The morning my flight left from JFK, the last day of my summer internship several years ago, I set my alarm early so I could take in as much New York as possible before our extended separation. I decided to sit in Madison Square Park, a place I frequented to people watch, lay out in the sun, and meet friends before heading out. Though not anything particularly spectacular, this miniature space of green housed several of my memories from that summer.
After stopping at a café across from my apartment, I grabbed a scone and coffee, and found a table near Shake Shack. For an August morning, it was rather chilly and the leaves were falling much earlier than I anticipated. Yet, the energy of the park, even at this early hour, was buzzing. There were families and dogs, couples and strollers, children and musicians, waking and rising, starting their New York days with conversation and caffeine.
I sat in a wrap dress and cardigan, my hair air-drying and curling, writing in this giant blue journal I kept almost daily while in New York. Even though I now live here permanently, that tattered and worn notebook remains one of my most prized possessions and will always have a home on any bookshelf I own. I scribbled sentences that don’t mean much, yet mean everything – and as I was finishing up the last paragraph, a single yellow leaf stained with red tips fell to the page. Seconds later, a tiny bird landed on my patio table, picked at a crumb I left, and flew away.
Charmed by the simplicity of that single moment, I smiled, and looked up, catching the eye of an older woman reading a book across from me. Maybe she was watching me or just happened to look up at that instant, but when we locked eyes, we shared the same thought in that park on a Sunday, when the sun was making its way mid-sky.
I’ve always called these experiences New York moments. Recently, however, I discovered a better fitting name from my friend, K. She calls them Louie Armstrong moments.
We were sitting at Fig & Olive on the Upper East Side, after just leaving the opening of Pipino 57 – Wella Professionals Flagship, where champagne and celebrities were ripe, and talking about our unique New York experiences. Though, maybe not that unique. If you hold a certain love for the city, if it is a place you’ve always wanted to live in, your experience doesn’t differ too much from the other dreamers who always wanted to gaze at the lights of the Empire.
And that’s kind of the beauty behind a Louie Armstrong moment. Where you realize what a wonderful world it really is by sharing it with other people, even the ones you don’t know and never will know.
When you’re in a place where most people are strangers and not friends, it’s easy to feel alone. You can walk miles without seeing a familiar face and when you battle the street trenches and crowds, you can feel like just another number, just another gal whose hair is frizzy from the humidity and whose feet are tired from unreasonable heels. But if you wait for it, if you don’t look for it, but stay positively alert – you’ll find yourself sharing an experience with someone you don’t know that you’ll cherish forever. For me, it’s with a woman who witnessed a bittersweet ending to my first New York adventure, for Kate it’s the natural smile of a man who watched butterflies take flight unexpectedly. Both of our Louie Armstrong moments coincidently happened in Madison Square Park, but we’ve had more.
And we’ll continue to. As long as we’re blessed enough to live in New York, that is. I’m sure it is capable to connect in a fleeting instant with people you’ll never see again anywhere, but for me, the only Louies that I remember are in the place where I see weathering trees in Central, and tulips too – for me and for whoever walks by. I see skies with scrapers; stars that don’t come out at night. I see the colors of the rainbow in Chelsea, so pretty walking by. I hear taxis cry, I watch them speed, and I realize they’ll see so much more New York than I’ll ever know.
And still, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
One of my favorites was walking through Times Square at almost four in the morning, after attending my first Tony Awards and a few after parties. I walked there at that hour, not the slightest bit drunk but completely intoxicated on everything that had happened the previous day. Standing in the center of the Center of The World, completely vacant of other people, but the lights still burning strong, it seemed like heaven. As I turned to walk to the Subway, a cab pulled up at a red light. The man waved me in and asked where I needed to go.
I said “Home” as he stared at me, wearing a tux I bought for the evening, in the rear-view mirror.
It was an amazing moment for me. I realized how far I’d come… and how far I need to go still.
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