I am built for cities. I have lived in or around New York City for my whole life and I never really feel as comfortable as I do when I’m in Manhattan.
And it’s not because I haven’t left it: I’ve done my share of travel, both at home and abroad. I’ve driven across the United States, letting my stomach choose the route (hence, the stops in Memphis, New Orleans, and Austin). I’ve been to Boston and Seattle and San Francisco and Philadelphia and San Diego and Los Angeles (not really a city because you can’t walk in it, but every rule needs an exception). I’ve been to London and Paris and Rome and Venice (my overseas favorite because it’s so damned stupid). I’ve been to Port-au-Prince, which is worth braving the risks to see; poverty is a defining characteristic of the urban condition, and no place is poorer than Haiti.
But my first true love is Manhattan, introduced to me in all her grandeur by my grandmother, who insisted that we take a Circle Line tour around the Island when I was 7. And I love this city because it scares me.
I’m not scared of being mugged, or shot, or harassed, or molested. My fear is not a physical one. It’s not even an emotional one. I was here, on the ground, during 9/11. I caught the last train into the city, able to see the smoking first tower right before we entered the tunnel. I walked down a Broadway completely devoid of car traffic to get to Penn Station to catch a train home that night. I had my shoes hosed off by the fire department, just in case I was carrying any carcinogenic dust into my New Jersey suburb. I didn’t lose anyone that day, but I still felt the loss. But I still come into Manhattan every day, willingly and gladly.
No, what scares me—and in turn, captivates me—is that there’s just so much I don’t know about this place. Walk down almost any block and you’ll pass, literally, hundreds of doors, all leading somewhere. And there are thousands of such doors. What goes on behind them?
I once passed a door, maybe on West 54th, perfectly maintained, totally non-descript, save the words “Manhattan Nautical Club” stenciled in gold lettering on the glass. And it was nowhere near the water. Where did it lead, who was inside, and what were they doing?
This city is a hive of mystery, and that’s what I love about it. What scares me is that I’m not really the kind of bloke who cares to solve them.