Thursday, April 03, 2008

The 10-minute tourist

My eyes have been devouring pages about the American Revolution for the last couple months (going back to Ellis' "Founding Brothers" and more recently, McCullough's "1776" and now "John Adams)" so it should be no surprise that they saw the world around me today in an old, new light.

Still, I was surprised as I made my way to a workshop this afternoon in lower Manhattan. Emerging from the subway at Stone Street and Broadway, the sight of Battery Park no longer evoked images of Madonna's pyramid jacket and Roseanna Arquette hitting her head. Rather, the first thing I imagined were British ships, the Phoenix and the Rose, racing up the Hudson before crowds of awe-struck Continental Army soldiers and a helpless, frustrated George Washington.

Running my usual 10-15 minutes late, there was no time to pause and soak in the area's historic aura. (Yes, in spite of the yellow flourescent glow from Au Bon Pain and McDonald's, there are many corners in lower Manhattan where one can be transported back to a simpler time.) As I rushed down Pearl Street, I noticed a large colonial building and made a mental note to check it out after the workshop.

Turns out, the building was none other than the Fraunces Tavern -- the heart of the Revolution in New York City (as a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty before the war and the site of Washington's farewell address in 1783). I've walked by this building at least 20 times before in my life but it wasn't until today that my brain made the connection.

For 10 minutes, I stood in amazement -- it was as though I'd never seen it before. And for 10 minutes, I was a tourist in a city I've lived in for 8 years.

[Note: People who live in NYC go to great lengths to avoid looking like a tourist. It starts by wearing the "Manhattan uniform" (i.e. all black) for the first year you're here, walking faster while appearing disinterested, etc. This front devolves to a simple exasperated grunt at tourists who take up entire swaths of sidewalk while examining their blanket-sized maps of the city.]

Anyway, it was 10 minutes before I finally crossed the street to look more closely at the tavern's facade. Feeling the cold brick with an ungloved hand, I closed my eyes and wished I could open them to see for just one minute what the street around me might have looked like then. A taxi's horn jolted me back to reality and 2008 where my stomach was impatiently yearning for a Chipotle salad from around the corner.

A photo I took of the Fraunces Tavern with my BlackBerry (a REAL tourist would've used a 35mm Canon Rebel)

While reading "John Adams" on the train home, a cool kid in my head threatened to kick my ass. I started to wonder, "Am I becoming one of those history dorks? You know, the kind that show up on Flag Day to re-enact a battle or something? How close am I to dressing up as Abigail Adams to give tours of a field Alexander Hamilton once took a crap in? Oh. My. God. Those people are like 2nd cousins of Trekkies and Star Wars 'tards! Am I on a slippery slope to geekdom?"

Nah, it's just a phase. Next month, I'll move on to some other subject (Dan's been campaigning for fiction and the "Youth in Revolt" book he got me for Christmas -- it's got the word "revolt" in it so should be an appropriate segue). Just in case, maybe I'll make it a point to visit the "cool" section at Barnes & Noble and get a book about heroin or Chloe Sevigny.

Whatever comes next, my perspective is forever changed. Old buildings are new, familiar places are foreign. Beyond the "great hookah bar here," "passable late-night grub over there" and "that Dunkin Donuts never makes my coffee light enough," another layer has been added to my mental map of NYC. If it makes me a dorky history buff or annoying tourist every now and then, I'm cool with it.

(but if I start wearing FDNY hoodies or churning my own butter, please stage an intervention...thanks!)

1 comment:

dan the man said...

Attention readers of this blog. the author of "Preditorial" is a liar.

And I quote from the above passage, "my usual 10-15 minutes late."

This is nonsense. Your author is never less than 1 hour late.

10-15 minutes.....right.