Sunday, July 29, 2007

Walking Tour

I'm in New York for most of the coming week, training some new hires at our overstressed and understaffed company. Such is the state of things at the Home Office that they have to fly me in from Arizona to teach new folks what it is we do.

Here in New York, it's a cool and drizzly Sunday evening. I arrived at the hotel in Soho at about 6:00, though my body thought it was much earlier. After checking in and checking email, I set out for a stroll to find some dinner. The streets were filled with Bright Young Things from here and elsewhere--shopping, dining, chatting. Boys in their T-shirts, girls in their summer dresses, and all of them, everyone on the street, somehow, no more than 25 years old.

Every five minutes of my stroll, I passed something that brought a shock of memory to mind--a restaurant where I had lunch once with Dave, a secluded bar where I had martinis once with Mandy, a street where there was once (and perhaps still is) a wonderfully scummy diner in a converted trailer, where I had meatloaf once with Mike...back when they were all no more than 25.

I was never 25 in this city--I got here just as I was about to turn 30--but everyone I spent time with, and made theatre with, and suffered with--they were all around 25, and I got to pretend I was one of them for a time, even though I knew, always knew, deep down, that I wasn't really--partly because they were all Performers and I was the Writer, always hanging off to the side and watching.

And as I walked through the familiar, humid, redolent-of-summer-garbage streets, it wasn't just places that seemed familiar again--it was the people. Because hidden among the boys in their T-shirts and girls in their summer dresses were carbon copies of all of us, fourteen years ago--all the poets and artists and musicians and strivers we were back then, talking too loud and too fast, dreaming too big and too recklessly, flirting with each other and with the city, and sure that everything was going to turn out all right.

And it has turned out all right, hasn't it? It just hasn't turned out as expected.

Heading North on Lafayette and still not having found dinner, I decided to go to the Time Cafe, up above Houston. It was a place I used to go to with my grandmother, whenever we saw a play at the Public Theatre. More memories. But as I approached the familiar red umbrellas over the outside tables--deserted in the rain--I saw that the name of the restaurant, as etched in the windows, was different. It took me a while to read the new name, blind man that I am. When I got close, I realized that it was, in fact, no longer the Time Cafe. It was a Chinese barbecue place. I walked past it for a moment, then gave up and went inside. The decor was entirely different, but the basic architecture of the restaurant was the same, and I could see, in my mind's eye, the old Time Cafe as a shadow behind this new place.

The food was good, but the service was appallingly inept. For a moment, I smiled at the thought of calling my grandmother in Seattle and telling her what had become of our place. But then I remembered that she, too, was gone, and that I really was this city that used to be mine.

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