By John Krull
NEW YORK—It had been a while since I’d had a New York moment.
But there I was, walking up Lexington Avenue on a lovely autumn afternoon. As I entered the skeletal framework of the metal shelter designed to protect pedestrians passing by a building on where work was being done, I saw a younger guy coming toward me.
He had his head down, hovering over his phone screen. He was weaving all over the sidewalk, oblivious to everything around him.
When he approached me, he bore to his left—right at me. I shifted left to get out of his way, but then he veered to his right, still unconscious of everyone in his vicinity. I did a matador’s pirouette to avoid a head-on collision and mostly succeeded.
But our shoulders bumped.
He stopped and turned toward me.
“Watch where you’re going!” he barked.
“I wasn’t the one who had my head buried in my phone … pal,” I replied, deciding at the last second not to call him a certain sort of human orifice.
We stood there for a second, exchanging hard looks.
That’s New York. You don’t back up. If you do, you get run over.
After a moment, he broke off the staring contest and resumed his walk. As I watched him move down Lexington, his head once again was locked on his phone. He also was weaving all over the sidewalk, a one-man demolition derby on the hoof.
Oh, New York, I have missed you.
I’ve been coming in and out of this city for work and family for decades. I first started roaming these streets when I was in my early 20s. Then, I was a cliché—the Midwestern man-child come to test himself against the steel and concrete of the big city.
In those days, I walked the streets, overwhelmed by the scope and vitality of the city. The crowds captivated me, all those souls shifting through space and struggling to make their way in a hard world.
Bright lights. Big city.
But then I began to understand the place a little better. I came to realize that New York was less one massive metropolis than it was a series of villages occupying the same geographic space. Different people, different demographics, different histories and different hopes all striding the same streets.
To borrow from our national motto, New York managed to achieve the “Unum” without sacrificing the “e pluribus” part.
New Yorkers—9/11 comes to mind—like to tout their unity and cohesiveness in times of crisis, the ways they come together to meet a common challenge.
Doubtless, there’s something to that. New York has had to rally more than a few times in its history.
But that’s not what makes the place special.
What I admire about New York is its thrusting, jousting, elbowing energy. It’s not the absence of friction that makes the Big Apple remarkable. It’s the way the city absorbs that, the ways New York encourages people from many parts of the world with little in common to find ways to co-exist.
They don’t always like each other—New Yorkers snarl more often than they coo—but they figure out ways to get through the day.
One of the things I enjoy most about coming here is listening to the voices. Earlier, when I was in midtown, within a single block I eavesdropped on conversations in French, German, Mandarin, Japanese, some Middle Eastern tongue and a couple others I only could guess at.
E pluribus … and, sort of, Unum.
The pandemic kept me from the city for a time. It’s good to be back here—and even better to realize that New York has lost none of its contentious boisterousness.
Before resuming my journey uptown, I glanced back to check on my dance partner.
He still was weaving his way down the street, head bent over his screen, a wrecking ball in human form, snapping and barking every time someone touched him.
New York moments.
Got to love them.