Dave Frishberg sings that on his recording, Classics, but I actually hadn’t until I went back there two weeks ago for the first time since 1980. My first experience of the city was decades earlier when an uncle took me into the city for my first visit – a classic introduction via the Circle Lne Boat tour around the island. We boarded at about 11:30 anticipating that we could have lunch on the boat – but no lunch was served. The delights of the views were combined with the smells of excellent southern fried chiclen eaten by a neighboring family who were not inclined to share. As soon as we disembarked we headed for the nearest Schrafft’s – not noted for their gourmet offerings – to have what seemed like one of the best chicken pot pies ever. But after a walk on Fifth Avenue we went to Grand Central Stations for my first experience of oysters at its Oyster Bar. When asked what I would lke after slurping down a half dozen, all I could contemplate was another order.
In the sixties I arrived back as a newlywed in one of the hottest summers on record. We settled into graduate student quarters in a fifth story walk up on West 20th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenue. I had obtained a teaching job at a small private school, St. Hilda’s and St. Hugh’s, near Broadway and 113th St. Founded in 1950 by a religious order, it was now heading towards its first graduating high school class and I was teaching grade nine English and history. I had to travel daily via subway on the Eightth or Seventh Avenue lines and transfer at 59th. Eventually a preganancy added to the challenge of the smeills and dirt of the underground. My first son was born in the city and became a dual citizen.
After leaving in the fall of 1963, my next visit was in 1980 with our two youngest sons in tow. As Torontoians who were used to travelling by themselves they started with plans to go places alone. Walking east from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, one of the first things they saw was a body on the sidewalk – discreetly covered but with two high heels clearly visible. There was little talk of independent travel after that. Coming through a dark and sinister Times Square late at night to travel back to our New Jersey temporary residence was scary even for me.
But coming back now was wonderful. The energy is palpable. This trip with the New York born son and family brought me to a very much changed city where all the previous sense of delight came back. We stayed in a Brooklyn AirB&B flat just a block from the Bedford subway station. Subway lines now have different names so it took some getting used to – but travel is convenient and safe. My old stroller walks through West 14th and Washington Square all seemed like yesterday. The old residential neighborhood is completely transformed and gentrified. My fifth floor walk up has an elegant refaced front of the building – and there was a doorman out front. The HighLine is delightful. Doing all the New York things – walking from !st to 60th street along 5th Avenue – seeing Motown and Pippen, riding a carriage in Central Park, returning to the Oyster Bar – and of course re-ordering gives a wonderful sense of continuity. And it is a kinder gentler city than I remember. So yes, I will miss New York – and hope to return much more often.