Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday from the neighborhood
– Billy Joel, New York State of Mind
Not me. I’m more of a staycation kind of person, which like being an introvert, is an advantage during a global pandemic.
I’ve played tourist in New York City while living across the Hudson in Hoboken, N.J. How else would I have discovered gems like The Jewish Museum that had a Chagall exhibit at the time, and two other less well-known museums on the northern reaches of 5th Avenue? El Museo has a collection of Caribbean and Latinx artists you rarely see elsewhere, and you won’t do better than the Museum of the City of New York, for a dose of history and view of the diverse citizenry that make NYC unique. I had never been to Ellis Island before my NYC staycation, either, though my spouse’s mother passed through there as a 3-year-old arrival from Poland. As an immigrant myself, I found it intensely moving to stand at the foot of a towering exhibit of all the suitcases and trunks donated by other people who first laid eyes on this country from New York Harbor. If objects could talk, what stories these might tell!
A few years and another staycation ago, we rented an AirBnB guest house in nearby Flamingo Park (West Palm Beach) for a long weekend, partly to test if the walk score of 83 was accurate. Yes, but only in Downtown. The average for WPB is more like 43, though the public jitney makes many things nearer. From where we were situated, we had easy access to The Armory Arts Center and the new Grandview Public Market developing just across the railroad tracks, and to The Norton, where we are members of long-standing. Flamingo Park itself is filled with beautiful stucco homes, some of historic interest, and we enjoyed just walking and taking photographs. Of course, someone had put up a little free lending library by their walkway. The Antique Row was also an easy stroll for morning coffee and window shopping, and it wasn’t too much of a stretch to Flagler and the waterfront. (BTW, if you’re interested in walkability and how it raises the value of housing stock, you might want to check out this article from Strong Towns.)
Now that exercise, cooking and eating healthier have become even more central to well-being, I content myself with 2-3 visits a week to Grassy Waters Preserve and with a heightened attention to where I source our food. I have always enjoyed grocery shopping and after all these years here, remain in awe at the abundance available to the average American. But the new normal means making different choices. Not so much stocking up at Costco (though I like how they treat their employees), but shifting my business to smaller purveyors like the produce and Asian specialties spot near me, or its neighbor, a well-established organic supermarket. Neither is ever crowded at the times I choose to go, and both observant of CDC guidelines for masks and barriers. It maybe a while before I’m near real farmers markets with locally grown and raised offerings, let alone New York’s Chinatown, but small is ever beautiful.
As Joanie Mitchell sang, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,’ the months-long closing of Grassy Waters for repairs made me realize how important it was (and still is), to have a complete reset of pace, mood and mind throughout your day, however you manage it. As I step onto that boardwalk, I can feel my shoulders soften and my breath deepen. I’ll sniff the air like the animal I am, for a whiff of what other living things are out there (preferably not another of my species wearing cologne). I love knowing that, to the various inhabitants of this pristine wetlands (and fresh water source for West Palm Beach) — even the larger creatures like bobcats, deer or wild boar — I’m no big deal. I’m just a part of the scenery, of what goes on here: an alligator’s leisurely swim along one of the waterways; an anhinga warming its wings; a Moorhen couple; bright green lizards; the croaking of a bullfrog; and even, one day on a picnic, a shy little girl with her father, drawn to the sound of my daughter’s live harp music. Perhaps, it’s a shift in perspective worth cultivating for the long haul, even when vaccines have made the world safe again for hubris.
We usually do a couple of rounds on the boardwalk, then find an open tiki hut and rocking chairs to sit for a short meditation. The thatch overhead is fragrant. The reeds bend to the wind. It’s not escape I’m seeking so much as simply being still, because there is no getting away from the neighborhood of the here and now.