I generally try to avoid midtown Manhattan as much as possible, but on Wednesday I had a couple of reasons to be there, and ended up having one of those classic New York excursions that reminded me of why I spent most of my life all the way through college dying to move here. I'd come in to tape an interview with NPR's Day to Day program; their studios are over on 42nd and 2nd Ave, and so when I was done I strolled along 42nd Street over to the resplendent Bryant Park, which was a brilliant spectacle of verdant grass, daffodils, and free wi-fi. One of the great small-scale urban parks in the world, I think, and a complete wasteland only a decade or so ago. Then I realized that my agent's office was just around the corner, so I popped over there to talk about a new book proposal that we're in the middle of selling. (More about that in a future post, I promise.) And then it was down to the Oyster Bar below Grand Central, where I had lunch with a good friend who also writes for a living (though much more successfully than I do.) Grand Central, too, has been transformed since I first moved to the city in 1990, and like Bryant Park (and unlike Times Square) they've managed to make it a bustling public space filled with shops and restaurants without turning it into a mall and losing the charm and quirkiness of the original. The Oyster Bar had been slightly redesigned since I had last been there, but it had exactly the same 40s New York feel that I've always loved about it.
One of the great things about walking around Grand Central is when you finally leave, you pass by all these people who are clearly setting foot on a New York City sidewalk for the first time in their lives, and the expression of excitement and awe in their faces is always incredibly moving to see. This time I passed a trio of twenty-something visitors, who were staring in wonder at the generally nondescript though relatively tall Lincoln Building across the street. (The only reason I even know its name is that I had a girlfriend who used to paralegal there during my college days.) I was tempted to nudge them, and direct their gaze to the left, towards the gleaming spire of the Chrysler Building. Or at least wait around until they stumbled across it themselves, just to see the expressions on their faces.
And then, walking back to the subway, I passed Martha Stewart strolling along the sidewalk alone, cell phone pressed to her ear. A classic New York moment: one of the most famous people in the country, walking down a busy street, and no one is paying the slightest attention to her.