Category Archives: nyc

the flattening of 2020

There is a flat aspect to life right now that we are just not used to in 21st century urban America. The world seems like it lacks dimension, like everything has been reduced down to the flat line we’re all traveling on to get to the other side of this crisis. We are so used to lives with so many wonderful aspects, that to be lacking in experiences, whether those are shared or not, renders life strange and devoid of color.

Walking through Manhattan today, I thought about how one of the major impacts of this shutdown is the removal of choice. Being out of the house, walking around a city, my instinct is to be able to take a break in a cafe or restaurant, to be able to go inside a landmark or museum, or to be able to shop if I see an interesting store. All of those choices are gone right now. There is no choice to duck into a store, nor is there an option to sit in a Starbucks and doodle in my journal. At night, the bars and clubs are closed, and there will be no goth club events for the foreseeable future. These small, everyday choices are effectively negated by the pandemic, as all “third places” have been rendered closed until further notice. For a city like New York, which depends on those third places to give its citizens space outside their tiny apartments, this adds a further sense of confinement to the already narrowing world.

The second shared impact is temporal dysphoria effect of the shutdown. The pandemic has created a shutdown state in which we are all reduced to the same daily routines, in the same space, without any of the movement or change that delineated days, weeks or even months. It isn’t just an issue on weekdays, when the workday ends and we lack the transition to home lives. It is the weekends, in which we remain in the same space, often doing the same tasks on a Saturday as we might have on a Monday. It has been the months in which we have not been able to gather for holidays, or attend the events we associate with spring, or engage in any of the societal milestones that usually mark time. Time has lost meaning for many of us, as our spatially based routines have been interrupted and eliminated. Our lives have lost those temporal dimensions.

With the flattening of our experiences though, and the compressing of our sense of time, there is also a shared sense of loss for these strange months. We all feel as if our lives are passing us by. There is a lethargy and a despair that is beginning to set in among New Yorkers, as we go into our twelfth week of quarantine without a real end date in sight. There is a lack of hope setting in, coupled and connected to a deep fear of negative change. We are unable to hope without a timeline for when hope might be practical, yet we are absolutely able to fear the future without a set schedule of when it might arrive. We lack the hope of being able to look forward to all of the things we loved about the city, which leaves us all without a counterbalance to the deep sense of foreboding and dread as to what the city will look like when we are on the much anticipated other side of this pandemic.

Fear without hope means that even this flattened existence feels unstable. The one-dimensional existence we all feel we occupy right now still manages to feel as if it has a deep dread underneath it, as if we are all on a sheet of ice over unfathomable dark waters. Every day we hear new stories of loss, of possibilities being extinguished, either by the disease or by the economics of the situation. It is the only thing that moves time forward, the litany of news that seems to remind us every day that there is a disease threatening the most vulnerable among us, that the urban way of life may be a victim of the disease, and that there is a madman in charge of the country who offers no support or compassion to any victim.

I am hopeful that these will, however, be the darkest days of the pandemic. I am hopeful that we can open up NYC without putting the people at risk who already need more support just to survive, provided we are mindful of that risk as we do so. I am hopeful that experiences and choices will expand, slowly, to give us all back the connection to the city, to each other and to our lives’ experiences we miss so very much. Until then though, we will all have to rely on our sense of empathy and compassion to get through this.

a change of scenery

At some point over the last couple weeks, my beloved apartment became claustrophobic. Instead of the just-right sized space it’s been for the last five and a half years, it became too small for the three people that live inside of it. I am fond of pointing out that we have nothing to complain about; my ancestors on the Lower East Side would have had three families crammed into the space we have, and probably a boarder or two to boot. It’s likely that the women in the family wouldn’t have even left the house, but would have stayed home sewing piecemeal work in sweatshop conditions. I should not be so quick to kvetch, and yet, I am. I love my husband and son dearly, but I am also used to leaving them on a daily basis, and I have not done so for over two months.

One of the key factors to the need for space is my renewed commitment to writing. I am intensely private when writing, and will instinctively hide a page I’m working on, which in turn breaks my flow of words. I may eventually publish whatever it is I am working on, but I may also be unable to spin out the concept into a full post, and may not be able to articulate my ideas. When I am working on my art, I am very protective of it, and will even raise my hackles at my beloved husband. This may be a fear based reaction, the old fear of ridicule that haunts many people from childhood, but it’s a reaction I honor when writing.

Over the last few weeks, even outside of my protective sense for writing, I’ve felt myself getting more and more prickly about space, both physical and mental. I feel as if my brain is overfilled at any given time with thoughts that are both superficial and overwhelmingly numerous. It feels as if my brain is overcrowded with short fragments of thoughts, all of which are too truncated to be braided together into a cohesive pattern or narrative, resulting in chaos. Adding in the mental spillover from two other people makes it even worse, a maelstrom of individual pieces, none of which I am able to focus on. I am overwhelmed not only by my personal and professional obligations, but also by the thoughts of my son.

I therefore decided to pick up one of the inexpensive mid-range hotel rooms in Manhattan, the sub-$100 rooms that are now common throughout FiDi and Times Square, where the demand for business hotels has fallen through the floor. After all, without business travelers, and without even the typical amenities of common space and lobby lounges to draw visitors in, hotels are merely trying to literally keep the lights on. I would reserve a room, I decided, and then I would settle in with my Chromebook and my planner, a glass of wine and a takeout salad, and write. I would continue to plug away at my steampunk novel. I would write blog posts, like this one you are reading now (how very meta!). I would be alone with only my own thoughts for an evening.

Over the past week, this ideal also evolved to include a walk to the hotel in question. I decided I would walk to the DUMBO ferry dock and take the ferry across the East River, and then I would walk home via the Brooklyn Bridge in the morning. I would return to that sense of adventure I love so much, setting out with a backpack in a city. Perhaps in the morning, I will go for a sunrise walk through Manhattan. It struck me as time I could re-connect with this city, which I love so very much, which I have not grown tired of exploring in the eight years I have lived here.

I set out this afternoon with a sense of adventure. I felt more like myself again, listening to Tiesto, loaded down with a backpack, walking past the boundaries of Prospect Heights. Except to drive to Central Park last weekend, I have not left the confines of my neighborhood since March, and like my apartment, my beloved neighborhood even feels too small as a result. I walked past the familiar reopening coffee shops and restaurants, heading northwest on Flatbush. I passed the Duane Reade and the UPS store, my most frequent errand locations. It wasn’t until I got to Atlantic Avenue that my steps slowed a little, as I passed the Modell’s with its bankruptcy announcement (although that is pre-pandemic), and then continued to pass store after store after store that was closed, each with a variant of the same note, dated March 22nd, in their window: “To our customers, we are closing to keep you and our staff safe during this global pandemic. Visit us online and come back when this is over.

This should not have been a surprise, and yet, I’m shocked at the emotional impact that this walk had on me. Upon reflection, I believe it was because I am used to my own neighborhood being closed, but seeing the next three neighborhoods in the same condition gave me a more realistic sense of scale of the disaster that has befallen New York City. It is one thing to see a microcosm of the economic devastation in my neighborhood, while reading about it in the abstract in the Times. It is an exponentially harder impact to walk two miles down one street, and see dozens upon dozens of independently owned restaurants and shops closed. Each one of those shops and restaurants had its own story, a possibility brought to life by brave owners who brought their passion to food or wine, art or hardware, clothing or housewares. Each one is now deeply at risk of being gone by the time the world starts up again.

I finally reached the end of Atlantic, where it hits Pier 6, where the ferry to Governors Island remains closed, along with the playgrounds on the pier that Ben loves so very much. I walked up Brooklyn Bridge park, past the piers, past the soccer fields of Pier 5 being used for practice still, past the forest at Piers 3 and 2, past the lawn at Pier 1 where I saw The Importance of Being Earnest (gender bending edition) last summer. And I tried to process this immense amount of sadness that seems to be pressing more on me than it has for weeks as I slowly walked the last half mile to the ferry.

What this feels like to me is a combination of grief and fear, that neither I, nor most of my generation in North America, have had to experience. I am grieving for the loss of New York City as I knew it, the city that represented this ultimate in intellectual sophistication to me. This city has centuries of being heavily invested in the arts in a way that the Pacific Northwest cities cannot replicate at this point in their history. It is a city where so many people are unique that being different seems to be the norm. It is a city where every individual is encouraged to have their own narrative and story and perspective, with none of those being identical or repetitive. I cannot bear to see this city choked to death by bankruptcy, by economic circumstance (even though it has lived by economics and capitalism its entire history). I cannot bear to see New York forced to accept chain stores and the monotony they bring, and I cannot bear to see a city that has so prized individual narratives forced to accept repetitive stories out of fiscal necessity. I fear that the city may not be able to rebuild in a meaningful way, and that the tapestry of New York City may be irreparably damaged.

The only consolation to this sadness is knowing that it will resonate strongly with many people, and that so many of my friends and neighbors will be able to understand everything I’m saying. As a person with a mental health condition, I have always assumed that my emotional responses are different than everyone else’s. I often describe my brain as being wired a little differently, as having pathways and connections that either fire in atypical ways, or that, on extremely bad days, do not fire at all. (I assume that the rest of the world is able to feel positive emotions consistently, that everyone else is able to receive those little rewards of happiness that are received throughout our existences for even the most mundane of activities. )

I am therefore surprised to realize that I am sharing an emotional experience with others. How strange it is to feel as if one is typical! I am disturbed because this is a case of mass sadness and disappointment, a circumstance created by disaster, but I am still comforted because it is an experience that so many people seem to be able to understand. I can speak of my grief and my fear and have others say “yes, I understand what you miss, and I understand your fear for our city.” We all have not just empathy, but a true understanding of each other’s emotions. That connection seems rare to me, outside of this kind of shared traumatic experience.

Being here, alone, in a hotel room, I do see that there’s a strange juxtaposition: I wanted my head space back so I could muse on sharing that head space with the rest of the city. But I really wanted my head space back so I could process this sorrow, this grief, this fear, this anxiety. These are the dominant emotions that make up my thoughts each and every day as I worry for my fellow citizens. I fear for all the individuals in all walks of life who make this metropolis so very vibrant. Today, I am more aware than ever of the devastation of the measures we have had to take to contain this virus, and how long and hard the road back to recovery will be.

underestimating parenting problems in an age of inequality

Every day of this pandemic, I feel as if I am accountable to bear witness to the impact the coronavirus has on other New Yorkers. At first, it was the economic impact, as the service jobs disappeared quite literally overnight, back in March. Then it was disproportionate impact COVID-19 has on the less affluent neighborhoods of New York, the food deserts impacted with high air pollution, where the conditions of the neighborhood make the residents more prone to the effects of the virus. Now it is knowing that an essential workforce goes out there every single day to take care of other New Yorkers.

Credited to Bruno Iyda Saggese

The COVID-19 quarantine is also terrifying in the impact it has on children and their education. In New York City alone, thousands of students have city issued devices, but no wi-fi with which to access the school curriculum online. I would imagine even more students have access but do not have parents who are able to support them in the transition to online learning, due to tech literacy or language barriers. This is an issue across the country, but has been in high focus in New York due to the massive gaps in access in such a small geographic area.

And it isn’t only school where children, my son’s classmates and peers, are impacted. Yesterday, I was reading an article on how this summer will be bleak for children and especially for those children in New York City who are already impacted harder than Ben has been due to coronavirus. The lack of city programs, from a combination of budget cuts and quarantine precautions, will have a massive impact on children throughout this city.

Knowing all this, witnessing all this, we have of course been budgeting to send extra money to CAMBA for wifi in shelters or to CHIPS for food bank assistance. Our donations, however, are only a drop in the bucket of what’s needed. Millions of dollars would be a Band-Aid on the effects of inequality on New York kids just like my son, as they struggle to learn and keep up, as the gaps in access and privilege are made even wider by the pandemic. And so, my mental landscape has been shaped by our privilege and good fortune, our middle class comfort, my son’s ability to transition to remote learning with far more ease than a lot of his peers due to his age and materials for learning and his parents’ ability to support him.

It wasn’t until this week that I realized I had been underestimating Ben’s quarantine related sense of loss, as it fell into the peripheral vision of how very much we do have as a family. I had focused on how easy it was for Ben to transition to online learning, using the tech skills he’s developed over the years, combined with my own decades of white-collar organization. Paul and I saw him sitting down and working every day, looking at his schoolwork on Google Classroom, connecting through Zoom to his extracurricular activities and his friends. We thought that because we were able to support him in replicating his life on digital platforms, that he had adapted and everything was fine.

We dramatically underestimated the impact of social distancing on our kid, as his entire life has been yanked out from under him. Ben lost less than many New York kids due to the resources he still has at home, but he still lost a lot when the social distancing went into effect six weeks ago. Ben lost his freedom and his independence, his ability to take the subway or go for lunch at Chipotle. He lost engaging with his friends every day in their school habitat. He lost baseball, which is one of his passions, as Mr Sportball loves the sports. He lost all his in-person contact in every single activity, and I cannot expect him to get the same emotional value out of a digital equivalent. He can’t even go out and shoot hoops with a neighbor kid right now as playdates are even unsafe. So much of what was important to my son, all these things he has been discovering are part of who he is and who he is growing up to be, are completely absent from his life right now.

We discovered this week that this had manifested in some serious behavior issues, which I will not go into at the request of Ben, who has asked me to please not tell everyone what he did because he is very ashamed of himself and is very sorry. And as my son becomes a teen and a tween, I’m trying not to reveal his life as an extension of mine, but rather, accept that he is a separate person from me and that I can only write or talk about him as part of my own story and the impact being his mom has on me. For the intents and purposes of what I am struggling with today, what Ben did isn’t actually that relevant. What is relevant is that I assumed he was okay because we, as a family, have been so fortunate, and it was a mistake to do so. Of course Ben is not okay; of course he needs more support from his parents as he’s dealing with a situation that is scary and weird and most of all, lonely.

That is what I am now trying to deal with. My baby is mostly okay, but in some very deep ways, he is not. Nor should he be. No one is okay in all this. Even the most fortunate of us are not okay. I had assumed that because I am one of the 30% of Americans who easily transitioned to working from home, we would be more okay than most, and perhaps we are. But I cannot view okay-ness on a relative scale and reduce my son’s mental health to a binary: just because he has more then a lot of other kids does not mean his life will feel whole at this time. He is still struggling and he is still lonely and cooped up and miserable, and until this week, we had not given him permission to not be okay.

I tend to view my life through a lens of class privilege. That lens, however, doesn’t allow for a lot of recognition of my own problems when they are made relative to the much greater issues of the wider world. I would prefer my son to feel comfortable with his own problems, to feel like he is allowed to have those problems, and not like his problems are completely negated by his own middle class situation. Ben’s lack of happiness should not be diminished or made irrelevant due to the context of inequality the pandemic has brought into sharp relief around us. He should not be blinded to how fortunate he is, but also should not be made to feel as if he has to reduce his own emotions as to not seem ungrateful.

I’m going to have to carefully balance this, as I work out how to ensure my son remains aware of everything he does have, without feeling as if his material security and access to education cancel out his right to feel and express negative emotions. Parenting, even for the most privileged of us, is extra hard and extra complicated and extra fraught right now, and I am now much more aware of that than I was last week.

every day is like sunday

Well, perhaps every day is not quite silent and grey, but it does feel a bit like waiting for an Armageddon. Especially since the President has decided to take this opportunity to start breaking down environmental laws so everyone’s lungs and immune systems will be good and weakened for the next pandemic. (Do not even get me started on how millions of Americans are waiting for checks because Trump insisted on using the government funded stimulus as a campaign stump).

It’s been just over four weeks now since what I still think of as the Day the World Ended, back on March 12th. That evening, I was supposed to go to a very worthwhile charity event with one of our media vendors. My boss and I had been invited to meet our sales reps for blowouts at Drybar before the show, and so we took the subway uptown mid-afternoon to do so. But by the time we got to the Upper West Side, the event had been canceled; by the time my hair was blow dried, Broadway was shut down. The group of us scheduled to spend that evening at the concert immediately went together to a wine bar and spent four hours drinking, watching the news alerts on our phones, as social distancing went from the opt-in it had been two days before, to a critical order to save lives. We knew things were about to change and that this would likely be the last night we had in “normalcy”.

In hindsight, listening to a siren right now somewhere in Brooklyn, this entire day was irresponsible. At the time, COVID-19 was spreading through New York. We had hundreds of cases we didn’t know about. We had a curve of sickness and death coming for NYC that we all drastically underestimated. And I still chose to go to work that day even though the office looked like this:

Of course I suspect many of my teammates who opted to work from home on Thursday the 12th, also were out at bars until all the bars shut down on Sunday the 15th

By Sunday the 15th, when the first wave of businesses were forced to close to prevent gatherings, Paul and I had decided to keep Ben home from school starting on March 16th. We saw the pleas from teachers to reduce the number of kids in school; we had the privilege and luxury of being able to stay home with our child (By “we” at the time, I meant “me”, as OMD went from “rotating staff” to “work from home” over the course of the weekend). I had barely had time to post that decision and rationale on Facebook before the schools shut down.

Two days later, the Canadian border closed, causing me to hyperventilate in panic that I might not be able to get home, as Amtrak and Porter Airlines stopped service to Toronto.

By the end of the week, we were in Cuomo’s version of “shelter in place”, watching as the governor cheerfully shamed our local Greenmarket on national TV:

The city has 24 hours to come up with a pedestrian streets plan to ...

In hindsight, I did not stop to just think through what the impact would be to the healthcare system and how many of our healthcare workers would have to put their own health at risk to save others. I did not know, that last day, that there would be this high of a curve to flatten. None of us knew back in early March that this disease had been quietly spreading below the line of public consciousness for weeks. I knew the coronavirus would rage through New York, and that it would impact the most vulnerable of my neighbors, but I did not realize how horrifying it would be to see New Yorkers put their lives on the line every day for the past month.

I did not know COVID-19 would rage uncontrolled and unchecked through the people who make New York City what it is: our MTA conductors, our teachers, our first responders, and most of all, our healthcare workers.

I did not realize how COVID-19 would kill hundreds of people who worked tirelessly for years to ensure my neighborhood’s children are taught, that we get to work, that we are safe, that we, and our neighbors, are cared for.

I jumped on the #flattenthecurve bandwagon the week after the world ended, but I wish I had jumped on it sooner and encouraged everyone else to do so. I am not sure if more of these brave and self-sacrificing New Yorkers would still be here if all of us had done so.

So here we are four weeks later. We adjust every day to a “new normal”, until that new normal shifts under our feet. At least one day per week now feels like the Day the World Ended over again, as things change faster than I can mentally process. This week, two of my friends came down with COVID-19. This week, the layoffs started at OMD. And when the first round hit yesterday at work, I shut down and spent the evening numbing my brain as much as possible:

For the record, I was drinking organic tequila mixed with CBD infused, watermelon flavored sparking water, because I intend to remain as bougie as possible and also did not need a hangover today.

This is not waiting for Armageddon, but it does feel, every day, like there is a next step towards some sort of partial apocalypse: more sickness, more death, more sorrow, or, on the other side of this COVID-19 coin, more jobs lost, more people without even basic resources, more people vulnerable than ever before to the consequences of the extreme capitalism of America in the early 21st century. Every day is like Sunday, and even a beautiful spring Friday has an undertone of being silent and grey. We will all wait this out, we will all get to the changed world on the other side. I just wish we didn’t have to all bear witness, together, to as much despair and suffering on the way as we all will before this is over.

staycation, all i ever wanted

This weekend, I found myself with an unexpected block of time on my hands. OMD closed on Friday for the day, giving me a four day weekend. Originally, I had planned to go to a BTC3 camp in Virginia, as a trainer, to assist there as needed. (“BTC3” aka “Brownsea Training Camp v3.0” is the B-PSA weekend experiential training for leaders). However, with 12 trainers and only 7 attendees, I wasn’t actually needed at the camp. Still, I wasn’t particularly needed at home, either: both Ben and Paul have gone to Pittsburgh for the weekend to visit Paul’s family. Without work, without my men, without even my friends (who all left town this weekend), I was suddenly left with four days of unscheduled time.

Fortunately, I have never had a problem filling time. I always have a zillion things I would like to be doing at any given moments, but due to the limitations of time and energy, I find all those things difficult to actually get to in the course of a day. So I promptly filled up the weekend with a whole list of things I wanted to do, and then got to about half of them, which is par for the course.

I started my weekend, however, in Pennsylvania, visiting my friends the Northeast Commissioners for B-PSA. Basically, it was Scout nerding out for sixteen hours. As the NYC Commissioner, I oversee the biggest concentration of Scouts in the Northeast, and working through how NYC as a District works and integrates the Northeast as a region has required some discussion. Also we all love talking about just general Scout stuff, like hikes, songs, skits, get togethers…and that’s just for the adult Scouts. Talking about shared visions for our particular organization is also one of my favorite things ever, and I loved being able to visit my fellow Commissioners and talk through all the things we want to do.

Also, we got to go to Longwood Gardens, which is seriously like an American Versailles, except it doesn’t have a chateau. But it does have both formal water gardens as well as meadows and treehouses. It reminded me of Versailles because it had both sides of the planned garden experience: the formal gardens, and the composed countryside, almost like Marie Antoinette’s hamlet

After walking the gardens though, it was time to say goodbye. My fellow Commissioners were packing up their Pathfinder and Timberwolf and heading to BTC3; I was heading home to NYC. Of course, despite the day off, I was still on a schedule: I had had to cancel my Thursday lunchtime session with my anxiety therapist due to a client call no one else had the knowledge base or authority to cover. I had rescheduled to Friday at 4:15 and, assuming that I might not have time to go to Brooklyn and park the car, I chose to pre-book parking as close as possible, near my office in Lower Manhattan. And the timing actually worked out perfectly: despite a slowdown in the Holland Tunnel that appeared during my half-hour snack-and-pee-break in New Jersey, I made it to my appointment at exactly 4:18pm.

After I finished at 5pm though, that was when my free time really started. I had the car parked until 10pm, was already wearing my workout clothes, and had taken advantage of a ClassPass “two weeks free” offer. It was time to go do some sort of trendy workout where I would be the oldest and heaviest person in the room! Enter FitHouse!

The studio is set up with Insta in mind, but the workouts are still real.

I then decided to get a CitiBike, which I almost never use because I prefer my own bike. CitiBikes are heavy, and it is almost impossible to feel like myself when riding one. I’m used to flying down a street, leaning over my handlebars, my center of gravity ready to swerve between cars, my hands and elbows loose to absorb shocks when I hit NYC potholes. CitiBikes force me to sit up straight in a way that makes it impossible to merge with the bike like it’s an extension of myself, like how I feel on my bike, plus I have to have my arms out with my elbows almost locked, which is much more jarring. However, needs must when in the city, and I just wanted to get from Tribeca to Bryant Park with a stop at Trader Joe’s for a picnic.

Why Bryant Park, you may ask? Bryant Park was where I was going to see the “picnic performance” of Othello, a Shakespeare play I had not seen before, but one where I was very curious to see. Why did Shakespeare choose to tell the story of a black man? How did this reflect the emerging globalization of the times? What cliches about racism remain consistent to this day about black men? Put into the modern American context, Othello raises a lot of questions – which may be why the play directors chose modern America military dress for the men, with white outfits of varying modesty for the women.

There is also something surreal about seeing plays with a city of glass in the background

After Othello, I was out of time on my parking, and so, I headed home: across the Brooklyn bridge, back to Prospect Heights. One thing I had not considered, however, was the impact of the West Indies Celebration on my neighborhood at the beginning of the weekend. I had expected more people coming in towards the end of the weekend, especially on Sunday night when the celebrations run all night long, and on Monday when the parade goes down Eastern Parkway two blocks away. I had not, however, considered that all my neighbors would have friends and family visiting, and my street would be so short on parking that cars would be double parked, possibly waiting hours for spots. I know in theory that two million people show up each year to celebrate West Indies culture, but I had neglected to consider that many of them would be arriving via car for the weekend. Cue twenty minutes of desperate circling, before eventually catching a car leaving a spot a quarter mile away.

And then, that was it: the end of Friday, of Day One. I always miss my men when I’m away from them, but it was so nice to be spending the day knowing that just because I was on my own, did not mean I was taking time away from Paul and Ben to do so. I see so little of my men on a day to day basis – between work and school, we’re almost like roommates during the week (and I have a whole comedic monologue about what a terrible roommate Ben is). I’m therefore reluctant to spend time on my own, away from them, when they’re available for me to spend time with. This weekend, however, there was no option for me to be with my family. There was only my time, and how I would spend it. And with Friday over, I was very content with the choices I had made for that time.

mama-ben adventure day!

Many years ago, I came up with the model for Mama-Ben adventure days.  These were days in which we would pick one or two activities to do together, usually in Manhattan, hence the “adventure” part because you never know what kind of adventure would await those who brave the weekend subway! With Ben’s sports schedule though, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to do a solid Saturday adventure together.  So yesterday, we decided that we would spend the day exploring and seeing things a little further from home, both in Manhattan and the Bronx.

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Ben is actually in the Bronx!

We started our day at the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibit, at the New York Historical Society on the Upper West side.  This was a literal history of magic as seen through a Harry Potter lens: historical artifacts from magical practices over the last five centuries, intermixed with illustrations and notes from the books.  A friend and I bought tickets for this in April for our Pottermaniac children to see the exhibit together.

Harry Potter exhibit at British Library
This made the exhibit a smidge drier than expected, even for my self-identified Ravenclaw.  While he had mild curiosity around alchemy as the forerunner of chemistry, and enjoyed the interactive elements (projections of Tarot cards were an especial favorite), not even the Natalie Dormer narrated audio tour could make this magical enough.  Individuals more into the magical aspects of the Harry Potter series, as opposed to the action elements, will get more out of this exhibit.  The exhibit was beautifully done, of course, with each room carefully crafted and designed to reflect the studies covered within.  I wish photography had been allowed.
We moved on from there to an impromptu lunch at Shake Shack: having run into another friend at the end of the exhibit with her two sons (the younger of which is also buddies with Ben), we decided to all get lunch together.  Believe it or not this was our first trip to Shake Shack!  Ben declared it the best burger ever.  We plan to test drive the method at home ASAP.
We headed from the Upper West Side to Orchard Beach after lunch, a half-hour drive across the Bronx and through the also unvisited Pelham Bay Park.  For the seven years we’ve lived here, we’ve clearly not prioritized visiting all the parks as we should.  Pelham Bay was lovely and huge, with an extensive shoreline that was austerely beautiful in the winter cold and grey.
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This reminds me of beaches in Victoria: it looks cold even in the photo
We had traveled out for seal watching with the NYC Park Rangers.  I am so grateful for the park rangers in this city: every single one of them has been amazing in their kindness, knowledge and in the joy they take sharing their love of nature and their parks.  For the seal watching, they had set up two high powered telescopes so we could see the dozen or so harbour seals lounging on the rocks just off the beach
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Ben is very fond of harbour seals: he bonded with the ones that live off the Oak Bay marina when he was just a toddler:

It was therefore meaningful for us to visit those seals’ New York cousins, even though I’m pretty sure that these Bronx seals were all WHAT’RE YOU LOOKING AT, PUNK.  Ben still enjoyed seeing them, and I appreciated the opportunity to show him seals that are not dependent on humans for food.  Ben is very concerned about the Victoria seals since the “no feeding” rules were enforced; these seals proved that even metro area harbour seals can survive without handouts.

From the seals, we stayed in Pelham Bay Park and went to the Turtle Cove golf center for mini-golf.  I was underwhelmed by the mini-golf course, which I suppose could be described as “minimalist”.  I suspect the positive reviews of the location are for the driving range, which looked quite nice.  However, we were the only people playing mini golf and they had a heater in the women’s bathroom so the experience was redeemed.  Also, Ben’s attitude towards mini golf is what most people say about pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s still just fine.  It was hard for me to say no to a second round, even in the ocean-adjacent chill. Fortunately, that was when one of Ben’s buddies mom’s texted, asking if Ben could come see Ralph Breaks the Internet with her son, and I was able to leverage that as a reason to skip Round Two. Also, Ben only wanted a round two because I had beat him, 49 strokes to his 63, and he is very competitive about his mini-golf.

It was, chilliness aside, a lovely adventure day.  Ben is getting larger every day, and needs me less and less all the time.  I’m grateful when he genuinely wants to spend time with me, when in-city adventures with Mama are more important than playdates.  I’m even more grateful when I can find an activity that is special to both of us, like going out to see the seals.  I do not wish to appropriate the phrase “spirit animal”, but in my British Isles heritage, there is the myth of the selkie instead, which both Ben and I insist we are when there is a plate of raw fish involved.  However, we are coming up on teen years, and I’m running out of days when Ben will want to acknowledge the significance of marina mammals in our family narrative.  Some day, I will just get an eye roll and a muttered “seals are so lame, Mom.” from him.  Until that day comes, I need to better prioritize the time I do have him for adventures like this.

the subway is the great equalizer in NYC

I love the New York City subway.  This may come as a surprise.  Our system is falling apart – literally in some cases at the switches.  Hellish delays happen due to garbage spills.  No one will take responsibility for funding and doing real work to fix the actual problems.  And of course, it is full of rats.

Yet for all that, I love the subway.  It is the most efficient way to get around most of the city.  It’s faster than driving most days.  It doesn’t cover the entire city, but I can use a $10 car or taxi to get from a subway stop to a final destination in a hurry if I don’t have time to walk.  And it has stunning views from some of the trains

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Good morning, East River (Manhattan bound Q, looking north)

Most of all though, the subway is the great class equalizer of New York.  It eliminates the class-based pretension and consumption of cars in most New Yorkers daily commutes.  Everyone takes the subway.  Even for those who can afford car service, taking a car would waste more time than it’s worth.  In a society where time is money, the subway is not only a financial bargain, but a time bargain for those who would otherwise have automobile based transportation.

The subway also provides the same service to everyone, regardless of class and social status.  There’s something very socialist about it, a service where you cannot buy your way out of it, or pay for better quality experiences than anyone else.  A New York resident may own a $5MM townhome in Brooklyn, or be renting an illegal divided apartment in Queens, and they will still have the same experience on the train that day.  That may be a quiet ride across boroughs, or it may be a crowded train car that has been overloaded after being delayed by twenty minutes due to a sick passenger in Times Square.  Whatever.  No one can buy their way out of it because no other transportation form is more efficient and effective in New York.

And while I may complain about the homeless literally peeing inside the train cars, the subway must literally save lives in cold weather.  The stations are underground, the cars are climate controlled – it isn’t where people should have to go, but it is a roof over their heads and a way to not freeze to death. (It would be nice if the Mayor opened more shelters though so the subway could be used for transportation and not as an inclement homeless shelter though)

The subway is what works for this city – and what makes this city work.  It keeps New York running.  Millions of people ride it every day.  It sucks a lot of the time, and complaining about the MTA is practically a mandate.  Yet the subway equalizes the experience of living here in a way that makes the middle class and the wealthy care about a transportation system that also serves the poor.  My socialist heart beats a little faster for that.