Although I’d been to New York City before, the first trip I really remember very well occurred after I had just graduated from high school. It was a day trip to New York with my sister to shop and watch a Broadway show.
I distinctly recall being both excited to go and scared to death.
That’s quite a feeling.
The excitement element of my emotions is easy to understand. New York City has and continues to be the epicenter of lots of great things America has to offer. The fear component is directly related to the period of time I visited. When I went to New York City then, it was a very dangerous place.
Back then, if you said the word “mugging” anywhere in the country most people immediately conjured up images of New York City. A popular 1970 film, The Out of Towners, starred Jack Lemmon and depicted an Ohio couple enduring a nightmare trip there.
When my sister and I arrived at Penn Station on the morning of our visit, we stopped in the Ladies Room after leaving the train to find a group of women sleeping under the sinks. These people clearly weren’t there to greet us as representatives of the New York City Tourism Bureau. Instead, they each appeared to be high on something other than life. Eventually, we made our way to Times Square where we were told we could buy discount theater tickets. That part was true. We did find the booth and purchased tickets to a wonderful show we saw later in the day. Getting there, however, required passing a number of establishments offering a variety of strictly adult themed items that if the film board were to rate them would clearly earn a XXX rating.
At the end of the day, my sister turned to me and said, “Monica, you have dirt on your face.” I thought she was kidding until I looked in the mirror. Sure enough, I looked like I’d just come from an audition as a chimney sweep in Mary Poppins.
Needless to say, the entire time I was there, I clung to my purse like my life depended on it and walked a little faster than I normally do. When I arrived home, I could honestly report that I felt both excited that I’d been there because it was wonderful and relieved that I’d actually survived.
Fast forward to just a few years ago. My husband and I took our kids to New York City on a vacation. I’d been there many times since but never with my youngest child who was then five-years-old. We’d just come from Disney World the week before so he had a certain perspective about what vacations are supposed to be like.
We took him with his older brother to Times Square to Toys R Us and a number of other kid friendly spots. At the end of the day, I walked with him up Fifth Avenue to go to the Disney Store. As we walked back to the hotel, he kept looking around and finally asked me, “So when do the fireworks start?”
I’d say that pretty well sums up the difference between New York City of the seventies and eighties and New York City today or at least recently.
In his recent public remarks, Mayor Bill de Blasio frequently talks of moving forward but all signs right now point to New York City moving in exactly the opposite direction. That would be an incredible tragedy for New York citizens and Americans from across the country who enjoy visiting all the wonderful things only New York City offers.
During the Christmas Eve service at church this week, we were reminded to pray for peace around the world. I would suggest a special prayer particularly for New York City, St. Louis, and anywhere in our country experiencing the sort of turmoil those communities are now facing.
Whatever we do, wherever we are in this country, let’s never go back to a time when experiencing fear and keeping your guard up was a natural and necessary part of urban life in America.