A couple of weeks ago, like two seconds after I emailed my federal tax return, a thought occurred to me that I should make a quick trip to New York, I popped an Ambien and I stayed up a little late researching flights and hotels. Many, many times during my year, when I’m feeling blue, I tell myself, if I could just spend two days in NY, it would make everything better. And planning trips to NY are approximately 36% as exciting as being there in person.
I found a flight that sounded reasonable enough. It had my signature redeye departure and ideal midday return flight. I juggled some things around at work and got a few days. I looked on TripAdvisor for recent reviews of the kitschy, fun and slightly scary Jane Hotel where I have stayed twice before. I fretted over money and what friends I would be able to connect with. Would it be sad traveling to NY without Eric? It was my city before it was his, but now, it feels like it’s our city.
I was reading a chick-lit novel at the time about a lost woman in her thirties who inherited a fancy, but broken down Central Park West luxury apartment. And somehow, this protagonist’s lack of anchor called to my adriftness. Maybe I could find some truth on this trip, maybe something can lead me in the direction my life is supposed to take. Whatever that is.
I never feel more alive than when I am walking through Central Park and along the West Side Highway and through Bergdorf and sitting at Bemelmans or Barney Greengrass or crossing Manhattan to Staten Island on that aptly named ferry. It’s bliss to me. And then I come home and pore through my pictures, pore through the memories. I compare the lists, the places I made it to and the places I ran out of time for. And then I compile a new list, for the next trip. Do you have any idea how many times the Cloisters has been on my LIST? (And it doesn’t look good for it this time either.) My friends give me suggestions: Thank you Ivy for giving me THE FRICK. Thank you Joel for giving me THE TENEMENT MUSEUM. Thank you Traci for giving us the Museum of Arts and Design and by proxy, one of our favorite watering hole’s Robert on the 9th floor. Thank You Eboni for Levain.
I told my therapist that I decided to go because I’ve been depressed and the thought of planning a trip and looking forward to a trip brought me joy. I was afraid to tell my parents, would they think I should be visiting them? And I understand, that’s a risk we take, especially when our parents get older. But I think about if any two people taught me to love travel, the value of travel, it was my parents. Even today, I see an Amtrak or a Union Station and suddenly I am 8 and my Mom and I are traveling in the middle of the night to visit my Grandma and cousins in La Junta. I taste a pineapple, and I am 12 again, on my first visit to Hawaii, of course, with my parents. Perhaps a part of them hesitated booking such a grand trip, the costs involved, but ultimately the yes must have been accompanied by the realization that trips mean memories. My Father’s Father joined us on that trip and my parents and I still reminisce about this one week in 1981 that packed so much life into it. I think I remember every moment, from the confused feelings I felt for some handsome teenage backpackers in the SFO airport, to eating caviar for the first time, to nearly being taken under by the undertow in Maui, the two luaus, feeling like Bobby Brady at Pearl Harbor. And then the 24 pineapples and many boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts we gave away and dined on ourselves in the weeks after our return to Kansas.
I am a little Ambien-y tonight too. So if my words are slightly muddled, please forgive me. Or maybe pop an Ambien yourself and my prose might become as magical as Pink Floyd’s The Wall. But life is hard, I know I’m that guy that is always crying about how hard his life is. A complainer, a victim, easily crestfallen. But on vacation, I really do find joy. I laugh, i have more energy. I’m even nicer. I feel like a vibrant part of the texture of the world we live in. With the earnestness of a young bride whose colors are blush and bashful, I go around saying things like, “I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” New York is my 30 minutes of wonderful.
So, yes, I am going to New York in a few days. It feels like a risk and also, like something I positively must do. These trips. we always bring something back. Something useful, be it a mug or pastries or an understanding about the world or about ourselves. And the older I get, travel, leaving home, seeing another part of the world, meeting old friends, remembering what made us safe when we were 8 or giddy when we were 12 or handsome when we were 26, it feels to me no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity.