Imagining myself elsewhere

The day after we said goodbye to our son outside his dorm in Boston, we left going a different way than we had come. In more ways than one. We headed down through Rhode Island and across Connecticut with our sights set on Manhattan. I’d only been there twice before, brief brief visits each, and my husband had never been there so this seemed like an opportune time to be New York City tourists.

We got a hotel in Connecticut and took a morning commuter train into Grand Central Station. From there we walked to Time Square and stopped at the visitor’s information office there to pick up a map and any other information that would help us conquer the city in a day’s time. As we were leaving the office, a brochure for a double-decker bus tour caught my eye and we stopped to consider. It took us only a minute to decide to buy two tickets. Yes, it was the cliche tourist thing to do but it was our answer to how to see as much of the city as we could in the limited time we had. The purchase of one ticket entitled the bearer of that ticket to go on four loop tours. We went on three of the four. The only reason we didn’t go on all four was that we missed the last bus of the day for one of the loops. It turned out to be a great decision because we saw so much of the city we wouldn’t have even know to look for. Plus the tour guides were excellent, providing information on the history, architecture, popular culture, economics, arts, etc of New York City. A nice thing about tours buses like this (other cities have them too) is that you can get on and off as much as you want, which we did.

We had a wonderful time but like most Americans our minds weren’t ever very far away from what was happening along the Gulf Coast. These thoughts kept creeping in. I found myself thinking about how I would have faced the challenges the people I’ve seen on television and in the newspaper have faced. I’m not sure I would have done well.

At one point on a tour bus loop, the bus stayed for a longer-than-expected time at one of the stops. We were on the upper level of the bus, not in any shade. The sun was full and hot. We had started out the morning with two water bottles full of water but now were down to only half inch of water in one of the bottles. The heat and the inability to freely gulp cold water made us a bit uncomfortable. As the sweat dripped down my face I thought of the people on the rooftops in New Orleans who had been there for days in the blazing sun and who would have been overjoyed with my half inch of water to savor. Couldn’t I last at least another hour?

One of the tour guides told us that there were more than 200 Starbuck’s in Manhattan and that this was a good thing. “The reason this is a good thing,” he said, “is that each of them has a clean public restroom that you can use without buying a cup of coffee. And that’s a good thing!” We paid attention to that valuable bit of information. Later in the day and after maneuvering ourselves through a large crowded area off of Broadway we were relieved to see the familiar Starbuck’s sign and to utilize their generous public offering. In doing so, however, I thought about the people in the Superdome and Convention center with the lack of working restrooms. Could I have handled that?

Our last tour loop was the nightime tour, which went through parts of downtown and Brooklyn after dark. The last stop was Times Square where everybody had to get off. From there we walked back to our train. For the first block or two the crowd was thick. People were streaming out of the theatres and restaurants and squeezing together on the sidewalks. I thought about the crowds of hurricane refugees moving together to destinations not of their choosing, leaving their homes behind, heading to where they didn’t want to go. I, on the other hand, was heading to a train, which would take me to a fully functioning hotel, which housed my car, which would eventually take me back to my high-and-dry house in the Midwest. By that time in Times Square, however, I was so tired from being a tourist for a day--riding buses, shopping for souvenirs, eating at neat restaurants--that after walking the ten blocks or so to Grand Central Station I sank into my seat on the train just in the nick of time, avoiding exhaustive collapse. From where would I have pulled the strength to be a hurricane survivor or a first responder or rescuer or Red Cross worker or Charity Hospital doctor or worried loved one?