April 27, 2009

Another American Expat in America

Finally! After a cold and rainy week, the weather in New York has gone from winter to summer overnight, and I spent the past couple days in shorts, dresses, and even bought a new pair of sunglasses - for $5 on Broadway in SoHo. Sunglasses should always cost $5, always be purchased on the street. That's just the way it is. I've probably bought 15 pairs of sunglasses from the same guy at this point.

This past saturday morning in Brooklyn I walked though my old neighborhood to meet a friend for breakfast (iced coffee and bagels!), and it seemed like every single person in the entire neighborhood was outside. There were the groups of big, fat, tough guys, drinking beer out of paper bags and listening to rap blasting out of their illegally parked car. One block away, there was a group of skinny teenage boys, yelling at each other as they listened to Spanish music blasting out of their illegally parked car. Old women sat on their front porches, bicycles of all shapes and sizes were zooming down the street, every single cafe had their doors and windows wide open and outside seating was full. Summer in Brooklyn had begun, which is an odd thing to say in late April.

When I was done with breakfast, I took the subway to Grand Central Station (I was headed to my hometown in upstate New York, about 2 hours from the city). When I transferred at Union Square to head uptown, I picked up my suitcase to carry it up the 3 flights of stairs. A guy walking behind me said "here, let me help you with that." My reaction as a New Yorker was to think immediately, "why is this stranger talking to me, what does he want, and no way am I letting him touch my bag which has my computer in it." My 2-second delayed reaction as a ... person who tries to trust that there is good in this world is what came out instead. "Thank you! That's so nice!" I said.

The guy didn't want anything. He was just being nice. Maybe he knew he could get up the stairs 3 seconds faster if he carried my suitcase, and that's why he offered. Either way, I said thank you again when we got to the top of the stairs. He said no problem. And I was on my way. When people in Europe ask me about New Yorkers and I talk about how nice they are, this is the kind of thing I'm talking about.

While I waited for the 4/5 express train, I stood next to a dad with his 7-year-old looking son. Me and the dad must have both spotted the rat (that's a big, gross, rat, not a cute little mouse) running around in the subway tracks at the same time. I looked at it with a bit of disgust, but the dad said to his son "hey, look!" The kid got really excited. "Oh cool! Look at the rat jump! Come on, rat, jump over that puddle. Dad, what if the rat can't make it over the puddle?" "Don't worry, that rat is having a great time, he's happy." "Look dad, there he goes! Cool!"

When the train came, I pushed my way on with hundreds of other people and went to the Grand Central. The ride upstate was lovely - there's really nothing better than staring out a train window and looking at a river with mountains in the background.

Since I've been away from the states for a year, it's hard to properly catch up with everyone. Sometimes it seems like this trip is flying by, other times the days feel long and slow. I don't really feel any significant culture shock, but there are little things here and there. 1 parking spot in NY could easily be 2 parking spots in Amsterdam - two parking spots with room for a scooter and 5 bikes, actually. I hate how everyone here gives me 10 napkins and a plastic bag if I order a sandwich. I've never had to ask someone in Amsterdam to please not give me a bag and insist that I can eat a sandwich without the help of 10 napkins.

I love that there are ATM machines everywhere (Amsterdam has an unbelievable shortages of those). I love disco fries, mexican food, the availability of perfect avocados, a never-ending supply of amazing pizza and I love seeing all the new bike lanes in the city. I even spotted 2 people on one bike - in lower Manhattan! It was definitely a mom and a child, the child sitting on the bar between the seat and the handlebars. I do keep thinking I'm accidentally walking in a bike lane when I'm on the sidewalk, and I haven't stopped looking both ways to cross the street, even though most of NYC has one-way streets.

Now while everyone else gets ready to go to work on Monday morning, I'm back to taking trains and subways and visiting family and friends. Not a bad way to start the week. Vacation, week two: begins now!

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