We were doing 90 in a 45. Racing along greying snowbanks as they melted from the recent rainfall we approached the Queensboro Bridge. Despite the tension that filled the cab due to the combination of poor road conditions and our drivers lead foot, we all instantaneously caught our breathes and glued our eyes onto the scene ahead. Towers of lights stacked onto each other like organized columns of lightening bugs filling the expansive urban horizon. The rain that preceded us refreshed the air giving the city a rejuvenated and stimulated aura as the lights of the Manhattan skyline pierced through it: a welcoming mirage. As though made out of a set of Lincoln Logs the city seemed fake at that distance– a pacified representation of the place almost nine million people call home. After a celebratory birthday dinner for my sister we strolled toward Times Square seeing as the lights were drawing us in from four blocks away. The experience was much like getting slapped in the face by a rainbow. Colors and images attack the retinas as your head obediently bows backwards towards the electrified sky. Every ad projecting a product, a personification of American idealism, a promise. This unspoken promise dominates the streets of New York City– on every corner it changes, morphs and flashes as suddenly as the traffic signals. It’s the promise of the American Dream: the promise of success, money and fame. The promise of finding a place and purpose amongst the chaos.
New York is a city dictated by the extreme parallels of fantasy and reality. The city stretches upwards along its steel beams in an attempt to fully grasp the fantasy that so elegantly composes its reputation. Walking in the Upper East Side past the classic brownstones and ridiculously expensive boutiques one can’t help but imagine inhabiting a balcony overlooking Central Park, taking Alfred (a toy Pomeranian) on a quick jot through the park in a wildly expensive mink coat before taking high tea. Conterminously snuggled in between Central Park and the Upper East Side sits a rotund and alluring building. The Guggenheim Museum is something of the dreamworld in its architecture and artistic content. Much like a crisp, white conch shell that whispers tales of the ocean, this Guggenheim provides the same mystical experience, but through a visual medium. Sweeping columbine spirals lead you up level upon level towards an angular glass ceiling allowing natural light to accent the contemporary masterpieces adorning the walls. Every subtle element of the museum embodies and embellishes the colorful fantasia that stampedes wildly in the human mind and spirit, and leaks out into the paved streets of the city. Unhindered colors and sounds echo throughout the subway systems of the city as unregistered artists explore their inner environments and project them out into the veins of the city, making each one expand with their creative impulses and contact with their grim situations of reality simultaneously.
New York is a city rooted in countless states of raw reality, confirming the opaque, subjective and elusive nature of the most desired item in NYC: true success. During the countless subways rides you could see the struggle to survive and the thirst to thrive symbiotically interwoven in the deep-set grooves of the wrinkles detailing peoples faces as they passively glanced at the upcoming stop. And yet despite the daily drudgery a startlingly substantial voice rang as a hunched figure boarded, “I am fresh out of rehab where they have arranged an apartment for me and I am currently looking for a job. In the mean time any food or change would be greatly appreciated.” Hands immediately shot out into the aisle as he graciously collected the many items of good will. New York is filled with moments that depict this distinct brand of humanity that runs throughout its core– it lies quietly behind the outstretched hands in the subway and hidden within the bricks and sheets of steel and glass that compile the great and iconic buildings, silently weaving together all those who live under the city’s harsh rule.
As our time in New York passed I found myself bowing to the city’s every whim. Walking along the many boroughs of the city a similar feeling caught itself between my lungs. The respect that halted in my chest was equivalent to that of bearing witness to the Grand Canyon, I found myself overwhelmed by a scale of enormity that is only forged by standing on the edge of a tremendous, daunting and intriguing unknown. New York’s ability to endlessly manufacture an infinite number of paths and possibilities for its inhabitants is what has continuously lured us into its streets for hundreds of years. This is a city that demands attention on a national and international scale, broadcasting its epidemic optimism and culture all over our TVs, our magazines, our literature. Yet the streets teem with a distinct and pungent possibility: what might be between you and the benevolent dictator that is the city. Teasingly it tantalizingly suspends its promise of self-empowerment and hope above every head bobbing and hustling along 5th Avenue in the crisp January cold where it nonchalantly mingles with the white exhalations of its pedestrians.