Loitering at bus stops and people watching in dog parks expends precious energy. Fortunately, New York is full of watering holes and saloons where a weary soldier can rest his knapsack. As I wander the city, I construct a cartography of stopping points, taking careful note of carefully maintained bathrooms and potent potables.
This afternoon, I was aimlessly walking around Midtown feeling quite dehydrated from an eight mile run. Although I have a sink in my dorm room, getting a decent drink requires filling a Dixie cup four times. Consulting my mental map, I headed for Columbus Circle. Per Se, immaculate public toilets, Whole Foods—what more could a body desire? But when I’m on the south side of Central Park, I like to satisfy my thirst at Argo Tea Café.
Today, I tried the “Iced Green Tea Ginger Twist.” The drink packs a noticeable ginger punch, what with a slurry of ginger purée suspended in innocuous tea-like fluid. If only Argo turned the sugar down—this potentially refreshing beverage ends up tasting like liquid ginger candy. Still, I enjoyed sipping the sweet stuff while hanging out in front of the palatial Plaza Hotel. The Plaza’s Oak Room restaurant is set to close shortly. Swarms of tourists stroll past, clueless that another New York dining landmark will soon disappear. Noses buried deep in guidebooks, they read about the Hotel without understanding how it infects the very earth with history. Nostalgia is a strange melancholy, a romantic aspiration for an unattainable past. While being a tourist in New York is, in many ways, infinitely more enjoyable than living here, the selective ignorance of tourism reduces density to singularity— archaeology and narrative become simplified summary. So the Oak Room will fade into memory on July 31st, but its entry will remain in Frommer’s for another year.
After living at Columbia for two years, I am continually surprised by the touristic interest in Morningside Heights. Buses full of high schoolers and European sightseers pull up in front of Saint John the Divine and discharge their passengers. Watching the incessant camera waving, posturing, and gawking, I wonder whether I look so silly on vacation. I hope so. Yet, the accretions of human flesh crowding the sidewalk inspire irrational annoyance: “I’m walking here! I live here,” I want to yell. The summer invasion of tourists has begun; better to accept the creeping tide with bemusement than struggle against its progress.
Every journey I take in New York is about entering the city, plumbing its past and locating myself somewhere on its stormy surface. Living the everyday epic subjects the present to overbearing historical weight. And perhaps it is better to occupy a space outside history, a territory of enjoyable ignorance that erases consciousness in favor of saccharine pleasures. When I arrived at Columbia, I wished that I could be a tourist again, a child entering the cosmopolis for the first time. Now, I’m content to live in this city and to know its insular life.