We got out. Out of our house, out of the city, out of the jetway and onto a plane carrying weekend suitcases and Dopp kits with regulation-sized miniature minutiae. I brought the best clothes I had. No pressure visiting your fashion forward son and his similarly styled girlfriend. Nope, none at all.
We did get out, but not without a little drama first. Walking toward our gate at Hartsfield-Jackson International, we heard this most peculiar and disturbing automated announcement: “Beep beep beep beep beep. Attention! An emergency has been reported in the building. Please stand by until this is verified.” I asked the gate attendant if she’d ever heard such a warning and, scanning my face for a shred of insight, she shook her head no. Those of us ready to board couldn’t get off the jetway fast enough, rats fleeing this sinking ship. We’d each won a golden ticket and proudly filed out, but not before glancing at the gate attendant who looked a little jealous we got to leave, a steady rhythm of emergency alerts still sounding in her world. I never did learn what happened. Maybe it was just someone bumping an alarm that went off? Or maybe it was that escaped prisoner I read about in transit from one prison to another, or that other guy on the loose? These loose ends, however, faded aboard the plane.
lt’s been a few years now of dodging disasters and I’m glad I am quick to move – getting in to doctors and out of airports. Double masked as usual, this time I strapped on a disposable N95 mask, a prehistoric black beak with its vertical seam jutting out from my own nose. I’ve diapered the beak with a floral Old Navy cloth mask, softening my air travel presentation.
Uneventful flight. The best kind. My brilliant sky miles mixologist/points purveyor husband got us free flights to JFK and hotels, translating to single night stays at two different hotels. Going to see the older son and check in. He’s a man now, but we are excited as a kid at Christmas to see him and step into his world.
Walking the city, we found people out in droves – masked and moving getting their bodies out in the sun in the spring air and into restaurants and subways and street parks. It’s like nothing ever happened, except for the masks they now wear, and they’re enjoying amazing New York food just like before, except at tables separated with plexiglass dividers. We’re all starved for new experiences, delicious foods and movement and in this city on this day we’re lapping it up.
Waiting on Ben to arrive, we ordered drinks and calamari, and moments later, he walked up wearing the coolest pants he’d made himself – grey with black piping and a front exterior pocket within a larger pocket. The pant legs had a tapered hem and laced up the back. We ordered all kinds of deliciousness – pizza, seafood stew, spaghetti a la vongole – and caught up on his life, his sewing, job, and thoughts on school resuming in the fall – a slice of life in the city through his eyes.
Saturday was full. Up to get going and close out our room (that freebie Joe finagled with points) and stowing our things with the concierge. Hopped a cab to Brooklyn (west Williamsburg) and got to Ben’s place, a converted warehouse – so interesting it’s got its own Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McKibbin_Street_Lofts Flooded with light and enormous, the living room held a baby grand piano a neighbor left behind, a ping pong table Ben scored at Target, plus two couches (one found) and two sewing desks, all this and still, with room to spare. There’s an open kitchen, generous bathroom and three bedrooms. Unlike his previous neighborhood, here you don’t see the skyline, nor do you pass shops and restaurants outside your door; it’s industrial with stark graffiti walled streets and the occasional overpriced and understocked bodega or café several blocks away. Here, grocery shopping happens in Manhattan – at Trader Joes or Target. It’s all a tradeoff. The endless hardwood floors and enormous windows and tall ceilings produce a refreshing volume that gives you room to think and move and breathe.
Next it was off to brunch via subway. I was wary at first – Covid concerns – but everyone was distanced, masked and quiet. Subway signs promoting mask wear went a step further with a good => better image of a masked person talking and a silent masked person, silent the better choice. Next stop, Williamsburg, a super quaint Brooklyn area dotted with shops and restaurants, where everyone wanted a part of this sunny day. Outside, three of us ordered eggs and Ben settled on chicken and waffles. Brunch brought good energy and conversation.
The day went on and on in the best of ways. Time spent outside on the Whitney museum’s sunny patio and walking on the city streets were highlights. Staring off into the distance down at the city to terraces and rooftops, I spotted children frolicking on a rooftop playground with abandon (literally, parents nowhere in sight), a guy smoking a cigarette, pacing, Astroturf carpets sharing outside space with living plants. Walking through parks and markets and concerts and past street corner vendors, we stopped to buy mangoes and cucumbers from a woman peeling and cutting them from her rickety sidewalk table. Refreshing and perfect. It doesn’t always have to be hotdogs and bagels.
This day, Saturday, brought the best dinner, the best weather, the best moods for all of us. The best exercise too, covering ten miles on foot. After dinner we broke off from Ben and Valentina as they caught a subway home. It was then that I heard a most peculiar squeaking sound which I realized was from those illusive rats I’d never seen here but ones I’m always expecting. There were four or maybe more, two under one trash can and two under another. Scared of us, they popped in and out of holes, squealing and making quite the ruckus. They were young, so not the famed house cat-sized variety, but still, true New Yorkers. We tried to catch a cab after dinner – which was the best meal I’ve had in forever (slow cooked salmon over whipped potatoes, spring vegetables and basil vinaigrette, which I’m going to recreate) – but they were all full and their lights off, so instead we walked the 45+ minutes back to the hotel. With just a few blocks to go we saw cabs with their light on. Isn’t that always the way?
Up Sunday to a blanket of clouds but warmer temps. A cab to Brooklyn brought us back to Ben and Valentina’s – thanks to Joe who had to navigate for the older cab driver lacking both a reliable phone and solid sense of direction. There they had hot mugs of coffee ready for us, ping pong paddles set up for play, and their roommate’s precious dog rested and ready for a game of fetch. Lunch at Roberta’s, their favorite neighborhood pizzeria, wrapped up our time. We debated leftover pizza – do you prefer it hot or cold? – and they were delighted with that full meal and leftovers to come.
Forty-eight hours of this, and I am delightfully sated, though now back home, that magical swirl has given way to regular life, but not without a little resistance on my part. I am reset and going to get out more, look around and infuse these days with sparkle. No grey day, pile of bills, uninspired meal or person can take this from you. Wherever you are, wherever you’ve been or are walking or running to, you have a well of curiosity and strength and sunny surprises inside you just waiting to be tapped.
All this wondering when will we ever travel again, is it safe to go or should we just wait. It’s like riding a bike and reassuring to know you can still do it. This pandemic has weaved a frightening path of destruction, but it’s highlighted what matters, too. In the rush to return to normal, it’s important to decide which parts of your old normal are worth returning to. Less is more. Quality over quantity. Family matters. That’s it, folks.
Also I am relieved to find that Word does not recognize Covid during a spellcheck, a sign that surely, this nasty virus is leaving us soon and will not be joining the lexicon.
Wishing us all happy adventures in the days ahead. xoxo