I woke up early, because I wanted to take a walk all by myself before the itinerary chased me down and ran me over. (I’d spent most of the trip technically flattened by that thing, but I lay there flattened and grinning, darn it.)
When I stepped from my hotel that morning, I was no longer watching a movie but in it. Today I would meet my writer friend Anne Dayton who is also an editor. I’d get another glimpse of the beautiful Central Park. And I was leaving.
I started at Subway and ordered a large Diet Coke just like the day before. The same guy took my money and handed me a cup, only this time his face lit up and he greeted me. I guess yesterday I was just another stranger but today I’d earned a neighborly hello. I told him where I was from and how sad I was that I had to leave today, got my Diet Coke, and headed south to 91st Street.
Before I left Missouri, I googled a bunch of places I wanted to see in New York, places like the building at Bedford and Grove that stood as Monica’s apartment in Friends (and the restaurant in No Reservations). The Seinfeld Diner was just a ways north of my hotel. And only three short blocks south and two long blocks over, the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park, where Kathleen Kelly discovers for the first time that Joe Fox is her NY152. That’s where I headed Friday morning with my big green bag over my shoulder and my Diet Coke in my hand.
I walked through neighborhoods that I swear Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan walked through in the movie You’ve Got Mail. Every step or so, I’d think, that’s it. That has to be the exterior for her apartment in that movie. And of course, it probably wasn’t. There were so many beautiful brownstones in that neighborhood.
It was very quiet in this part of New York but still nothing like a quiet morning in the country when you actually might not see a single person. I saw runners, bikers, dog-walkers, people going to work, people coming home. And then I was there, on Riverside Drive – which is, I believe, the street where Joe Fox lived in the movie. And the park was just across the street. I walked into it and had to either veer left or right. I didn’t know which way, but the itinerary was coming for me, and I had to choose fast. Right it was. I went down, down, down a hill, then back up it a little bit – I swear I could hear Joe Fox calling Brinkley’s name as I did it. And then I saw this view and the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow played in my head and I heard nothing, not a sound on the city streets, just the beating of my heart, as I stood in Nora Ephron’s New York and just drank it in.
I took a few pictures there. During this speed-of-light tour of New York, I took pictures not so much to remember the things I’d gazed at while I was there but in a desperate attempt to capture the views I wasn’t really having the time to enjoy. On Top of the Rock, for instance, I hardly even looked. I just snapped, picture after picture, like a mad woman so I could say I had been there and then look at the pictures later and actually be there. It was kind of the same with this garden. Only maybe I managed to be there more than I thought, because I can still feel it. When I look at this picture, I’m there.
After that, I rejoined the group and most of us walked toward Central Park where we would just waste time until the Museum of Natural History opened later in the morning. We stopped on some park benches, and that’s when I left the group again and headed towards the museum to meet Anne Dayton for real.
When I got to the museum, a tall, brown-haired girl sat at the base of a statue in front of it. She had her head toward something in her lap, and she was swinging her feet. And I knew it was Anne. Her entire posture said Anne, although it was completely surreal to know that when I had only seen her in 2D up to this point. 2D Anne doesn’t compare to 3D Anne, you know. She’s prettier and brighter and so beautifully alive in real life that I felt like I’d walked into a painting.
We had coffee, Anne and I. We walked to a Starbucks a couple blocks down and then back to the benches across from the museum, with Central Park behind us and all of Manhattan to our left. We talked about our families and our work and about writing. Felicity asked me what Anne is like in person and I said, “Just like she seems online, and she doesn’t talk as much as me.” But despite my deluge of words – oh so many words, and none of them large or poetic – we had an actual conversation between the two of us, and I loved every moment of it and felt so thankful that she had cared to meet me and had managed to make it work despite the Itinerary of Madness.
I told you already that Holly and Anne made my New York trip what it was. The attractions were amazing, and the city sidewalks everything I’d imagined them to be (only so much more), but it’s the fact that I have friends there that made it really come alive and that made me really feel that I could be a part.
Our final attraction was the Museum of Natural History with its amazing planetarium and giant dinosaur fossils, realistic dioramas, the overpowering blue whale, and so much more. Everything about it – from its grand entrance, which was unfortunately under scaffolding when I was there, to the spiraling interior and fascinating exhibits – again, lived up to every expectation I had. My overwhelming thought about New York prevailed: the movies told the truth. It’s everything you see there, only like Anne, its brighter and better, more 3D and alive. And you get to waltz right in and be a part of it, and that’s what I loved the most.
We ate a boxed lunch at the hotel after that, loaded onto a motorcoach, and took off for the airport. I’d been the only one to refuse exhaustion before that point. I didn’t complain about my feet in Washington D.C. even when taking ibuprofen for the pain. And I never uttered the words I’m tired unless it followed an actual unstoppable yawn or was in answer to a direct question. But the moment our bus emerged from a bridge and turned so I could no longer see the skyline of Manhattan, I fell inescapably to sleep.
I don’t know when I first decided I wanted to see New York before I died. I do know that when I actually thought I was dying, New York wasn’t worth to me the moments I’d have to spend away from my children and family. But now that I have been there, I’m so grateful – so very, very grateful – that I didn’t die in 2005 when I could have. In the last decade or more my life has felt like it was missing some really cool part. I knew it was supposed to be in my life because I could feel it much more like I was remembering it than just imagining. Travels probably, friendships definitely. And now – a few small dreams aside, having slept and walked and visited and discovered so much in New York City, I feel much more complete.