Every time I fly into LaGuardia, I swear the plane is going to land in the water. The river hugs the runway a little too close and I’m certain we’re going down. In spite of this, New York City is the best city to fly into. From above, Manhattan looks too small to be holding so much of the world on its shoulders. The downtown buildings stand guard along the harbor while a steel forest and wispy bridges roll out behind them. There’s nothing like it. Maybe it’s the several dozen times I watched Muppets Take Manhattan, but the attraction of the big city lured me from an early age.
I suspect if you grew up near New York it lacks the same majesty. Maybe I’m wrong. I grew up deep in the Wisconsin woods where an elderly oak tree was the closest thing to the Chrysler Building and northern lights were our Times Square. And where Sissy and I played “Road.”
Oh, you don’t know what “Road” is? It’s basically an imaginary system of mutually agreed-upon streets we built throughout the yard and driveway. We spent more time than seems acceptable riding our bikes around them, braking at stop lights (again – completely imaginary) and waiting for traffic (imaginary) to pass before merging onto the “freeway.” As I write this, I realize it sounds ridiculous to have created a childhood traffic fantasy. Especially because last week in NYC, I sat in a cab for 45 minutes and moved five whole blocks. Worst game of Road ever.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a country mouse at heart, but I think you must be a little dead inside if you don’t feel a twinge of emotion when you see the NYC skyline. My recent trip was no exception. As I flew into LaGuardia, the complicated mix of awe, anticipation and nostalgia sucker-punched me as I unnecessarily braced for a water landing. Instantly I knew this was the perfect place to celebrate my 39th birthday.
New York City was designed for hurtling you into new and challenging situations. This is precisely the energy I need for my big year ahead. With the exception of a couple scheduled plans, my birthday was wide open and ripe for detours. The city is gifted at knowing when to lure you down unknown streets or shove you into bars, galleries and candy stores. Everywhere we ended up was exactly where we belonged. As I write this, I’m reminded of a Muppets Take Manhattan song. Let me give you a quick movie synopsis in case you haven’t watched it 300 times…
Kermit the Frog and his friends write a musical and move to NYC to turn it into a Broadway hit. They live in lockers and eat soup while trying to sell the show. Kermit loses his shit because everyone is counting on him to be a leader, and they feel bad, sing a sad song and go their separate ways. Eventually a young producer says yes to the show and Kermit is so pumped to get the gang back together that he runs into the street, gets hit by a car, develops amnesia, loses his identity and forgets about the show. He gets a job at a marketing agency with a bunch of other frogs and creates a wildly successful ad campaign for soap. Long story short, on opening night, the gang kidnaps Kermit, Miss Piggy kicks the crap out of him and he immediately goes on stage to a packed house. (There’s way more stuff I would love to tell you if you have a couple hours.)
In the first line of the musical, Kermit sings, “Look at me, here I am, right where I belong…” It’s a refrain throughout their show, but I decided it’s also a good motto for my year – and my life. I’m prone to thinking I’m supposed to be somewhere else, doing something bigger, or further along some pre-defined path. It’s stupid and exhausting. I wandered in New York City without plans and ended up in the very best places (umm, hello Staten Island). I’ve decided to take a page from the “Road” playbook. I’m going to invent my own streets and quit worrying whether they’re the right ones. I’ll stop at arbitrary stop lights and decide whether I want to actually merge onto that busy freeway. And when I’m feeling particularly anxious, I’ll take an imaginary ferry to Staten Island and enjoy the view.