A drink in my hand, I look out over the New York skyline from the One World Observatory, watching as the sun sets and the city lights start to shine. I’ve been in almost this same place before, on my first trip to New York in the late ’80s. I don’t remember what I was drinking, but I remember my awe at the view from Windows on the World, the bar at the top of the North Tower at the World Trade Center.
Over 30 years, I have visited New York City 8 times. Despite being Canadian, the city fascinates me. I remember the sense of recognition I felt, as I walked through locations I had seen in so many movies. This month I feel the same vital energy here as I did on my first trips, when I was full of that energy myself, just starting out on my life of great promise. I had offered to share my room with a woman I’d never met, a stockbroker whose budget didn’t extend to a hotel at the World Trade Center, the site of the conference we were attending. We discovered that in New York it was possible to party until dawn, and we were young enough that we could still work the next day. We shared our dreams of starting our own companies and in the energy of the city anything seemed possible. It was a time of high finance and single malt Scotch.
Michele stayed the course, but my direction changed, and my next trip to New York was with my sisters. I was using up frequent flyer points before I went back to school to become a teacher. I mostly remember food and laughter with Linda and Cindy, as we drank wine on our deck overlooking Central Park. We discovered Southwestern cuisine, were surprised when we were given olive oil instead of butter for our bread, and drank beer, hungover and giggly, on the Staten Island Ferry. We swore that our first sisters’ trip would lead to many more.
And then for 20 years, the only place I saw NYC was in the movies and on TV. I raised my children and lived an ordinary life. Michele started companies. For one reason or another, my sisters and I never organized another trip, and then our mother’s needs kept us from all leaving town at the same time.
I came back to New York City almost by chance (Brave by Accident) and in the last decade have visited 5 times, twice in the last year. I still love the place.
Some things have changed, of course, but so have I. When I first visited Times Square, it was a dirty, risky trip on the way to the theatre, avoiding garbage, junkies and porn shops. Today, it is an adult Disneyland, full of bright lights and commercials. Visitors from around the world grin as they take selfies.
Then, the Twin Towers dominated the south end of Manhattan, and the Empire State Building was still the tallest further north. Those towers fell before I visited again, and the Empire State was again the tallest until 2012; on this visit it is only the 4th tallest in the city.
So much is still the same. Brash as it may be, NYC is still a center of culture and commerce. I visit for the theatre, the opera, the museums, the restaurants. I love to wander the neighbourhoods and the parks. The size and the complexity continue to amaze. Talking by chance to a young, immigrant building contractor in a rooftop bar, I feel the energy and enthusiasm, the belief that here, in this city, anything is possible if you just work hard enough, and want it badly enough.
That was me the first time I visited. Now, much older, I still appreciate the energy of this city that epitomizes the American dream.
Thirty years later, Michele is still a friend. My sisters and I finally went on another trip together, last summer (Kesämökillä: Finnish Cottage Culture). I have friends in and near New York, and I enjoy sharing the city both with them and with friends who have never been here before.
When I despair over news from the States, I think about my American friends, but I also think of the complexities and wonders of New York City. It quiets me and keeps my hopes alive.
I suspect this amazing place will always be part of my brave travels.