We drove across the George Washington Bridge and into Brooklyn on a sunny Sunday morning in late January. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen the New York City skyline; after all we’d been coming to visit our kids for ten years. But it was the first time I said, “This is my city now.” No, that’s a lie. Honestly, what I really said was, “Oh my God. What are we doing?” How could I give up the country in January? I love the blue and open sky, crisscrossed in the winter with the bare, gnarled branches of oaks and maples. I love the sight of farmhouses dotting empty fields, the wide expanse of white and glittering snow. Will I ever think of these towering pillars of concrete as my home?
However, one thing I’m learning about New York City is that there’s not a lot of time for contemplation–especially on the street. At 11 am we drove off the George Washington Bridge into our newly adopted city. At noon we had emptied our car of most of the boxes at the apartment where we’d eventually be living, left our plants at another apartment and our suitcases at yet a third place. At each apartment we had to double-park, feeling like each moment might be our last as cars and bicycles went zooming around us.
In thirty years, I can’t remember ever seeing anyone double park in our Wisconsin village. (Population: 500) Street parking is always available. You never even have to parallel park except maybe during Apple Fest–the last weekend in September–when you might actually have to drive the length of Main St. (about a quarter-mile) to find an empty space. If you do have stuff to unload–for example, plants that have grown too big for your kitchen that you’re giving to the local food co-op–people notice. They might offer to help. Even if a crowd doesn’t gather, someone will comment about it later. “Heard you took your plants down to the co-op yesterday. Is that for the rummage sale?”
But in New York, I’ve discovered, everybody double-parks. Taxis do it waiting for fares. Trucks do it picking up and delivering goods. When we had Internet installed in our apartment, the installer double-parked his truck out on the street for three hours. In a city with so many more vehicles than parking spaces you can’t unload anything without double-parking. Do people get tickets for it? Is it even illegal? Apparently not. Everyone takes it for granted. My daughters slap on the hazard lights and jump out of the car, throwing open the doors and piling stuff on the sidewalk. I don’t think we’d ever used our hazards before we moved to Brooklyn.
In New York, most people walk by without even looking down at the stacks of boxes on the pavement. That makes sense. They know they’ve never seen you before and they’ll never see you again. But sometimes they don’t just walk on by. A woman stopped as I was wrestling a heavy suitcase down the stairs of our brownstone and into the back of the car. “Do you need help?” she asked, putting down the bag she was carrying. When Jack and I were hauling our fairly light but quite unwieldy car-top carrier to our car, a man passed us and then turned back. “Can I help you carry that?” he asked. At times like that I realize I’m not so far away after all. In unexpected ways, Brooklyn and the farm both look like home.