The other night on the train I sat next to an older woman, obviously not your typical NJ Transit commuter as she was nice when I asked to sit next to her and proceeded to engage me in conversation (a rarity). Barbara from Avon, was in her seventies, with short curly hair and creased skin that told of summers spent down the shore. During the course of our ride, I found out she 6 kids, 17 grandchildren and had been in the city for a show at the Javits Center.
She was mesmerized and saddened at how much New York had changed in the 40+ years she had traveled up to the city. “Fifth Avenue is depressing,” she said. “In the 50’s and 60’s, it used to be the place to shop. Each store was so glamorous and enticing – you could window shop all day. Now it’s all the same, Gap, H&M, Victoria Secret. It makes me wonder, what happened?”
I nodded in agreement. It’s a feeling I think everyone who has either lived, worked or spent considerable time in New York encounters. The city that never sleeps is constantly evolving. It never stands still or reflects back, it continually moves towards its future self. Whether it’s a good or bad thing is debatable, but the nostalgia people feel for the city when they first encounter it leaves an indelible mark that’s hard to erase.
I told her of my experience: when I first moved to New York and took up residence in the East Village. Walking my dog in Tompkins Square Park I felt the grittiness of the city everywhere, from the homeless park dwellers who sat at the chess tables and graffiti-covered storefronts to the smell of fetid garbage that would take residence in your nostrils on a humid summer day. And how, in eight short years, I describe the city as “Disney-fied” — uniform with chain stores galore and scrubbed-up appearances, though the city summer stench remains.
So there we were, two passengers on a NJ Transit train, bonding over our respective memories of New York. It was a pleasant reminder that I don’t have to travel to a far-flung land to connect with a stranger on the plane/train/bus. A chance encounter can lend itself to a great story if you’re open to it.
As the conductor announced our arrival at Red Bank station, I said good-bye to my fellow NYC reminiscer and stepped out into the crisp winter air.