The air is sharp, like the people who glance at our mini-man for but a second before discerning our place as outsiders looking into their world. The pale, yet colorful, cynical, yet hopeful world of New York City. It’s the center of the world, bustling with life, and energy, feeding off the short clicks of high heels counting the seconds. Among it all stand a group of four Indians, carrying back packs colorfully decorated with groovy tie dye color schemes, and pinstripes. The smallest of them is me, rocking a pair of neon shorts and a t-shirt. I contrast against the grey and white of the pavement below my feet as I take my first tentative step onto a busy New York intersection. Two feet behind me is my mother, worrying, as she always does, about my safety. Perched above us is a vigilant Christopher Columbus, watching over the passing traffic forever. Still above him is the opaque face of the Time Warner Cable Center, a testament to the faceless corporations that contrast the rich cultures of New York. Restlessly, we do the fare of tourists, taking pictures, and commenting on beauty, before resolutely stepping away into the solace of central park.
The Green Heart of New York flows to a slow tempo, a smooth promenade compared to the quick Roomba that the rest of NYC skitters to; it has no room for the bewildered tourist, nor an oblivious one. The park rambles into a beautiful field, the trees bordering it waking from slumber of winter in an unpredictable bloom. Midday is in its full extent when we exit the thick canopy of the park and are washed by warm sunlight. The grey excellence of New York steeps in the golden light, welcoming it through tinted windows and the glittering eyes of dogs out on a stroll through the city.
Left dark, however are the grizzled souls of those living on the streets and ground level, painfully aware of their place far below the glittering shoes of executives in luxurious penthouses. They lean against the walls of building for support, and plead for crumpled bills from the crevices of passerby’s pockets. Some are veterans who are unable to shake the memories of fallen brothers. Many are victims of the recession, unable to pay rent after losing their jobs and investments. All struggle to overcome employers unwilling to give jobs to the homeless. As we explore the streets of New York, the one constant remains the sullen faces of the homeless on the street, struggling to maintain dignity in a country where the people who have no home are considered second rate citizens.
High above New York, on the eighty-sixth story of the Empire State building, however, those thoughts are muddled by our fear and excitement as we peer down past our tennis shoes to the pavement, cracked asphalt, and colorful taxis. This is the New York glorified by poems and photographs that claim that New York is the heart of the American dream, a city where merit, not status decides success. It is what I hope to see when I visit the city that never sleeps again.
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