A SORT OF, KIND OF, ODE TO NEW YORK AND THE DAY SHE GOT HER HOOKS INTO ME

April 24, 2020

You would think during this COVID-19 time, that people would see me and say, “How do you feel?” They do not. Most often what I hear is, “Do you miss New York?” Yes. Of course, I do. After all, this is my second decade having a place in the city, my fourth of going almost weekly, so I guess it is a fair question.

The other question I get, one that causes me to take pause, is “What do you miss most about New York?” Now, that is a tough one. Let me think about it.

My relationship with New York started on September 20, 1989, a couple of days after my 26th birthday. I was more than a little nervous about going to New York. The only place I had ever traveled for business was to Dothan, Alabama, and I lived in Iowa.

I distinctly remember being freaked out by the approach to LaGuardia airport. Even today, thirty plus years later, you do not see the runway until seconds before you land, the Bowery Bay makes you wonder if it is a water landing.

Because of how small the runways and overall tarmac are, taxiing to the gate at LaGuardia is either noticeably short or exceptionally long. When its long, it is usually because your gate is occupied or there is a traffic jam. Back in 1989 we were lucky, we practically landed at our gate.

Back up in the air, New York had snuck up on me, a brilliant sea of lights and buildings, surrounded by eerily dark waters, working together to guide us for the last 30 minutes. The stark contrast between the Chrysler and Empire State buildings gave me pause to wonder, why are they so different?

It was rainy and dark that night, on the ground a foggy mist hung around us. Waiting to deplane, I could not see much out the window.

As I was getting off the plane, I heard a loud boom, though I thought nothing of it and kept moving with everyone else, eager to see the city. When I got into the terminal, clearly something was wrong. Airline personnel were all scrambling out and onto the tarmac.

So many sirens blared that the building seemed itself to be buzzing. I had that feeling you get when noise is so overwhelming you put your hands to your ears, hoping it will go away and silence will return things to normal.

My first encounter with NYPD came as an officer pushed me aside while shouting, “Out of the way. A plane just crashed.” He too exited the building, headed for the tarmac. It was complete chaos.

US Air Flight 5050, bound for Charlotte, had JUST crashed on takeoff, moments after my flight had landed. An hour later, still in shock, I watched the scene unfold on television from my room at the Algonquin Hotel on 44th Street. I laid awake for hours, the continuous sirens in the city reminding me that I was not in Iowa anymore.

The next morning, I made my way up 6th Avenue to Central Park for a run, struck by how the city seemed to have already moved on from the crash. Newspaper headlines suggested the pilots may have been drinking, but that was about it. Clearly, it was business as usual in the city. People just kept moving.

Though I have spent thousands of nights in the city since, I have not thought about that first night in a long time. It took so many people asking me if I missed New York to even remember the crash. I guess my brain needed to go back to the beginning and sort things out, so I did.

What I have figured out in looking back is that New York’s big advantage is momentum. New York ALWAYS has momentum. It is kind of like that sports team that just keeps winning, yet nobody can figure out why. I know why. Those teams, like New York itself, seize momentum and they never give it back. That is the key to winning – momentum.

I think we can learn something from this. It does not matter if you are starting a business, or trying to contribute more at work, or even trying to get that special someone to notice you, momentum starts with the first step. Take it. If you are standing still, you will never get momentum. Ever.

Momentum. That is what I miss most about New York.

[Photo: Our view from the Atlas looking uptown.]