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Monday, January 25, 2010

One Morning in the Village

It’s 9 a.m. on a sunny but unseasonably cool August morning in the West Village. Not really early, but not exactly late in this New York neighborhood that seems to never really sleep. It’s definitely the right time for a cup of coffee and a bagel. But honestly, it seems there’s never a bad time for that combination in this city.

I like to schedule my days on a trip – that’s what OCD Type A personalities like myself do. If there’s not a scrap of paper, Post-It note or some other piece of paper with a to-do list or schedule scribbled on it, then let’s just say I’m not a happy person.

But on this, the third day of a seven-day trip last August in New York, it’s a casual day that “only” has stops scheduled for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by lunch reservations at Union Square Café, an afternoon of shopping and an after-hours event at MoMA. Like I said, a casual day.

But at this moment it’s New York sensory overload. I’ve just stepped out the front door of the old walk-up apartment building we’re lucky enough to call home for a week in the city. The first seconds after the large door slams loudly behind me I smell the cigarette smoke wafting only feet to my right from the mouth of a worker at the tiny dry cleaners nearby. To my left, at the busy intersection with Sixth Avenue, I feel the water hose mist from the guy spraying down the flowers at his corner shop. I’m standing in a daze of New Yorker delight in front of the neatly piled trash already waiting for that night’s pickup when the blare of horn beeping of what has to be 20 or 30 yellow cabs flying through the intersection brings me back to life.

But then I’m quickly reminded of the reason I’ve stepped out for a few minutes: a cup of coffee and a bagel, but not any bagel. We’re talking Bagels on the Square near Father Demo Square at Bleecker and Sixth. Look, I’m no expert on New York bagels. I mean, I don’t live there. I’ve only been to the city a few times. But when I bite into something that’s good, I know it. And the bagels at Bagels on the Square fit the bill, specifically the whole wheat bagel with strawberry cream cheese.

And today won’t be like my previous trip to Bagels on the Square when I learned the New York counter rule: Know what you’re ordering, or step the hell back; at least that’s the drill for this timid Southerner who doesn’t want to look like a tourist. On this morning, I’m a local in the Village.

But despite the fact I’m confident with the knowledge learned the day before, I’m thankful on this morning when I walk in and see there are a few customers at the counter ahead of me. We have a young professional-type wearing a sleek suit and stylish tie, hair jelled perfectly, shoulder bag flung perfectly over his chest and wearing a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor shoes. I mean, it sounds so stockbroker until you get to the shoes.

Then there’s a construction worker (there’s always a construction worker with hard hat in hand, right?), followed by some guy reading his New York Times and wearing the skinniest of skinny jeans and a tight knit shirt.

Then there’s me, the guy from Memphis who was fortunate enough to get a fifth-floor walkup in the Village for a week instead of one of those closet-sized expensive hotel rooms near Times Square wearing his, well, I’ll just say I did not have on the typical American tourist white tennis shoes.

After getting my bagel and coffee, I head to the nearby Father Demo Square where I find a random park bench, take a seat and watch this city of cities pass me by.

It’s a 10-minute snapshot of a random morning in New York. But that’s what traveling, specifically local traveling, is all about. Experiencing those everyday moments just like a local does.

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