difficult about taking time to acknowledge someone who struggles?
There are a cluster of tourists on one corner all pointing their iPhones and cameras upwards at a building. I look. It is old stone with carvings and statues. The building is surrounded by taller buildings of glass and steel.
By the time I get near the Rockefeller Center I am bored. Being bored in New York City 45 minutes into my first walkabout triggers an anxiety attack. Surely I must have made an unfortunate decision to come this way. Surely I am missing out on something far more interesting! I don’t have my map. I call my husband.
“Honey, all there are are stores and more stores and tall buildings and lots and lots of people and I still have 12 blocks to go before Central Park so should I have gone a different route and am I missing anything because this is my only chance and I’m f’ing hungry and there’s only stores and…what? I’m on 49th. And 5th. NO, the Rockefeller Center isn’t kitty-corner from me. There’s just another big building. The sign says…NO, I told you, there’s no Rockefeller Center…What? Yeah, there’s some trees half-way down the block…OKAY, I crossed the street already, I’m over there—here…okay, walk down this plaza between the buildings? A skating rink? The one in the movies? Oh…yeah, here’s the skating rink. THAT’S the one in the movies? Nah…it’s small and surrounded completely by walls and buildings…I don’t even know how to get down there. And there’s like a couple hundred people skating. Oh, what? This is the Rockefeller Center? What’s the big deal? It’s boring…the skating rink looks pretty different in the photos and the movies…geesh! So now what? …okay… Do I keep going up to Central Park? I know…I KNOW…I won’t have much time…but, oh hell. I’ll figure it out. Thanks…Bye.”