Yeah, I know, I have some nerve writing about summer in New York when Helena Fitzgerald already wrote brilliantly about it, but if I didn’t write on topics just because Helena got there first then I don’t know what I’d write about.
Summer is not my favorite season. I think fall is the best, mostly because I like the clothes choices better. (I like layering.) That being said, summer is in my top four. I love how the days are longer, how when I go to the gym in the evening after work it doesn’t feel like the last thing I’m going to do for the day, that I’m just going to come home and it will be time to go to bed.
I like the attitudes of people, the expectation, the promise of summer. I like that things slow down, and everyone is a little bit more relaxed. Work still needs to get done but no one really cares that you took some extra time finishing your lunch in Bryant Park. And maybe there’s a pool or a beach on the schedule for the weekend, or a quick getaway out of town where you will exchange car horns for mosquitoes. Summer is always the season of possibilities, and even if I’m old enough to know that most of those possibilities will not be realized I still feel that optimism at the start of every summer.
And New York empties out. That is really the best part. The subways are a little less crowded during rush hour. Restaurants and bars are a little easier to navigate. Sure there are still a lot of tourists around, but there are still plenty of places that they don’t go, and a sort of peace settles on those places.
I think I’ve made one trip to the Hamptons in all the years I’ve lived in New York. I’ve made a few trips to the Jersey Shore. I never found the idea of renting a place and then making the long commute out every Friday and back every Sunday appealing, not to sleep on an air mattress in a room with five other drunks. And once I was old enough to afford better accommodations I still didn’t want to do it: I’ve seen the folks that go to these places and, with all due respect, I am glad they are out there and I’m here.
New York is an improbability, a city held together by money and sweat and history, but mostly by a shared delusion. In this way New York is like love. Those of us that love this city are fierce in protecting it, acknowledging that it is imperfect but that there is no place else we’d rather be. The challenge of New York is the appeal. Of course its difficult. That’s the point. If it were easy then you could be anywhere.
In the summer the subway platforms are hot and that empty car when the train pulls in probably doesn’t have air conditioning. If you have to wear a suit like I do, you are wet when you get to the office, even if you carried your suit jacket over your arm. Sometimes even the tall buildings of Midtown don’t offer any shade and every block is a test of endurance, but when you get to your destination there is the look of recognition in the eyes of the barista or cashier or host, a look that says “I know you suffered to get here but its worth it.” They know because they suffered too, and living in New York is nothing if not repeated suffering mitigated by the knowledge that it’s the same for everyone. Oh, and that there is magic here that doesn’t exist anywhere else.
It’s the people in Brooklyn Bridge Park taking pictures as the sun sets behind the Manhattan skyline, and then staying there in the dark because it feels good to be surrounded by others. It’s the restaurants and bars that spill onto the sidewalks, the gardens and patios that are open that are filled even if it is really too warm to sit outside. It’s the stoops and the (official and unofficial) roof decks, it’s the spontaneous celebrations which are prolonged by a quick run to the Bodega. It’s the joy of the open fire hydrant and the grill set up on the sidewalk and the relief when it rains and the bigger relief when the sun comes back out. It’s discounts at theaters and museums, it’s movies and concerts in the parks, fireworks on Coney Island and in the neighborhood, it’s the un-ironic consumption of Rosé.
New York is its best self in a crisis, and summer is an ongoing crisis. Summer is the final exam for residents that are considering whether they want to stay here. If you can make it through the summer in New York then you can make it anywhere, only you’ll realize you never want to make it anywhere else.