When we moved to Baltimore, I had no idea that I would have the ability to make visits to New York as much as I did. Most of them were work trips, but we had a few leisure jaunts as well. My last trip to the city before the pandemic was a bittersweet one; I basically had a day to myself and visited some favorite places, but between the February cold and work stress weighing heavily on my mind, it wasn’t my most enjoyable visit to the city. After that trip I didn’t have any pressing reasons to go to the city, and while I flirted with the idea of taking a day trip in the fall in order to check out Mercado Little Spain which seemed fully opened by then, other travel opportunities presented themselves…and then the pandemic hit.
Michael had a meeting scheduled in the city in July, and so I cashed some of my Amtrak points and came along with him, and I have to say I was kind of…worried? Scared? I can’t quite pinpoint the feeling, but I was determined to confront it and hopefully lessen its hold over me. New York is one of my favorite places in the world, and the idea of something that was, upon reflection, utterly insignificant keeping me from there was complete bullshit.
New York in July was a bit of a strange place, because some places had only reopened five weeks after eighteen months being shuttered, and many places were still closed. Getting lunch on a Monday afternoon was fairly easy–Katz’s is somehow easier to navigate now than it used to be–but sitting back and having an afternoon beer or two was a bit more fraught. (Fortunately, Milano’s Bar in SoHo was there for us!)
On the day M had to go to his meeting, I took the 2 and 1 trains up to our old neighborhood, as it had been a decade since we were there and it finally felt like time for a revisit. I walked across Columbia’s campus, said hello to our old building, and walked down Amsterdam to 125th and traced my old bus commute on foot.
Certainly things had changed in Morningside Heights and Harlem, but I was surprised by how familiar it still felt. Right before we moved, I noticed on my commute one day that people were disassembling the elaborate sign from the M&G Diner and it pained me terribly because I was convinced that it would become the storefront for another soulless bank, but when I walked past it, I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. While the more elaborate signage was gone, the corner M&G sign was still up, and the building was host to a local clothing boutique.
There were other changes, like a Whole Foods at Lennox and 125th, and there was definitely some construction going on, but I was glad that there were more things that were familiar than that were not. The cap to the excursion was a quick bite to eat at Red Rooster, a restaurant I had longed to go to for some time.
Another highlight of the trip was finally being able to go to Mercado Little Spain, a Spanish food hall by the brothers Adria and Jose Andres. It wasn’t fully operating again when we were there, but the food was so good and the ambiance was so nice that I’m glad we went there anyway. (It does appear that more of the stalls are open again, so it’s high on my list to go back to when we return to the city this coming weekend.) It’s the only draw of Hudson Yards for me, but it’s worth the trek. At least the 7 train can take you there!
The funny thing about all of this was that once we got there, I kind of forgot about any demons or bad memories looming over me. The city is so engrossing that you really don’t have the luxury to be so self-conscious, and it’s one of the things that I miss about living there.
It’s why I’m so looking forward to be able to go back there for a belated birthday trip this weekend. It’ll be crisp and fall-like, but there’s nothing wrong with that!