Many a morning did I see Times Square in New York. But that was thanks to ABC, a very skeptical source of real-life information. Either it was Good Morning America or The View that showed looming, electric buildings advertising fast food, clothing lines, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals. You name it. Just a day before we left, the Stevens family got a glimpse of what it’s like to be in a swarm of New Yorkers.
You had two choices: either move fast or hide in a building or alley for safety. Everywhere you looked, crowds and crowds of tourists and natives flocked, blocked, crashed, stomped, yelled, laughed, jeered, cat-called, hummed, sang, or tried to stay together. Years of walking in my backyard prepared me quite well for the rush. Despite my large weight, I’ve always found it easy to move quickly. Yet you had to be careful not to trip on a pothole or someone else’s leg. The people in general were the most diverse assortment you could think of. It was as if all the world’s nations had gathered together for a concert. Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, Pacific Islander, Scottish, British, German, Brazilian, Canadian, African, Black, White.
Broadway was bright. Very bright, though it was night time. The ground you walked on was literally flashy white, like being in a city of neon color. The ads for candy, soda, cuisine, sex toys. Whatever. If you could imagine it, it was there. I managed to stumble across the musical of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. But unfortunately, money was tight. Me and my brother feasted on NY pizza, though. A delicious treat. I passed the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory, saying to myself I would return to it, but couldn’t due to lack of time. So much to do indeed. Super Mario walked around, but again, because of money, I couldn’t get my picture with him. There was a Disney store I lost time to visit too. I could only imagine how crowded it would have been if we were there for New Years. Black men did their best to encourage others to join comedy clubs or purchase a tour guide for the entire city. And some folks were just plain crazy; every few minutes you had to pass a busy, deadly intersection. People would just run right in front of speeding cars or taxis as if they didn’t care they could get hit and die. They could literally pass within an inch of a vehicle and not get a scratch. Screw what the traffic sign said. Brave, I suppose. Not the cautiousness a southern boy is accustomed to.
What occupied my mind most was the voice of my friend, Cody Reel: “I want to learn how the world works. I love Economics, because it teaches me how people get what they want.” I kept thinking over and over that this, this metropolitan WalMart, is the summation of what the American Dream is: people selling themselves, competing with each other, rushing past each other, running in groups. This is what it takes. We stumbled across a rapper giving a few CD’s for free while advertising his products in verse. “That’s what you gotta do to make it,” my mom said after we left him.
Before we left, I managed to buy some folks back home some New York kitchen magnets. “Yes,” I thought. “That is what it takes.” But there was something else in me. This hidden lurking fear that, when all is said and done, the only thing that matters is that desperate climb for money. Definitely not my version of personal meaning. I’m not a hater of capitalism, for Cody has often taught me how dangerous it can be when we decide to tear down the economic edifice of the past. But it hurt to see others not be so lucky in the street. Every now and then we stumbled across a begging man in tattered, brown jackets begging with a silent board to be fed or clothed. And people would just walk by as if there was no one there. Because they do not care or because they can’t? Don’t know. Maybe both. And who is to blame? No one. Blame can never bring anything to rest, really. Being human is learning to survive, but also to accept the limitations of gravity. Or, for that matter, who is served and who isn’t. I was grateful to still have my limbs with me. Especially when I sipped some hot chocolate. My toes had been so cold that when the chocolate went down my throat, I could actually feel blood surge back into my veins.