The Lure Of The City

When I was a kid, this was my dream life, living in Manhattan in an apartment. That’s where the hip and successful people lived.

My friend from California called last week. As usual he waited until the last minute to tell me he was heading to New York. Sunday was his dad’s 86th birthday. Maybe we could get together. Absolutely.

My friend’s dad lives on Manhattan’s East Side. The street is Sutton Place. This is one of New York’s premiere addresses. He has two co-op apartments, bought around 35 years ago. God only knows what they’re worth today. One is a two bedroom, which he occupies. The other is a tiny but sweet studio apartment.

I’ve been coming to this building a few times a year for over three decades. A New York City rarity, there’s a protected plaza out front where cars and taxis can pick-up or discharge. At one time it was a “full service building.” That means beside a 24/7 doorman there was an elevator operator–though it was a standard push button elevator. The common areas are spotless and tastefully decorated. This is old money elegance, not nouveau riche flash.

The dad’s apartment is on the building’s wing. He has a view of the East River, but not from everywhere and not looking straight ahead. From the small balcony, the river is off to one side. You can also see much of Brooklyn and Queens and the eastern half of the 59th Street Bridge.

Driving the Connecticut Turnpike on Sunday afternoon can be very slow. No exception to that rule on this trip! The day was perfect however and I went the distance with the convertible top down taking the Turnpike to the New England Thruway, Bruckner Expressway, Triboro Bridge and then down the FDR Drive. I drove under the 59th Street Bridge then off at 53rd Street.

IMG_1305.JPGI slowed down enough to photograph the “Cameras Prohibited” sign on the Triboro. Still a rebel.

My friend, who’s recently lost a substantial amount of weight, wanted to go to Bloomingdales for a belt. Why not? It’s open until 7:00 PM Sundays and there is an 11% rebate to out-of-state shoppers. Bloomie’s is about a ten minute walk crosstown and, like I said, the weather was perfect.

Walking into Bloomingdales is to relive the 50s! At each door from the street stood a “floorwalker,” wearing a suit with pocket square. It’s the antithesis of the greeter at Wal*Mart. The sales counters all had two or three sales people, each well dressed, waiting to help.

This is no discount store. Make no mistake, you’re buying quality goods–pricey quality goods. You’re paying for impeccable service and you get it.

We headed back toward the apartment for dinner with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend. She ordered sushi from a nearby restaurant. Manhattan is the only place in the world where every apartment has 24 hour room service!

Joe, he’s the birthday boy, is a compact man. At 86 he is trim–a common trait of Manhattan residents who spend a lot of time walking. He owned a business just across the river in an industrial section of Queens. Now he’s living a very good life; going to the opera, symphony and theater and eating in fine restaurants. His hearing isn’t what it once as, but other than that he’s as sharp as can be.

His girlfriend is younger than he. A retired high school principal (the local school I should have gone to), she is charming and attractive. She lives two floors directly above Joe–geographically desirable!

When I was a kid, this was my dream life, living in Manhattan in an apartment. That’s where the hip and successful people lived. I never thought about the lack of space or privacy or noise or even the smells that can permeate apartment hallways when others are cooking. I never thought about the difficulty of going shopping. I was an apartment dweller and knew nothing about a private home. Manhattan wasn’t a step up, it was all the way up.

I took a few minutes to walk Sutton Place before heading to the basement garage to fetch my car. I stopped at a vest pocket park on a narrow sliver of land across the street. There’s an interesting piece of public sculpture sitting there with a compass rose at the base and zodiac on top . It’s unprotected and unmolested in this very special neighborhood.

Into New York For Friday Night

I picked up the phone and the first words were, “When’s this rain gonna stop?” Actually, there was another word between this and rain, but you get the point.

A friend of mine, from California, was in New York City. It was a quick trip to visit his dad and have a business meeting. I said I’d see him after dinner.

I left Connecticut around 8:30 and headed toward the Turnpike. Though it had been raining earlier, skies had become partly cloudy. The 100 mile trip to the city was a breeze.

I drove down the FDR Drive with the East River and Roosevelt Island on my left. The buildings of Manhattan were blocked on my right, but it didn’t matter – it’s a beautiful ride on an awful road.

I called my mom on the cellphone. More than anyone, I share my love of Manhattan with her. Given her druthers, that’s where she’d be living. Me too.

My friend’s dad’s apartment is right off the FDR. I got off the exit and turned down into the basement garage, less than 100 feet away.

This is a very expensive building on one of New York’s best known streets. In fact, this neighborhood is best known by the street’s name.

As I waited, the parking attendant pulled a huge Bentley from its space. A diminutive woman and her equally small husband walked toward the car. She looked familiar.

I stared at her and she looked back. Then it hit me – Judge Judy.

I don’t have something pithy to say to everyone I meet, but this was Judge Judy. I told her I followed her on-the-air every day and then explained how I was on the news in Connecticut.

My camera was hanging on my neck, so I asked for a photo. She was very gracious. I suppose she isn’t often asked for a photo in the garage of her apartment building!

I walked out of the garage and around the block to the building’s main entrance. Residents have a key card. I was just visiting.

A doorman stood guard in front of a bank of security monitors. After a quick call to clear me, I was in.

Years ago this was a ‘full service’ building. It is probably the last place I rode an elevator that had an elevator operator (even though it was a self service elevator). Those days are gone. Even the well to do have to cut back a little.

My friend and I decided to go for coffee. That’s one of the nice things about Manhattan. You want coffee – it’s a short walk away.

In fact everything in Manhattan is close by and it’s very walkable. I’ve joked in the past, New York is the only city in America with 24 hour room service.

It’s true! You can easily get Chinese food delivered at 3:00 AM.

The coffee, in a small Italian place under the shadow of the 59th Street Bridge, was fine. The company was better.

Since I’m talking about the building, I’ll leave his name out to preserve a little privacy. This is someone I’ve known for nearly 40 years. We have been through good and bad times together.

We’re both happy with life right now – in a good place. Professionally, he’s doing very well, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

We walked back up First Avenue, past a construction site with New York City steam blasting from a subturranean vent. Though already midnight, the city was teaming with activity.

My assessment of New York is probably overly romanticized. My friend, staying in a Manhattan apartment, said he hated it – would be glad to never leave his California home. I shrugged.

I got back to Connecticut a few minutes before 2:00 AM. I suppose that’s a lot of trip to pack into one short evening. I’m glad I did.