Friday, April 27, 2007

Four days in New York: sights, sounds, streets & writers

(From left to right) The flutist at the World Trade Center played hymns as tourists milled around. Tour guide Stan O'Connor drives a pedicab in New York.


It’s been years since I visited New York. I used to travel there monthly, when I was on the staff of a magazine with a New York consultant.

One thing I quickly remembered: a Southern accent draws comments, mostly benign, along the lines of “Is that a Southern accent?” The lovely thing about New York is that regardless of your accent or language, you don’t feel intrusive. When we visited the Empire State Building, we heard German, Chinese, and French. The loveliest accent I heard came from a woman whose Irish brogue was music to my ear.

I spent some time talking to a pedicab driver in front of our hotel. Stan O’Connor made me laugh with his first remark reminding me of Catholic jokes I heard from my Northern friends when I was in college. After introducing himself, he grinned slyly. “Bishop O’Connor was my father.”

Stan told me he meets so many different kinds of people he’s thought about writing a book. He majored in broadcast journalism in college. He’s an official New York tour guide, and he has an official “tourguideStan” video on You Tube ( I could tell he loves his work; he’s a fountain of knowledge about the city.

We visited the World Trade Center site. I’m working on a poem about it. I have to say I wasn’t prepared for the emotional reaction—maybe because I witnessed the attack by way of my TV screen—I felt someone had slapped me hard across the face. There was a flutist playing hymns like “Amazing Grace.” People of all nationalities milled around. It was a quiet place. Most everyone seemed to respond the same way you’d respond to a holy place. I’ll never forget it. If America has a Mecca, the WTC site is it.

The American Society of Journalists and Authors conference took up most of my time. If there’s one writing conference you can make it to, this is the one. I met editors and agents in person; I had appointments with two publishers and one agent about my new nonfiction book. We’ll see what comes of that.

New York is still the grand dame of cities. The cab drivers are more brutal—there was one moment I just knew our driver was going to kill a young Asian man as he rode his bike into our path (the cyclist actually had right of way). That was the only negative: having to ride in those cabs a couple of times. We walked as much as we could. We did, however, have a lovely cab driver for our ride to Kennedy airport to catch the flight back to Jax. This driver had an environmentally friendly cab that was brand new and actually clean. He was pleasant. I said prayers of thanks.

The cab drivers aren’t the only aggressive people in motion. Pedestrians scurry down the street like ants in a line. You will, if you stand for a moment, be mowed down. There’s no eye contact or saying hello as there is for passersby in the South. New York is a city where people, by necessity I suppose, focus on the interior rather than the exterior.

When we approached Jacksonville on our return flight, the sight of the green landscape was so welcoming. New York is fun to visit, but I’m too used to wide open spaces and lots of green to ever live in a concrete jungle, no matter how exciting that jungle may be. As for Florida, what's not to like?

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