I leave work with the glorious late afternoon sunshine streaming in rays between the buildings and warming my head. It’s windy, but the bitter chill is missing from the air. Spring is actually on its way at last! I walk a couple blocks to the subway, resolutely marching past the pizza shop with the perfectly crispy crusts and decadent toppings. Another day, I tell myself. I enter the subway tunnel and pile myself into the car along with the hundreds of other people who are happy 5:00 has come. We smash in tight, so closely I’m afraid I’ll get a mouthful of my neighbor’s dandruff if there are any sudden jolts. There’s a stop halfway home where I switch trains, streaming through the long corridors with the crowds, the lines of people twisting and winding throughout each other like a swarm of army ants, everyone finding a place to walk and mostly nobody getting stepped on. It looks like magic if you stop and watch. Finally I make it home and walk the three or four blocks to my house.
There are four different locks to open and I struggle through them, still figuring out which key opens what and which way they all turn. I’m tired, tired of my heels and tired of my coat and also my brain feels like it’s been through a mid-term exam because work is taxing. I climb the two flights of narrow, green-carpeted stairs and kick off my shoes and shed layers. It’s nice to be home.
I make a simple dinner, perhaps eggs and tortillas or a pack of ramen so spicy I have to take breaks while eating it to recover. It doesn’t take long and soon the kitchen is cleaned up. And now it’s time for the best part of the day.
I don my most comfortable tennis shoes and double tie the laces- ain’t nobody got time for tripping tonight, there’s too much to see. The options are endless, shall I take the train to Manhattan and wander around Central Park? Perhaps I’ll go to the Meatpacking District which captured my fancy on my last run through there and is a whole lot prettier than its name sounds. There are a dozen places I’d like to eat in that general area, but one must exercise self control. I could go walk the Brooklyn Bridge since it’s such a lovely evening and watch the lamps light as the sky turns purply-blue. No, I think tonight I’ll explore my own neighborhood and see where my feet take me.
My house is sandwiched between a huge shopping complex with a Target and a Macy’s and a ColdStone Creamery and many other such places- the height of gentrification, and a street full of tiny bubble tea shops and bakeries on which I can read approximately half the signs. Languages swirl around me and I repeatedly find myself surprised when I hear an English phrase in the mix. I shell out a couple dollars for a milk cream bun at a little Asian bakery and make a mental note to come back and try their taro buns and red bean cakes. I walk down the street in no particular direction, enjoying every last crumb of my pastry and goggling at the people and the shops I pass. There are street vendors selling little barbecue skewers and markets with flowers and fruits spilling out onto the sidewalks and parents taking their kids out in plastic-wrapped strollers to enjoy a wind-free ride.
Oddly the grocery stores attract me the most and I often find myself drawn inside to look over the arrays. Slabs of fresh fish greet the eyes and the nose as I walk in and are very hard to ignore, but I’m most interested in the fantastic arrays of greens and fresh foods. Every kind I could hope to eat, and plenty I don’t recognize. Furry squash? Huge knobby things with unrecognizable names. Bunches of little oniony things. It makes me want to do nothing but cook for a week. And when I pass through the aisles of dozens of kinds of vinegars and exotic sauces and noodles, only the thought of having to carry it a dozen blocks home stops me from filling my arms and emptying my wallet then and there.
I convince myself to leave the groceries in the store, reminding myself that I live here now and can stop back every day if I please, and continue my amble. I find the library only a hop and a skip from my apartment, hurrah! It’s closed now but I predict I’ll be back soon, especially since my hours on the subway are eating up my scanty book supply at an astonishing rate of speed. I turn a corner, leaving behind the busy commercial streets and turning onto a quiet residential one. Little brick houses line the blocks, stacked together like so many LEGO creations, yet each one slightly different. This one has daffodils daffing away in pots on the front steps, while that one looks a bit forlorn and neglected, and the next one has children’s toys scattered about inside the front gate. I love catching glimpses through the windows of the inhabitants’ lives, the real people without their don’t-care-about-anything-commuting-faces in place, relaxed and unguarded, and seeing the little bits of effort they’ve made to beautify their places. You can imagine a lot about a person by the type of flowers they have in their windowsill or their curtain choices or the strains of music wafting out of their windows.
The walk has invigorated me so that I take off my coat and my arms experience the fresh air for the first time in weeks. I lose myself a little since I have the worst sense of direction (No really, I’m convinced my subway points toward Long Island but yet every day it magically takes me toward Manhattan. How!?), but I wander a few more blocks in the fresh air, turning this way and that, and suddenly I’m at my own little iron gate and my own little teapot awaits. I’m home.