After my second day of work in Brooklyn, I rode the R train home exhausted and hungry with my eyes gazing down to my 2-year-old Nikes. I passed the many local stops on my way to 53rd Street wondering how my shoe laces stayed so vibrantly magenta and how the tongues were still so pastel green since the day I picked them up from the St. Cloud mall.
Then the Prospect Avenue stop came. Just a few stops away from my stop, which meant the end to my 8 hour day filled with mayhem volunteering. The day’s events brought on me being left alone in a room of 20 2nd/3rd graders by 3 other summer staff who wanted a “break” and me ending up having to restrain a child who rampaged through the classroom throwing punches and kicks at the rest of the students who were left with tears in their eyes. After that, the rest of the day was filled with listening the summer camp staff incessantly yell at the children for misbehavior (both necessarily and unnecessarily).
To my dismay, the examination of the miracle of the color of my shoes was interrupted by an unusually long stop and the rustling of those in the packed train car around me. As my eyes lifted from my shoes to the opened subway door, I saw a pregnant woman run by shouting, “There’s a fight in the car! Call the police! Where’s the dispatcher?”
The grumblings of the passengers in the car around me started discussing the nature of the fight- the consensus was that it was racially and/or religiously motivated and that “Things just haven’t been the same since 9/11.”
As the people complained about the whole situation, I grew frustrated. My tired eyes went down to my Nikes once again and I thought to myself, “Ahhh, I miss the Minnesota nice-these New Yorkers are insane and hostile.”
What had I gotten myself into? It seemed that this was certainly not the city I thought I’d visited over my spring break 2 years ago. Still examining my Nikes, my mind took me back to one of my first (much cleaner) subway rides in Manhattan staring at the same exact pair of shoes ( also a bit cleaner). I was a junior in college, it was one of my first trips to a major city-I had just finished a long day of sight-seeing and was still in awe of the flashing lights, the buildings, and the array of different people that I never saw in Minnesota.
This time around, my Nikes and I were not impressed (yes I just personified my shoes). I was far from the daily tourist agenda of finding and taking pictures of the buildings and landmarks I’d seen so many times on TV and looking for new foods to try. This time, I wasn’t going shopping in Times Square, Harold Square, Greenwich Village, or SoHo, I was shopping in the overpriced grocery stores of Sunset Park where a box of cereal is easily over $5.00, where English is not a commonly spoken first language, and where one needs to check each expiration date before a purchase. Nope, this certainly was not a tourist’s journey- working in public schools and venturing to Red Hook and Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
As the weeks unfolded, I noticed a the drastic change in my two experiences as I viewed the pictures I’d been taking through my residency in the city.
The pictures I felt worth pressing the shutter release for did not include the Empire State Building, Wall Street, Times Square ect. (Okay, I did take some of the skyscapes and the Statue of Liberty but give me a bit of a break). Instead, my hands instinctively brought the camera to my eye when I saw people holding hands, dancing, interacting, and just simply loving. Each day, with or without my camera, I began to frame beautiful pictures in my mind and appreciate beauty, simplicity, and living.
As I got used to the city, took my ears out of my Ipod, and brought my eyes up from my shoes and onto the people around me, and I saw humanity surprise me continually.
From the 4 grown men who rushed to help and comfort the Muslim boy who hopped on the subway as the door closed and his father was left on the platform, to the elderly black woman and the 20 something white man with a mismatched crutch and cane and obviously busted pelvis try to convince the other they should have the seat, to the guys in the Sunset Deli who were so gracious, generous, and eager to give us all of their leftover bagels at the end of the night… and told us that we should come every night. (AND they only charge me $1.25 for a bottle of pop…. I mean soda).
After much experience and little debate, I know that this journey with my Nikes has a bit more meaning than the last (I love this second NYC minus the facts that am eating bagels all the time, not hanging with my best friend, and really have no money to spend). I am no longer in awe of the glitter of the massive structures, romanticized places, and am not in search of finding an I <3 New York T-shirt- but am appreciating the simplest and honestly, the most awesome things in life…The happenings of everyday, interactions and life lessons from those around me. Already, thanks NYC, namely Brooklyn.