I declared last Tuesday “Central Park Day.” I packed a big bag, loaded up my camera, notebook, books, and cash for those little ice cream stands. I smeared myself with sunblock, and even took the long way to the park, walking down Fifth Avenue.
But I forgot that this is the land of tourists. Now, when I first moved here Fayez would bemoan walking through tourist areas. “They’re so slow! Get out of the way!” he would say. I would roll my eyes and think to myself, “I’m from the south. We invented taking leisurely strolls. I’ll never be annoyed at tourists.”
This changes when you’re very nearly trampled beneath a stampede of foreign tourists and you find yourself slung into the side of a building as a woman carrying a telephoto lens body checks you like Dennis Rodman. I find the slow walking folks just fine, I can just go around. But getting my feet stepped on and having to conduct myself elbows out like an angry hockey player doesn’t suit me one iota.
And as I stood there flat against the wall, waiting for the tourists to clatter aggressively by like longhorn stock, I found myself looking at Trump Tower, and the Fox News Truck out front, and I got the angry vapors. I stomped and elbowed my way through the remaining tourists, got to Central Park, bought myself the biggest ice cream I could find, and plopped myself down on a bench.
I sat there indulging the ever-growing wrinkle in the middle of my eyebrows and then I saw something that so totally filled my heart with joy everything else was forgotten. There was a woman sitting by herself on a nearby bench. She had silver white hair, fixed in victory rolls. She was at least 85, wearing her carefully pressed polyester pants and matching pink cotton shirt. And in her carefully manicured hand she clutched a gigantic bottle of bubbles. She smiled to herself, drew a big breath, and blew bubbles out into the sunlight. She did this, over and over. She was completely alone, dressed to the nines, blowing bubbles for her own delight in the middle of Central Park.
That’s the thing about this city. It’s hard. It’s loud. It’s dirty and sometimes doing the simplest of things requires a gigantic amount of effort. But…you can still count on New York to bring a smile to your face if you pay enough attention.
I sat there watching her for a while, just soaking in her joy by proxy. I felt all the tension fall out of my shoulders, and I didn’t care about being body slammed by tourists or Trump Tower. It was the emotional reset that I so desperately needed. It was as if God saw my need for some joy and said, “Let there be bubbles.”
I finished my ice cream and walked on. I paid careful attention to the people around me. The things they wore. Their laughs. I passed by a teenage girl taking a picture of her mother on a bridge. The mother had boosted herself onto the railing, and was laid out like a model. The daughter said, “I am so NOT taking a picture of you like that.” The mother said, “I gave birth to you. NOW TAKE MY PICTURE.” I passed by a girl with turquoise hair. I passed by a nanny and three children picking illegal flowers (Jane would so have been up for that).
I finally found a place on the grass, spread out, and read a book. I could hear wind in the trees. I could hear cars honking. I could hear the couple nearest me doing their best “this is a first date and I super duper really want to impress you” conversating.
It ended up being a truly lovely afternoon. And that’s what living in New York is like. It’s great highs, and low lows, and then happy life in between where you see someone blowing bubbles and suddenly all is right with the world.