The funny thing about vacations is how happy one is upon returning home. This immediately brings up the question “why did I want to go on vacation in the first place?”
I don’t mean to say that we didn’t have fun in New York – we did. We stayed with relatives who took us all over town. We visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, Central Park, 5th Avenue (shopping), and we ate at fabulous restaurants.
My aunt has an apartment in the west village – very posh! We had a whole floor of their apartment to ourselves. There was a great gym just a few blocks away and a grocery store where I could buy fresh fruit. It was almost perfect.
But here’s the deal: first, New York City is a dirty place. I would guess that breathing there is just about as bad for one’s health as smoking – maybe worse. That is a problem that is tough to overlook for a guy who spends his time talking about fitness. I also found that I have become intolerant of unruly crowds of people swarming around me.
New York City is a showplace for what is great about our culture and what is dreadfully wrong with it. Art, architecture, academia, music, theatre, towering buildings that stand as monuments to American business success, it’s all in New York.
But New York is also a place where tourists step over homeless people sleeping against sparkling shops selling diamonds. The mentally ill roam the streets muttering to imaginary listeners and casting wild-eyed paranoid glances at random pedestrians. The smell of roasted nuts and hotdogs mixes with automobile exhaust and the putrid stench of trash. On a corner a hapless man with an infected foot oozing pus onto the sidewalk holds out his hand to the tinted window of a limousine, unable to see if the passenger inside even notices his suffering.
New York City is a conundrum. Should I just stay focused on all there is that is exciting and wonderful, or should I fret and wring my hands about the picture it paints of the growing gap between the very wealthy and the desperately poor in our country?
This morning I woke up in my quaint Cape Cod town. I walked my dog on the quiet street in front of my house while the sun was rising on another beautiful day at the beach. The air was clean and filled with the sounds of birdsong – no deafening roar of traffic here. Less than a three-minute bicycle ride away there were people boarding boats in the harbor anticipating a leisurely day sailing in the pristine water between the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard.
The busy streets of New York could easily be forgotten – but not the haunting image of the old man struggling to push a shopping cart missing one wheel along the uneven sidewalk, or the empty dark eyes of the woman begging for money on the subway platform.
New York City screams the question: “What is my obligation to my fellow human beings, and how do I fulfill it?”