I’m planning a vacation trip for later this year. I’m going back to my home town of New York City for a visit.
It’s been over twenty years since I was last there.
I was single on my last visit. Loved ones have died, and I’ve changed jobs a few times. The husband has retired from both his job and his racing hobby. Between us, we’ve bought and traded in at least six cars.
The city has changed. The Twin Towers still stood on my last visit, and I have photos taken from the observation deck. We walked throughout lower Manhattan that day, eating in Little Italy, sightseeing in Chinatown. Now the city prepares for the ten-year anniversary of the day when evil tried to kill a great city, but succeeded only in breaking its heart for a while. It’s true that New York never sleeps. It does change, though. The Central Park Zoo is now a “humane” zoo, without bars. Stores I used to shop in: Korvettes, Bergdorf Goodman’s, Gimbel’s, Crazy Eddie’s – are gone now. And the restaurants? Schrafft’s, Luchows, and Horn and Hardart’s Automats are alive only in my memory.
And speaking of food: great new ethnic food neighborhoods have come of age in places like Brooklyn and Queens. There’s Ethiopian, Turkish, “chippies,” Iranian, Chinese food from every province, and of course, a lot of Greek food, courtesy of the large Greek immigrant population. And there are plenty of new specialty joints on side streets all over Manhattan, specializing in everything from meatballs to donuts. I’m a foodie and food writer. I want to see what’s going on.
But I also want a taste of the familiar. A dirty-water hot dog from a pushcart is a thing of beauty, tucked into a steamed bun, draped with sauerkraut and squirted with mustard. A hot pretzel, stuck with coarse salt, and a bag of hot chestnuts, if those are still around. (There’s a chronic shortage; most chestnuts in this country are imported from Italy, China and South Korea, because almost none are grown domestically.) And of course, the classic pizza slice: with molten cheese and drippy orange grease, you have to fold it in order to eat it, mainly to contain the contents and avoid the burns.
And there’s New York deli. It does not matter where you go: deli food is never the same outside of New York. It’s not the size of the sandwich (the bigger-than-your-head servings at the most famous New York delis not withstanding), it’s the quality of the product, and the surroundings: the cramped buildings, wobbly tables and chairs, the Noo Yawk accents, the shouting, the rudeness. It’s part of the experience, in delis and everywhere Visitors find it unnerving at first. But eventually, it settles and wraps around you like twilight over the Hudson River: a brilliant and blinding light, followed by shades of deep blue and dark orange, and then the purple blackness of night, lit by the comfort of a million twinkling lights.
I used to know this city so well. I walked the streets as a teenager, unafraid; visited the museums, libraries and attractions with school classes. I can’t wait to get reacquainted with my new old city.