To give you an idea of how often I take the subway in New York, here’s what happened when I wanted to exchange my old MetroCard for a new, usable one.
The teller pushes it back to me and shouts, “It’s been expired for over a year. You’ll have to mail it in.”
Well, that wasn’t going to work. I grumbled back to the ticket dispensing machine and grumbled as it made me pay an extra dollar to spit back a MetroCard that looked exactly like the one in my pocket, except this one expired on September 1, 2014 and not fourteen months ago.
I’m used to seeing the city from the window of a car. In my family’s trusty 1996 Toyota Camry, I have crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Queensboro Bridge, FDR Drive, and the Long Island Expressway. Parking is always a hassel, but I know it is possible to find free street parking if you look carefully on Sundays. It’s one of those weird times that driving with my family to fun city activities is cheaper and more convenient than taking public transit.
But this afternoon, I was on my own. In an early celebration of Independence Day, the office officially closed at 2. Everyone else around me was still finishing up something, but I was free to go. I wound up staying until about 2:30 anyway. Just as I was thinking about leaving, the skies opened, and sheets of rain fell from the sky. I did have an umbrella, but I hate negotiating puddles and wading through water that had been tinted grayish brown by unfathomable things. It was still pouring when I finally decided to leave, even though weather.com had promised me to expect dry conditions over the next six hours.
The rain subsided when I emerged from the subway and arrived at the Upper East Side. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, clouds and sun competed for celestial real estate. Although it was still pouring, I could see patches of clear blue and rays of light all around. It made for a very strange walk to the Met.
I was long overdue for a visit to this venerable institution of art. When I arrived, I paid a dollar for my ticket and was handed a slip of paper and a sticker with the museum’s logo and today’s date. I glared at the sticker and begrudgingly stuck it on the front of my dress. (The Met has stopped giving out its little colored buttons, and my chance to collect all the colors has disappeared forever.)
I grabbed a map out of habit, but I have been to the Met enough times to have seen most of its permanent collection at least once. I aimlessly wandered, starting from the Costume Institute’s latest exhibition called “Punk: Chaos to Couture.” There were some interesting Vivienne Westwood t-shirts, a black dress held together by safety pins, and voluminous evening gowns made from painted pieces of fabric. Next, I walked into the European gallery and scanned the Impressionist paintings, which then melded into the modern wing. Somehow, I managed to end up at the Arms & Armory section, where they had life-size suits of armor mounted on fake horses in a sun-filled room.
After an hour and a half, I was ready to go, so I headed to my next destination: an Eric Kayser bakery. Yes, it’s the same bakery that fed me multiple breakfasts and lunches while I was in Paris. A couple of days ago, I was feeling some wanderlust and wished I could somehow find a way to go back to France. (Do you call it homesickness? I don’t think that’s quite the right word – Paris was never an actual home, home.) If hopping on a plane wasn’t a feasible option, finding a fresh baguette would have to be the next best thing. The walk took 15 minutes. The bakery was just as busy as its French counterpart. The food was good, but there’s nothing quite like getting bread that is still warm from the oven.
I like walking. It makes you pay more attention to the people walking their dogs and babies, the toursits with their bulky cameras and shopping bags from the gift store. You begin to appreciate sidewalks and how long (or short) a single block stretches. In a car, you’re only waiting until you find the right place to turn. And subways? There’s some great people watching, but the windows offer nothing but darkness.