Out and About (Sort of): “Start spreading the news… New York, New York” by Howard Freedlander


Frank Sinatra’s iconic Grammy Award-winning song rang in my ears during a three-day Christmas visit to a place where “I wanna wake up in a city, that doesn’t sleep And you find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap.”

There’s no place like it, where mobs of people somehow coexist, where there’s constant gridlock, yet it’s exciting, tiring, enervating, aggravating and exhilarating. All at the same time.

Police presence, naturally enough, was notable and noticeable, human and metallic as in many police cars parked conspicuously and inconveniently at midtown intersections.

And, yes, it was dreadfully cold, but so what? We were in New York City during Christmas.

We enjoyed a birthday lunch at the American Girl Doll Store in Rockefeller Center for my five-year-old granddaughter, amid an amazing and head-spinning merchandising and marketing experience…My granddaughter Lizzie seemed to soak it all in and remained relatively calm. Her seven-year-old brother seemed oblivious, playing with Legos purchased to keep him occupied while his sister was queen of the heap.

We had dinner with my college roommate, with whom I reconnected about seven years ago, at the historic Algonquin Hotel, a well-known literary hangout in the 1920s. Still, the friendship connection is real. We both see things we like about each other. Our political views are remarkably similar.

Our visit to the Downton Abbey exhibit, sponsored by Viking Cruises, was simply wonderful, helping us retain a link to an unforgettable TV series, once which shone a spotlight on British aristocracy during a time in the early part of the 20th century when the landed gentry was facing extreme changes in their lives and lifestyles. Life as lords of the manor was becoming frayed and fractured by lack of sufficient money, sometimes requiring marriages to wealthy American women. World War I brought socioeconomic changes to Britain. While class distinctions were still real, they were facing serious, unavoidable societal challenges.

A 30-block walk one day to Zabar’s on the West Side was energizing despite the bracingly cold temperatures and well worth it for enjoyment of the delicious offerings at this well-known and  well-appreciated specialty food store.

A visit to NYC forces you to leave your comfort zone and enjoy the delight and detriment of one of the world’s largest and most diverse cities. Its charm and frenetic outpouring of activities cannot be matched. Coming home to the Eastern Shore provides a return to normalcy as measured by a slower pace, more humane streetscape and a pervasive calm.

My mother was born in Lower Manhattan, the child of immigrants trying to find their way in a new and strange country. She never lost her love for New York and its zesty and palpitating lifestyle. She always treasured an urban environment.

I find myself in a nostalgic twilight zone in New York, trying to imagine my grandparents’ lives in the tenements of Lower Manhattan, surrounded by other immigrants adjusting to lives thousands of miles away from East European programs. I try to imagine the difficulty of learning a new language, not to speak of strange customs and expectations. I try to imagine finding a job and climbing the ladder of success. Were my grandparents riven with anxiety? Or were they just determined to succeed in a strange new world, obstacles be damned?

I think about assimilation, the overriding desire to fit in, to claim their piece of the American Dream, to create a huge physical and mental space between the new and old worlds.

New York still invites innovation, ambition, determination, and imagination. It pulsates with activity, daring residents to claim a niche and work hard to succeed and grow in a dramatically competitive environment. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for everyone.

New York is not America, nor vice versa. It does not identify our nation; it’s a throbbing piece of real estate and human endeavor. It’s a magnet for short-long-term visitors and devotees. But it’s not the sole source of knowledge and know-how. It’s not the only barometer of business, cultural, academic, literary, medical and social achievement.

I like visiting New York City. I also like going home. I marvel at a huge city that works and flourishes. It’s s a world-class urban venue. It possesses a magic that can be copied, but not duplicated. It also invites you to go home and compare your life in a less hectic but still stimulating part of our diverse country.

I feel drawn to return to NYC. But not too soon.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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  1. As usual wonderfully expressed!

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