Reflections on leaving New York and my daily bus commute.

125th and Morningside

They took down the signs for the M&G Diner last Monday morning. I caught a glimpse of them unhooking the corner sign as well as dismantling the beautiful “ol’ fashion’ but Good!” sign from the front of the building while my cab was stopped at Morningside Drive. I was brought back to my first few bus rides to and from the train station, looking for landmarks to let me know I was near either end of the trip, and I still remember seeing the soul food restaurant from the pilot of 30 Rock for the first time ever, in real life and being completely floored that I passed this place that was on a show that I loved on a daily basis. That the building has been stripped of its iconic yellow paint and more iconic, beautiful signs…well, it’s not difficult to throw around the phrase “the end of an era.” Also, I wanted to yell “Yo! Get me ten beers!” really, really badly.

Apollo Theater

Victoria 5 Movie Theater

Leaving New York will leave you in a state of severe ambivalence. Our time wasn’t an era by any means–if anything, it was an ephemeral dream from which I never wanted to really wake up–but even in the nearly two years we spent here, the city has made its permanent impression. No other place in the country quite feels the same after you’ve lived here, even the ones you love and feel some tie of loyalty to long after you’ve given up your residence there. It’s one thing to visit it and then go home; it’s another entirely to be able to hop on a subway and be within a reasonable walk home.

125th and St. NIcholas Ave

But then there are the fucked-up aspects of living in the city: rats in the subway (oh, are there ever), and the uninvited guests into your apartment (mice and I’m pretty sure at least one small rat),the panhandlers who yell at you on the subway, the endless pan-flute musicians who park next to the record store in the Times Square and play endless renditions of “Ave Maria” and “My Heart Will Go On,” or popping into a park in Harlem to see a vintage fire tower only to see some guys watching a couple have sex for some reason (I only caught a glimpse of a woman without pants on–I didn’t want to call attention to us by gawking at them, and twenty minutes later we were at Whole Foods. Only in New York).

Harlem Fire Tower, Marcus Garvey Park

And then there’s the matter of the commute across the island every day. Riding the bus down 125th Street is a strange, unique experience: it’s this bizarre combination of suburban mall, exotic bazaar and Jersey Shore boardwalk. You pass by icons like the Apollo Theater (and if you live nearby, you must go to Amateur Night at least once) and shops that share the same name as the clubs that The Situation et al frequent in Seaside Heights. There are days in which the bus flies down 125th, getting you to the station way ahead of schedule and you’re forced to stand on the platform and idle the time away, and sometimes you cut it so damn close that you’re racing in Hunters or flip flops and hoping that you can make it up the stairs in time and any effort you spend on makeup or hair is wasted. It’s a pretty singular experience.

Once it became all but official that we were leaving, I insisted to Michael that we needed to take a walk down 125th as pedestrians, something I don’t tend to do much because I’m in a hurry to get to the train station or to get home, so it was a lovely little walk. Plus, I wanted to see the aforementioned fire tower. So we walked. And Michael spoke indiscreetly of the maybe-public-sex we were both technically witness to (and I kept shushing him and he had absolutely no idea why I was until we were safely outside the park, so…awkward!) and then we made our way to the 3 and went down to Whole Foods. It was a nice day.

Lenox Lounge, Lenox Ave.

I’m really going to miss it here. It’ll be nice to have a big balcony and casbahs and an in-apartment washer and dryer and more space…but I will miss the character here, and having a store directly below us, and an elevator that can take us there without ever having to go outside, and weirding out people during the wintertime when I’d swan in there in skimpy clothes while they were all swaddled in North Face jackets and wool pea coats.

125th Street A/B/C/D Station Elevator, St. Nicholas Ave

At least we’re within walking distance from the Metro North station, which means Grand Central is only about 40 minutes or so away.

  1. diana said:

    Elizabeth, having done my own fair share of kissing homes and cities goodbye,I found your story feeling very familiar and it made me sigh. It’s always that synopsis of the charming and the impossible, the enjoyable and the not so much that people who move around get to understand. It’s a chapter of life that closes and a new one that opens when you change locations. And New York has a pull like no other place – for its intensity, its crass awfulness, its unending hope and spirit, its smell (blind fold me, turn me around and make me smell five thousand things. I will know which one is New York. I will), its sense of voyeurism and of lives lived vicariously through the neighbors’ window across the street. New York is everything and it is more. Until you live there, it’s hard to understand its cadence. I am happy you had the chance to feel it first hand and you will take that with you forever.

    Best of luck with your move, and love to you both.

    • This was a bad day to wear mascara…

      Seriously, though–thank you for this. It really means so much–I’d say more but I’d probably burst into tears here at my desk (well, more than are trickling out now).

  2. Oh, sweetie, this tugged at my heartstrings. Even though you are moving, you know where home is. xo

  3. Alberto said:

    I still remember it distinctly, as if it were yesterday, as if it just happened. I was waiting to cross 6th Avenue, I was down around 57th Street. The thought just struck me suddenly: I felt home. I never thought of it in my previous four years in the City. It was a surreal moment, I don’t know what triggered it. Tourists in the horse carriage, shiny people coming out of posh hotels, or spoiled princess-to-be from the 5th Avenue… I know they had no idea… with hindsight, I think it might have been the green pole signalling a subway station. It gave me some sort of security.

    Now that I am in London, UK, what I miss the most is the 24/7ness of NYC, and the sunsets over NJ, for how sad that might sound…

    You guys coming to visit soon? Good’ol fish&chips awaiting.

  4. Stephanie Bath said:

    What a beautiful-sad story, it spoke to me, too. My mother lived in Greenwich Village in the 1930’s, my daughter in the 1980’s, my son met his fiancee there in the 2000’s, and I was there for a few summers of love the late 1960’s. I think we all thought our time there the best, but any time in New York is the best time to be there. We were scattered then as we are scattered now, but we know it is better to have loved and lost New York than never to have loved it at all. There will always be a little bite of the Big Apple in all of us ex-pats.

    • This is so, so true. Thank you for sharing your story!

  5. Kim said:

    And then… there’s the rest of us who have not yet experienced the joy of NY life. 🙂 Thinking happy thoughts for you so that in no time at all, your new home seems more like home, and your old home could be more like “date nighte destinations.”


  6. betty said:

    Just remember when you come to New York (and you will) you are NOT a tourist- you will always belong and can make whatever comments you want to about the bridge and tunnel crowd. I do, even though I am technically one of them!

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