February 19, 2023
By Arthur H. Gunther III
There was always anticipation in the 1939 Dodge my father drove to the ferries at Weehawken to begin our rare visits to New York City. A country boy living just 18 miles away, a walk in the fields was the usual day, not shivering on the boat to 42nd Street, though I could have sat warm inside rather than choose the bow where the ferry would slide into its slip, bobbing up and down, me all the while thinking someone could fall between the dock and the boat.
Once the scissor gates of The Weekhawken were pulled across, my parents, brother and grandparents pushed our way through the crowd and came to Midtown. The tall buildings made canyons of shade and light, the latter gray in winter’s coal burning and urban pollution.
It was an arrival, far from the rural landscape but not scary. Thrilling in the moment, for the sounds of traffic and car horns offered a foreign rhythm to this occasional visitor. It was a score that you could not ignore, one that accompanied your fast pace on the crowded streets. There wasn’t time to stop and think as there was in my country fields.
The trip was for the benefit of parents and grandparents whose forebears began immigrant lives there in the various decades of the 19th century. Revisiting for shopping gave them a chance to touch roots and remember their past.
The day in Gotham also included the Horn & Hardart self-service Automat, the wonder of all eating wonders before fast-food unseasoned the palette. Or we might walk upstairs above shops to a Chinese restaurant, its consommé superb and later sweet tea in a no-handle green cup just right for a fellow in gabardine pants that made the legs even colder in the canyon winds of New York City.
The day done, the return ferry taken, my brother Craig and I would fall asleep in the old Dodge, arriving safe and sound back in the Quiet Land. The annual city visit was over.
The writer is a retired newspaperman, reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org