It was another lovely car ride up the East Coast. We came to a Rest Stop and availed our selves of the facilities and a much needed cup of espresso coffee. By the way, Dunkin’ Donuts serves up a much more delicious espresso than Starbucks. The premises and facilities in these stops have certainly moved up in this world from where they were twenty years ago. No Touch Bathrooms for one! Self-flushing toilets, no-touch faucets! A finicky paranoid’s hygienic dream! For those taking road trips, the Rest Stops are also very egalitarian. Whether you are rich or poor you are availing yourself of the same facilities, coffee and all else. Lovely!
On the road again, destination: Delaware, the first state, and feasting on a fabulous Middle Eastern lunch with a wonderful friend whom I have known since we were teenagers. On to the Jersey Shore and to staying with another gracious and terrific friend whom I have known since I was nine years old! Is there anything in the world that is more enchanting than to be with people who know my history, to whom I do not have to explain anything, with whom the reconnection is simply precious?!
And, oh, how I love the New Jersey law that still has attendants to fill up one’s gas tank. Why did they do away with this in other states? Some inane reason or the other, I am sure, as many of these decisions are, and the corrupt lawmakers that issue them!
The hedge fund managers and other investors here have turned what are supposedly summer vacation cottages into grotesquely huge McMansions. Not pretty, really!
In the car again and on to New York! New York! This city is definitely not as beautiful as, let’s say, Paris, Belgrade, London or Rome. Nevertheless, it has a magic aura to it, vibrancy and an excitement that I did not find anywhere else. Walking again through the familiar landmarks humming with tourists from all over the world, with New Yorkers and other American visitors, fills me with exuberance! Fifth Avenue, with all its familiar brand stores, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Broadway! Oh, how delightful! Lying on the pavement, in between the swank buildings where a one bedroom apartment goes for two million, and a five bedroom for twenty-five million, is a man who is spasm-ing either from drug withdrawal, or is very sick. Soon enough the NYPD appear on the scene, followed shortly by an ambulance. On the doorsteps of a church a few feet up the road are three obviously homeless people with their gear in small plastic bags next to them. How can this be, with all these billionaires and millionaires inhabiting this fabulous city? Really, why?
On to a twenty dollar cup of coffee at the renowned Plaza Hotel! Indeed! It’s nice to pretend that I am one of the rich and famous occasionally; however, the really rich and famous have upscale-d, and left the Plaza to the wannabe rich and famous. Frankly that five dollar cup of coffee at the corner café with ordinary people tastes just as good sans the snobbish airs!
My son-in-law guides us to the horse and buggy stand. He wants to take pictures inside the incredible Central Park. Our knowledgeable driver is pointing out all the landmarks on the left and right. We are all chatting. He asks where we are from. Virginia, we say. Originally, he asks? Ah, that accent! A dead giveaway all the time!
“I’m Palestinian. I was born in Jerusalem.”
“Really? My mother lives there.”
Wouldn’t you know it! From among all the horse and buggy drivers who do I get but the Jewish guy?!
“She might be living in my house.”
“Not in your house,” he says pleasantly, “but maybe on your land.”
Isn’t it ironic? Tragic? Unjust and unfair?
Later on, and after feasting on New York pizza (you can’t, absolutely cannot, visit New York without savoring a New York pizza) we take a walk in the High Line Park. Innovation and pure guts made two New Yorkers seize on this strip of an old and unused part of New York’s rail system, abandoned to the natural and wild foliage that sprang on and all around it and transform it into a lovely park with restaurants, kiosks, walking paths and open markets all around. It is as fabulous as the city in which it resides!
Back at the hotel I take an appointment from the hairdresser. That’s one thing about this city. It leaves you feeling filthy because of the thousands upon thousands of cars, taxis, people and Ubers. De Blasio, New York’s Mayor, I found out, is in a major feud with Uber. Like most politicians, he probably has an ulterior and corrupt motive. You see, the city’s corporate system has found another opening to advertise and create more consumers for its greedy exploitation. They have forced the Yellow Cabs to install a TV screen on the partition between the driver and passengers that is constantly bombarding riders with advertisements and what not! It is most irritating! De Blasio must have padded his wallet handsomely allowing this absurd enterprise! However, Uber has cleaner cabs, they arrive exactly on time, the drivers are super polite and it is much more of a pleasure to ride with them than in a Yellow Cab blaring advertisements at me! Pretty disgusting, Mr. Mayor! (I understood after coming back that he has pulled back from that adventure!)
The hairdressing salon has an appointment available. Most of their customers are “in the Hamptons” for the weekend, as we are told! Pretty chi-chi city, huh?! On our way to the hotel though, and, yes, delightfully riding with Uber, the police stop all cars at an intersection. President Obama, we found out later, in a motorcade of about thirty cars (seriously?), was in town with his daughters. They were having lunch around Gramercy Park and then attending a play, “Hamilton.” Yes, even our President it seems loves visiting the Big Apple!
My hairdresser is a Japanese woman. She asks about my accent (I’m telling you, it’s a dead giveaway!) and where I am from “originally.” She looks very surprised; as if I am the first Palestinian she’s ever met? She also follows that by telling me that I look like I am in my late fifties, “maybe early sixties?” Could it be that the flattery is a bit of guilt for having harbored negative thoughts about “those awful Palestinian terrorists?” After all, she lives in New York and probably many of her customers are zealous Jewish women who believe that we are, in fact, terrorists. Ah well! Guilt, or no guilt, flattery of this kind nevertheless, and invariably, and even for a few minutes, tickles my senses! How gullible we women can sometimes be!
There is an abundance of workers in this city, a constant flow of menial and semi-menial labor, wait staff, lifeguards and hotel workers etc. etc. that keeps the rich and famous, as well as their children and breeds of dogs, well attended to. Many of these workers, I am told, are nowadays being brought in by a new crop of companies that hire them from their countries of origin. They contract them for a certain period of time, ship them over, house them, manage the paperwork required and make sure that they are shipped back after their stint! A lucrative business that together with laundered money deposited in the many empty brick and mortar apartments, the tainted money from the arms industry and from the hundreds of private contractors and financial blood-suckers who have made out like bandits from America’s never-ending war enterprise and Wall Street capitalist greed, all help keep this city awash with money!
We have dinner at a delicious French Bistro where we eat real authentic, fantastic French Fries! Remember when we shamelessly dumped French Fries and renamed them Freedom Fries during those first months of that terrible and unconscionable war on Iraq? We emptied the French wine bottles onto the streets also! So jingoistic! So ridiculous! So infantile!
The story of New York, with its Ellis Island once welcoming immigrants, its Rikers Island prison complex, its posh neighborhoods and wealthy inhabitants living alongside the drug addicted, the homeless, the desperate, the ignored veterans is merely a mirror of the country as a whole: it is undoubtedly a beautiful country, its salad mix of mostly wonderful people quite delightful. Nonetheless, it is always overshadowed by its unjust foreign policies and its unfair domestic policies; its corrupt politicians and many of its ludicrous laws. I guess that’s how it will continue to be unless people wake up and get seriously involved rather than remain ensconced in their immediate lives and petty needs. Yet, it is no different in this sense from any of the corrupted world capitals with their wicked Ruling Classes versus Us. However, New York remains uniquely New York. Decadent Gotham, Thrilling and Pretty Amazing!