Ever want to do something just to do it? It’s not practical or useful, but you just need that fix?
Recently, on a whim my 21-year old son Paul and I decided to have lunch in New York City. Nothing else. Just lunch. I studied Zagat’s guide, picking out Vitae Restaurant on 46th Street, not far from Grand Central Terminal.
One of the perks of living in Connecticut’s Fairfield County is we can do that sort of thing — just decide on a lark to zip into this cool, exciting city. Except we don’t do it often because it’s not always easy, and life gets in the way, and New York can be expensive. But today we decided to go for it.
It was a perfect summer day. Paul and I took the 10:18 a.m., arriving in Grand Central a little before noon. As usual the Main Concourse teemed with people. I watched three women greet each other at the Information booth, all hugs and excited hellos. A group of Asian tourists stood in the center, pointing up toward the zodiac mural on the ceiling. One of them shook her head, whispering, “Wow.”
We exited onto Lexington Avenue. Shoppers, workers, mothers with baby strollers, and men in suits hustled by. The air was a swirl of accents and languages. The city smelled like exhaust, perfume, and hot pretzels. A few blocks later, we turned left onto 46th Street.
An older chef in a starched white coat stood in front of a restaurant smoking with two waiters, speaking Italian. A tall, blond woman emerged from a nail salon, talking in what sounded like Russian on her cell phone. Two Hispanic whip-thin bike messengers pulled up alongside each other, joking in Spanish. I hear Chinese, Japanese, French, and Persian. Yellow cabs and trucks and buses honk and compete for position on the congested streets.
Paul and I arrive at Vitae. The waiter is tall and thin with a ponytail. He has the polished bearing of an actor. I wonder if he waits tables between auditions. We’re early and get the first seat by the window. I can’t believe my youngest is 21 and looks so adult with his goatee and moustache. Where did my little boy go with that velvety skin?
We talk and people-watch. Our food arrives. I eat my seafood crepe and give my usual sigh. “I’d love to live here,” I say for the hundredth time in my life. Paul takes a bite of his burger. “You’d miss the country.”
I think about this. My son is smart. Still, I give my usual retort. “I’d still love to try.”
By now, the restaurant has filled with business people, ladies who lunch, and retirees. A middle-aged man and woman sip martinis at the bar, looking into each other’s eyes. I wonder if this is a midday rendezvous.
Paul and I share a strawberry tart, consider seeing a movie, but decide to make this a true surgical strike.
We take the long way back to Grand Central, returning along Fifth Avenue. I’m transfixed by the rail-thin women in dark dresses. Men hurry by with blue-tooth phones in their ears, talking loud and fast. The pace is frenetic. I bump into someone, not quite into the city’s rhythm. They push past. I wonder what it would be like, always having strangers around, always on alert. New York is aggressive.
Back at Grand Central, Paul and I have five minutes to catch our train. We hurry our way through the crowds and pass a group of older tourists pointing to the ceiling. I hear British accents. We jump onboard and a few minutes later the train pulls away, through the grimy tunnels of Grand Central, finally into sunlight.
Outside Harlem glides by with its aging brownstones and bodegas.
An hour later, Paul and I arrive back at our station. From door to door, this lunch trip took almost six hours, hardly a jaunt to the local deli, but that’s the price of adventure. And yet as we drive home, I realize something.
My son’s right. I would miss Connecticut’s lush trees, red barns, and windy roads. There’s room to breathe here. The pace is slower.
But I also need New York City. I need to visit a place that’s always changing and moving. Where the waiter might be an actor. Where tourists look up and whisper, “Wow.” Where every language is spoken.
Yes, Connecticut is home.
But New York is the place I must return to…even if its for 2 ½ hours.
Do you ever get that urge to do something? Treat yourself? Scratch that itch? Comments are always welcome and if you like, please share. Thank you!
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