Incident on a Cross-town Bus (en route to Macy’s)

In two short months, Lifelongnewyorker will mark seven years living in Alabama.  Despite this tenure in the warmer and redder regions of the country, Lifelongnewyorker holds to her name.  The city is the city is the city and, though changes will be noted, it will never be alien.

Except for the incident on the cross-town bus.

Because I’m older, richer and busier than when I was younger, I take cabs in New York now, especially to get cross town.  I also walk when properly shod, and continue to take the subway when it makes the most sense.  It made the most sense last night when I bought a $10 Metrocard and took the 4 express to Crown Heights to have dinner with the Abandoned One.  It was nice to note a few improvements in city life: illuminated, easy-to-read street signs in midtown.  Signage on the subway letting you know how long before your train arrived.  And it was nice to see that some things don’t change, like how easy it is to not swipe the card properly.

This morning I left my hotel on Park just south of Grand Central and walked in the crisp autumnal air to the event I was attending at Baruch College, on 24th & Lex.  Originally I was planning to return home tomorrow but I have to take a train to D.C. instead to participate in a press conference on Friday.  I packed enough to tide me over, but I packed my “casual nonprofit/academic” garb, not business wear.  I know enough though about DC to know I would really need a suit or a dress and jacket.

So I hatched a plan: In the two hours between my morning event and my next afternoon call, I would use the remaining dollars on my Metrocard to grab a crosstown bus to 6th Avenue, then transfer to an uptown bus, hit Macy’s, get a suit and return to my hotel with time to spare.

What could go wrong?

I find the bus stop at 23rd and Lex and soon enough spy a bus heading westbound.  I do notice that it’s a “select” bus, and wonder what exactly that means, but dismiss the thought.  The bus stops, I get on, I put my card in the card reader and move the the back. But I don’t get far, because the bus driver is calling me.  “Ma’am.  Ma’am.  You can’t use the card on this bus.”

What?  I’m confused and, worse, I feel like a tourist.  He says something about needing to pay in a machine, and having a receipt and that I need to get off or I will get a $150 fine.  Have I been gone that long?  Is this what happens in Trump’s America?

I do what I’ve learned to do in the South: Be polite, charming and confused. ” Oh, my,” I say, “have I been gone that long?”  It turns out that this is a special kind of bus on busy routes where onboarding is speeded up by having people swipe their card before they get on the bus.  He points out the blue machines.  That’s where you pay, he said, and you get a receipt — one that looks like any receipt you’d get anywhere — and flash that at him while you board.  Bonus: You can board front AND back.  Then — and here’s the tricky part — you’re supposed to be ready to flash it when you leave to some kind of inspector who, if you don’t have it, will slap you with a $150 summons.

My bewildered display of charm melted the driver’s heart.  “Okay,” he said, finally. “Stay on and, if they stop you, tell him I’ll be your witness.”  Alrighty.

So I get to Macy’s.  It’s already decorated for Christmas and it’s overheated and really crowded.  Not the right conditions to get in and out.  I take the escalator and not that this is not the Macy’s I’m used to.  The Herald Square Macy’s clearly has its eyes on tourists with Euros and other currencies to burn.  On the second floor, there are little boutiques for very expensive shoes — you know, the ones with the red soles and the pricetags north of $700.   Several of these suites exist, tucked like chapels into the sides of the cathedral of commerce.  Around me are shoppers, spending money, browsing the really  pricey stuff and the sales racks.  For a week now, I’ve been acutely aware of the impact of the election on people.  They’re sad, close to tear, shellshocked.  Or, they’re normal looking people I pass on a hiking trail or sit next to on the plane, and I wonder, “Are they Trump voters or not?”   Here those thoughts hold no sway.

And yet.  And yet, it never really goes away.  I arrive on the 5th floor and, before heading to the suits, move toward racks of dresses that look tailored and businessy, the kind of thing you could wear under a suit jacket for a press conference.  I see one that interests me and reach my hand out towards the hanger to get a closer look.  My eyes fall on the label: Ivanka Trump.  Instantly, I pull my hand back as if from a hot stove, and a slight gasp escapes my throat.  I look around to see if anyone noticed, and wonder if the sales people see this all the time.

So, off to the suits, to find a second, sadder reminder of the unexpected.  I find racks and racks of what can only be described as “Hillary” suits.  Long tunic-y coats, designed for generous coverage over the hips.  In teal and burgundy and green, white and black.  Some are jackets, some are sleeveless.  But there is no doubt that style mavens and Macy’s buyers thought they were going to be the new thing,  like Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat.

I bought a suit skirt and contrasting jacket.  It will read “suit” and I’ll be able to use it again.  I did not buy pants, or a pantsuit.  I did not go for the tunic jacket.  I did not choose teal or purple or blue or burgundy.  I chose black, which matched my mood.

 

 

 

“Have a good day” southern style

Lifelongnewyorker found herself third in line for the cashier at the local CVS store this morning, a Saturday. Waiting in line at any store is rare in Montgomery; this wait took even longer than usual because the first customer, an elderly white man, was having a hard time finding his discount card.

The woman at the counter was courteous, friendly and helpful.  Unlike the CVS in Staten Island, few of the service people here are teenagers who perhaps missed the customer service orientation when they started the job.  As she drew the lengthy receipt from the cash register, the clerk pointed out to the gentleman that he had a $4 coupon for vitamins, and that he’d need to use it by Nov. 21. 

He  thanked her and gathered his bag.  As he left, she said, “Enjoy your football!”

“Roll Tide!” he responded, and left.

The next customer, an African-American woman who looked to be in her mid-60s, had only a few items.  They chatted a bit about the weather, and as the transaction wound up the clerk said, “Enjoy your football!’

The woman smiled and said, “Oh, I’m basketball.”

“Well, enjoy your basketball, then!”

It was my turn next.  As I piled creams and cosmetics on the counter I felt obliged to explain that it was like fall cleaning: I needed to start paying attention to my skin.  She commiserated and we chatted as she looked up my CVS membership number. Finally, the moment came when she handed me my receipt.  Thank yous were exchanged.  I picked up my bag. A small void, but a definite void. 

“You’ve decided I’m not going to go home and watch football, haven’t you?” I asked.

“That’s right,” she said.  “I was just trying to decide what to say instead … Maybe enjoy your facial.”

“I will,” I said.

But I wonder how she knew?

Lifelongnewyorker Catches Up

Consider this a round-up of odds and ends from the uncharacteristically silent (of late) Lifelongnewyorker.

Weather.  Is delightful, thank you.  Today, October 24, it’s 81 degrees and dry.  I’m still hanging around in shorts and t-shirts, the windows are open and a delightful breeze stirs the white linen curtains.  I will enjoy what my mother called “good sleeping weather” later at the nighttime temps drop into the 50s.  Despite the evening chill, though, we’ve decided it’s still too soon to switch to our winter bedding.  Turns out we’re in a drought, which partially explains the unending series of bright summer days.  But the reality is hard to hate: since March, it’s been warm and pleasant.  Gorgeous spring, hot summer, and lovely fall.  Expecting a few days of winter at some point.

Diet.  We’ve already discussed the fact that fears of food deprivation in the South were wildly overstated.   The fine array of foods, coupled with car reliance, led Lifelongnewyorker to gain a few (more than five) pounds since arriving in Montgomery.  With the arrival of September, Lifelongnewyorker is proud to say, she started a diet and has now lost all of the weight that was added.  Mr. NYer has been most helpful, preparing diet-friendly lunches and dinners, and sacrificing his own nightly glasses of wine in solidarity, even though he doesn’t have to.  (Actually, the diet has been even more effective for him, which was not exactly a desired outcome).  The diet led to something that I haven’t experienced since 6th grade:

Going home for lunch.  One day last week, I realized I’d left my lunch in the refrigerator at home, so I got into my car, drove home, ate lunch at my kitchen table, visited for a while with the cats, read the mail, got back into the car, and arrived back at the office 45 minutes after I’d left.  Try that in NYC.

Cat intelligence.  Harpo, our older and friendly cat, had long been in the habit of taking “constitutionals” in our Staten Island backyard.  Mr. NYer would let him out and instruct him to stay in the yard.  After a certain period of time — usually 20 minutes or so — Harpo would wander away.  Mr. NYer would fetch him and bring him inside.  More than once, though, the cat slithered under the deck or wandered farther afield and couldn’t be found, and then I’d be enlisted in the effort to get him.  Simon, the younger cat, is skittish and fast.  We have never let him out.  When we moved into the Alabama house, Harpo had spent about a month in a second-floor apartment where going out was not a possibility.  Warned about the ferocity of the local flea population, we decided that Harpo was now going to be an exclusively indoor cat.  

Now, what you need to know is that the Island excursions turned him into a howling pest.  He would stand at the sliding screen door and cry to go out.  Frequently the cry worked, and Mr. NYer would let him go.  Here in Alabama, Harpo’s voice has been raised only in anticipation of food, or when he hauls one of his toys around.  He has never asked to go outside, and has never made any kind of dash when the French door to the patio is opened. 

Until Saturday, when somehow he dislodged the window screen while sunning himself on the sill.  I was roused from bed by Mr. NYer calling me urgently; by the time I emerged from the bedroom, he already had Harpo in arms, in the living room.  But Harpo had discovered that Alabama had an outside, too, just like Staten Island.  And he’s been standing at the French doors, howling, since then.

It’s safe to go out again.  Sort of weather-related, but we’ve been striking off exploring a bit again.  Last weekend, we went to the Kentuck Folk Art festival in Northport, just across a river from Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama.  We decided to avoid Saturday, the day of the Alabama game (Roll Tide!), because filling a stadium with 102,000 people leads to a certain amount of traffic.  The festival was great, with a combination of artisans (pottery, textile, jewelry, etc) and real, honest-to-goodness folk artists who often worked with found and discarded objects.  Music played from one of two stages, and it was good.  Every aging hippie, young hipster, and countercultural person in Alabama was there.  It was  a great vibe, and we bought a nice pottery vase, a pottery earring bowl, and some jewelry. 

Inspired, we took at chance at a closer-in craft fair in Prattville, the next town.  This time the entertainment was provided by a succession of dancing school troupes — one set of little girls in costume after another.  There were hula skirts, bumble bees, lady bugs, princesses.  We were astonished that Prattville had such a concentration of children to maintain this unending supply of dancers.  No boys.  They were all at peewee football practice. 

We didn’t stay too long.  Although there were a few wonderful quilters and one potter, most of the crafts were homemade and followed one of two themes: religion or football.  Seriously, I had no idea the Christian cross could be affixed to so many objects, including folk-art rustic birdhouses.  Nor that there were so many ways to wear or display your allegiance to Auburn football (Go Tigers!).

We stopped in the center of Prattville, a tidy and well maintained downtown.  The Autauga Creek runs next to Main Street, and nineteenth century mills sit just north of the downtown area.  Strolling along the beflowered Creekside walk, we saw a father and son fly-fishing in a rocky part.  Upstream just a bit was a dam with water pouring over.  Very picturesque. 

Meanwhile, an antique store/cafe beckoned on Main St, and we wandered  its aisles for a while.  Leaving, we peeked into the windows of the Red Arrow hardware store, a going concern that outdid the antique store for old-timey curiosities.  This hardware store looks like it hasn’t been in any way since perhaps 1945.  Wood floors, deep and dark, and inventory that, well, it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to restock it anytime soon.

Yes, there were modern things for sale, including an open rack with guns (“Do not handle guns”), garden hoses, screws and nails and paints.  But there was also a huge selection of cast iron cookware, galvanized steel tubs, porcelain-on-metal basins (my mother’s favorite for all sorts of chores, including washing of babies), and crockery.  Crockery like you’d put moonshine in.  There were butter  churns.  Farther along, there were replacement glass tops for coffee pots, as in stove top percolators.  Remember those?  Then there were flyswatters with whippable metal handles, not plastic.  You could buy a brand new Radio Flyer wagon, or a brand new metal Radio Flyer tricycle, just like the kind I had as a kid.  I wanted a jug, a wagon, a stove top percolator … but we left just happy to have stumbled into this place out of time.

Culture Shock

It’s what everyone says when they learn that Lifelongnewyorker has moved to Montgomery after a lifetime in the Big Apple.

“Wow, talk about culture shock.”

Maybe if I’d been striding purposefully through the streets of midtown after lunching at Le Cirque and suddenly found myself on Fairview Avenue in Cloverdale on my way into Sinclair’s I might suffer shock and awe, but mostly it’s America down here.  People talk about the weather, which is too cold;  they discuss Big Love and American Idol; they like food.

So, my answer has generally been “No, not really, not too much shock.”

Until last night, that is, when Mr. NYer and I walked into the Home Depot from an Alternate Universe.

From the outside, it looked like any Home Depot, perhaps a little neater and cleaner, with a fresh delivery of carts.  We’d gone there after dinner to check out some light fixtures and appliances.  Entering, I spotted some patio furniture and headed over to look at it.  A young man, clad in signature Home Depot apron, stood nearby stocking some items.  He approached us.

“How are you folks?  Anything I can help you with?”

I don’t know whether people often stare at him as if he’d just stepped out of the Black Lagoon, but Mr. NYer and I were struck dumb by the mere fact of being approached by a Home Depot associate and asked such a question.  In Staten Island, one finds few carts and fewer workers.  To locate someone who can actually help you involves a recon mission that takes you through half the store.  When an associate has been found and brought to ground, he or she, it usually turns out, does not work in that department.

After a few moments, we regained our senses and told him we were just looking.  “Well, you just let me know if there’s anything I can do for you,” he replied.  Nicely.

From the patio furniture we wandered to the lighting aisles and then to the appliances.  Along the way they appeared, like pod people:  one friendly Home Depot associate after another, all eager to say hello and help us in any way they possibly could.  After telling the sixth one that we were “just looking,” — my mother’s code for “leave us alone,” — I succumbed and began asking questions of the appliance guy.

He volunteered that tonight was not a good time to buy.  “Come back tomorrow,” he said, “when all the Energy Star appliances are 10 percent off.”   The sale, he added would last for a week.

Lest you think that perhaps the Home Depot employees have been subjected to some kind of cultish on-the-job training regimen, there’s more.  Now that he’s here — and retired — Mr. NYer has taken on a long list of local errands like arranging for insurance, visiting the mortgage company, and going to motor vehicles.  At home I’m finding lists, in unknown but legible handwriting, of doctors, dentists, restaurants and mechanics.  Everywhere he goes, it seems, people want to help him find his way.

“Just let me write down a few recommendations for you … and call me if there’s anything you need to know,” they offer.

Wow.  Talk about culture shock.