There's a New Kid in Town
It’s been two and a half months since I quit my job in Manhattan. My new office is a 12-minute walk from home, and for the first time in my life, I live and work on the same street. Before I left the clinic, I worried that I’d get lonely and under-stimulated without a daily change of scenery. I feared I’d quickly grow bored seeing the same view all day long. Turns out, I don’t find it boring at all. I feel satisfied and grateful and more rooted in my community than I ever have, newly exposed to its everyday routines, the quiet hum of its daily rhythms.
I know that at 7:30 every weekday, the red-haired mom with the booming voice will pass in front of my living room window as she walks two uniformed girls to Catholic school. In 15 minutes, the lanky 30-something with tortoise-shell frames and rigid posture will pass the same route with his skinny brown dog. En route to the office I’ll step around Italian and Greek retirees cluttering the sidewalk as they gather for espressos and danish at the bakery on 45th. The moms will drop off their kids at the school a block away, then rest on the patio at the bagel shop with the red awning, all of them wearing the same black yoga pants. Further into my walk, the butcher will get his lamb delivery at 8; someone from the produce stand will sign off on crates of fresh tomatoes and broccoli shortly before 9. The young workers, unencumbered by office walls, perch on the stools by the window of the coffee shop, blinded by the screens of their laptops and the morning sun.
I’ll witness all this as I cruise the same street back and forth, four times a day in total, between my home and office. Maybe someone will notice my rhythms too—the short blonde-haired lady dressed in jeans and a blazer with a black packpack on her shoulders and a beatific look on her face. It’s 7:40am; there she goes to open up the office again. It’s nearly noon and she’s headed the opposite direction— must be time for lunch at home.
Like I said, I’m not bored at all seeing the same view everyday. My world has grown smaller and quieter and I can’t remember the last time I felt so grounded, happy and at ease. I feel like I can safely say I have officially paid my dues, and I’m enjoying some long-sought rewards. My schedule is now totally full, and it’s so much easier than what I’m used to that I occasionally joke about being retired. I’m finding it hard to complain about anything these days, and I’m just so grateful to have reached this part of my career and life. The only real issue is (if one can consider it an “issue” at all) is that this girl ain’t got shit to write about anymore.
I had grown to hate my subway commute but even at its worst it was always great for storytelling. The throngs of humans I elbowed just to get to my Manhattan office drove me nuts, but man, what great people-watching. Working in the clinic had grown nearly intolerable but I could never in a million years describe it as boring. Something different, bordering on wild, happened almost every single day. My notebook was constantly filled with anecdotes and observations, my brain always screaming, ‘Notice this! Remember this! This is too weird to not write down!” Working in Manhattan had grown to annoy me, but there was no denying its wellspring of content.
Let me holler again for the cheap seats, I’m not complaining. I know enough about real problems to realize this isn’t one.
Still, now that I’m essentially Fred Rogers, it requires a little more effort to get out and see things that are fresh and different. On Fridays, I make a point to go into Manhattan to fully enjoy the fact that I actually live here. I’ll go to a museum or walk around Central Park… sometimes I’ll grab coffee at a new place or dropkick a tourist in Chelsea Market.
When I get really lucky, Vin will volunteer to drive me out of town for the day which is so exciting that I usually bound into the passenger seat, immediately roll down the window and hang my head outside like a small excited dog. Last weekend Vin wanted to take a day trip to Red Lion, Pennsylvania to buy a rare record. I was immediately on board, not because I craved a trip to a record shop but because I knew what lay on both sides of it—my beloved Golden Nugget Flea Market in Lambertsville, New Jersey and mother-pluckin’ Amish Country in the delightfully dull Pennsylvanian city of Lancaster. Some of you may know about my intense affection for the Amish, but if you don’t, know that it runs deep and it gets weird. Were an Amish teen on rumpsringa to walk into my therapy office, I’d absolutely clear my calendar.
So last Saturday we hopped in the car and drove two hours to the flea market, which ended up being a total bust due to rain. I usually walk away with a car full of stuff, but on this day only left with a 5 dollar ring shaped like a bug.
So we moved on and drove another hour and a half to the record store in Red Lion (Population: 6,346.) Vin had schlepped three crates of records to see if the owner was interested in making a trade, as we’d just driven across two states to purchase a rather expensive collectible and were hopeful to offset at least a portion of the cost. (Much like making homemade porcini butter or driving all the way to New Jersey for a flea market, these are the things 40-something childfree couples sometimes do on their Saturday in lieu of attending soccer games and birthday parties.)
The store was cramped and dusty and filled with people who kind of look like my husband shuffling through bins of old albums. The owner of the store began inspecting Vin’s record cases one by one and the idea of standing there watching sounded about as fun as making porcini butter again (all that rehydrating and blending ended up being a pain in the ass), so I excused myself to sit on the concrete steps of another building nearby. A minute or two later, a petite blonde with Clark Kent glasses emerged from behind the door I’d blocked with my butt, holding a just-lit cigarette and a plastic cup of Cabernet.
I apologized for blocking the entry and told her I’d move, but she actually seemed happy to have found me there, like I was a surprise package waiting for her on the doorstep. This would probably not be the case in New York City, where the person emerging from a building might not actually say something like “GET UP”, but their eyes would let you know they were thinking it. Things were different in small-town Pennsylvania, and I couldn’t tell if this girl was super friendly or just drunk. It’s possible she was both.
Her name was Ivy and she’d been upstairs painting all morning in an art studio, which was an extension of a creative wellness center that included a space for coaching, music lessons, meditation, women’s retreats and aerial yoga. And here I was, sitting on a stoop in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, unaware that I was blocking the entrance to Oz.
She told me all about the woman who owns the space, who also hosts weekend retreats at her large home by the river for women to do yoga while the sun rose above a canopy of leafy oaks. She encouraged me to attend one, and also invited me to the open paint sessions in the studio upstairs, which were held the first Saturday of every month. I told her I actually didn’t live nearby, that my husband and I had driven almost four hours to this little town in Pennsylvania to buy a single record. She expressed surprise that people would do this, but I also couldn’t help but notice a little disappointment too. As she went on describing how great the center and her little town was, I wasn’t getting the sense that she was trying to sell me something. I got the sense that she might not be accustomed to new faces her age very often, and she was excited by the idea of seeing something different, and possibly making a new friend.
Just then, Vin emerged from the record shop, reasonably victorious. He’d ended up paying the equivalent of a round-trip ticket to Houston for a single record, but the guy had taken 6 albums he’d never listened to off his hands for a $30 discount. When you factor in gas, the cost was just about the same, but the kid looked happy so I gave him a supportive high-five. Ivy also seemed appreciative of his score, and encouraged us to get a celebratory drink after she showed us the space upstairs.
“Before you leave town, you guys should get a drink across the street where all the rednecks gather. You’ll be the only two people in there with teeth. You’ll leave feeling amazing.” She may have been from Red Lion, but this girl had a New York sense of humor. I liked her.
We followed her upstairs to the studio, and like two people who have lived in an expensive city for too long, began calculating how much this type of real estate would cost in our area. The exposed brick hallway, super wide staircase and original hardwoods were the kinds of features you find in a multi-million dollar Brooklyn brownstone, but could own in Red Lion for the cost of a Queens' down payment. I don’t know why we always torture ourselves.
Then she led us to the art studio, where two women in their early to mid-50s sat in front of easels with long brushes in their hands.
They greeted us warmly and told us more about the space and what it offered them. It made me think of my friends, and how much I’d love to spend a Saturday with them in a big, beautiful space like this.
They let us hang out for a little while but then it just started feeling like we were looky-loos (we may or may not have checked out every bathroom in the place). Plus, we wanted to make sure to get a good glimpse of Amish country before the sun went down, so we kept it moving toward Lancaster, PA.
Lancaster County is home to about thirty-thousand Amish people, so we were hoping to see a few farms and spot some buggies riding around town. Our big plan for the evening included eating an early dinner at one of the smorgasbords, which is really a decorative word for country buffet, where nearly everything served is mushy, fattening and brown and they have gift shops selling Amish-made soap and magnets with little bonnets on them. We’d found the only one that served fried chicken, and it was just as oily-tasting as I’d remembered from our previous visit.
Full from dinner, we began the drive home. As we passed a few buggies, we began expressing gratitude for simple pleasures like lightbulbs and zippers. We asked questions like “What do you think you’d do for a living if you’d only gone to school till the 8th grade? Would you be a woodworker? A jam-maker? Sell farm-fresh eggs in Union Square?”
As we drove back through tiny Red Lion, we asked each other the question we always ask when we’re away from home. “What do you think you’d be like if you’d grown up here?”
I don’t remember my husband’s reply, but mine was easy— “I’d probably be a lot like Ivy.”
Come to think of it, I kind of already am.