Listening to Billy, gazing out a window at the Statue of Liberty in the distance, Highline park in the foreground, along with the New York Department of Sanitation building. This single view that encompasses an iconic symbol; the quirky, artistic and innovative reuse of a railway line; and the slam back down to the plain reality of a line of garbage trucks, parked for the evening. Sing it, piano man.
This is the fifth time I’ve been in New York City. It probably won’t be the most striking or memorable visit. I’m here to attend business meetings in the NY office. I’m here with people I see every day at work, with one or two exceptions. I’m basically hoping to not drink my way under a table tomorrow night at the big dinner. But I’m sitting here thinking about that trip to NYC that was striking and memorable. (Nope, I’m not even talking about the one last September when I bought my wedding dress, though I have a feeling that’s going to stick with me as well).
This is another time-machine post, and not so far different from the last one. Another of those crossroads that helped define the person that I’ve become. Another one that no one else will remember quite the same way that I have remembered it.
Anyone who’s taken a highway knows the lure of those green road signs that name some distant point. They are there to give the traveler an idea of what is east or west without getting turned around. The one that always snagged my attention and tempted my steering wheel was in Ohio, and pointed east toward New York City.
Juniors and Seniors in our high school who were part of the Model UN were eligible for this group trip to New York. I joined Model UN for the sole purpose of getting into the city. The Model UN was nice and all, but I was well aware that I really didn’t need another extra-curricular activity. What I did need was to get out and experience more of the world.
We piled on a Greyhound along with kids from other area high schools for a few days in the big apple. I remember waking up, feeling crusty and grungy from sleeping on the bus. I wiped my hands along the condensation on the cold windows to steal the moisture for my eyes and face, and as I scraped away the fog on the window, I watched the Manhattan skyline whir past against the pink morning sky.
That is the moment I think of when I think of New York. The wonder dipping in my stomach, the haze of sleep instantly swept away with excitement and energy. That’s the feeling I associate with this place, and the same giddy sensation that I get every time I come back.
Those days were packed with more than I can begin to touch in a single blog post. But the tour of the UN, and upon realizing that I spoke three of the five languages they offered there, speaking with random office workers in the cafeteria, these things, these things formed my career path and plan for about four more years. That trip to New York was why I majored in International Affairs, why I majored in Modern Foreign Languages, even why I chose to attend Sweet Briar.
Those are monumental things that shaped who I’ve become, my career path, the things I know, the people I have met along the way. However, that’s not what I’m talking about, either.
City Mouse, Country Mouse
Do you remember that book? That cartoon? That premise? It is a comedy standby, taking the city slicker out into the sticks and watch him flail and eventually catch on. Take the country bumpkin into the city, and after they stop doing the hick jaw drop and their hubcaps are stolen, they also eventually catch on.
Once, sitting on a quiet porch, listening to crickets and tree frogs, I mentioned how loud and how still the country is. My friend Lu smiled and said, “You have to be really comfortable with yourself out here, because there’s nothing else to distract you from that.”
To me, this is what it has come to mean to live in the country. This is the feeling of hiking deep into the woods with your tent and stove and food on your back and just… being…. in the wilderness.
Until that trip to the city in high school, I’d assumed that city life was always moving, always frenetic. That there was no way to carve out moments or places of stillness. I somehow managed to soak in during that brief, whirlwind weekend here that this was not the case.
I learned that those crickets are inside of me, and I can carry them with me wherever I end up traveling or living. I can find a moment of stillness and calm regardless of whether I’m in the city or the country, or another country entirely.
Beyond my career choices, and my choice of college, the crossroads that I came to in New York in 1993 was the one that taught me that I – country bumpkin Alicia – could live absolutely anywhere I wanted to live. Regardless of how big the city, or how remote the cabin in the woods, I’d be just fine.