Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

‘Scuse Me Pardon Me

This past weekend, I spent a little time in Manhattan.

The last time I was there with my boots on the ground, as it were, was in 1996, when I was a grad assistant with the Boston University band, marching in the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I was reminded, therefore, of two important truths about New York City which I believe set it apart from anywhere else in the United States. And this is a lifelong Boston-area resident writing this, so it really counts.

First, this weekend, as I rode on the tour bus (well… if sitting in barely-moving traffic counts as “riding” on a bus) and we arrived on the island of Manhattan, I looked out the windows with a sense of urban wonder. Although the seething mass of humanity walking past us on the sidewalk contained more humans all at once in a small space than probably anywhere in America, it seemed as if each individual carried with them a distinct and unique back story.

Okay, you’re snorting, everyone everywhere carries with them a distinct and unique back story, since we are all individuals who come from our own particular background and situation and conditions, and none of our circumstances are exactly like anyone else’s. What made these New Yorkers different and special in that regard?

Nothing quantifiable; nothing scientifically measurable. And maybe it’s that so many television shows and movies have been about characters who live in New York, and I mean characters. Jerry Seinfeld’s show about nothing … Woody Allen’s movies about curious people … “Sex and the City” with its cast of The Beautiful People … “The Odd Couple” … or perhaps it’s all the documentaries that have been done about people who were in lower Manhattan on 9/11. I’m not sure.

But no matter who they were, what they looked like, what they were carrying, what they were wearing, what facial expressions they were sporting … no matter what color they were, no matter what social stratum they appeared to be representing … in my eyes, every person seemed to have a caption floating beneath them that read, “you’d be interested in me.”

The contrasting impression I got from the aforementioned seething mass of humanity … to go along with my frozen-in-time, clichéd slow-motion, Ken Burns documentary -grade mental pauses to imagine each person’s background and thought process … was this:

Back in ’96, we BU band folks stepped off our buses after arriving in front of the Macy*s building at lunchtime on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and dispersed to enjoy an afternoon of sightseeing. And even for those of us who went straight into Macy*s in order to see that big escalator and the architecture and maybe even a price tag or two, in that moment, there was one overriding “dominant impression” (hello, fellow HS freshman-year English class colleagues!) that the city of New York offered us, right away. And that impression was reinforced for me last weekend, as I observed thousands of people careen past each other on sidewalks and somehow miraculously witnessed not a single head-on pedestrian-on-pedestrian collision …

That humble hamlet, capital of the financial world, home to millions, generator of one of the most interesting accents in America, musically celebrated by George Gershwin, Frank Sinatra and Alicia Keys … sports the most ferocious sustained pace I’ve ever experienced.

That joint moves fast.

You’d never catch me trying to drive my car in there … but I’d be willing to stand on the corner of 42nd and 7th for hours and hours (out’ the way, of course), and just observe. I might never run out of stories to imagine – even if they did walk past me at Ludicrous Speed.


April 4, 2014 - Posted by | travel | , ,

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