The penguins marched on a perfectly iced road. Glaciers drifted along the murky seas. Hills of powdered snow soothed the bleeding heart. Wait, why is there a deli in the middle of Antarctica? “Oh, it’s not Antarctica, but New York in the winter.”
Like any good New York winter, it obviously snowed. The sound of shovels hitting concrete was surprisingly nostalgic. Salt dusted the sidewalk. Twinkling lights adorned the tiny shops of East Ninth Street with its funky vintage clothing and knick-knack empires.
Naturally, I viewed the serene falling snow from the comfort of a warm coffee shop. Although, I had many New York winters under my belt, there was a phenomenon, which didn’t yet contaminate my happiness. While drifting between coffee shop and bus stop, I fantasized about my hometown.
Across the Rocky Mountains, orange-hued plains, and tan desert sands is Riverside, California. It’s a historic suburb, sixty-five miles east of Los Angeles. Unlike most sleepy suburbs with bland homes, chain stores, and homogenous faces, Riverside was weird, in the tradition of Portland or Austin.
There was a surprising counter culture, which frequented the cozy coffee shops of Downtown Riverside. Gay friendly churches, a sizable live music scene, quirky antique shops, mom and pop restaurants, street lined with Sycamore trees, unexpected graffiti art gave and a multi-cultural population gave the leafy Suburb, an unexpected edge.
Of course, there were country clubs, a fabulous mall, old Victorian homes and mini vans, which reminded us, “Oh, yes, it’s not quite Brooklyn.” Alongside rolling hills was my childhood home.
My father still lived in the same house. I missed him, terribly. Since it was just the two of us, we reveled in our time together. We always ate dinner together on an old wooden table. It was a marvel, which symbolized wonderful memories and scrumptious meals.
The downfall of Riverside was it distance, over two thousand miles from New York City. Back in Manhattan, the temperatures dipped below zero. I daydreamed of my house, the smell of an old fireplace, and family.
Bravely, I took my evening walk. While the cold winds penetrated through my pea coat, I felt aloof from the world.
The sidewalks were crowded. In typical New York fashion, everyone was in a rush, but it didn’t deter me from aloofness. In a sense, I was viewing life from my own private planet. For the first time in years, I was homesick.
In the grand tradition of being homesick, I moped around. I was hopeful that a walk around the East Village, it didn’t. However, the loneliness stuck like a snow bank to a frozen sidewalk.
Steam rolled off Second Avenue. Sirens shattered eardrums. I played peek-a-boo with the Chrysler Building. On a typical Saturday afternoon, I headed to the Odessa. It was a distinctly old school Polish diner.
I thoroughly enjoyed the elderly New York population, which frequented the grease spoon. There was an older lady, who always sat opposite me. She was as a tough as nails, native New Yorker. We often had small talk whenever, I’d visit. We’d complain about everything. Therefore, we bonded.
One afternoon, I just sat silent. Staring out the window at a buzzing Avenue A, I tried to enjoy my surroundings. After finishing lunch, I paid my bill and said, bye to my dinner friend.
“You don’t have to eat lunch alone. Next time, come sit at my table, we’ll eat together,” she said, while cracking her coconut shell. I smiled, “I would love that, thanks. See you next week,” I replied.
I left the diner feeling a little less alone. Still feeling homesick, I went to the Strand bookshop. Retail therapy proved quite effective. Walking crosstown toward the Seventh Avenue subway line (with my yellow Strand shopping bag), a strange feeling sent electricity through my brain
“Oh, I feel at home,” said I, giving a stunned facial expression. “That’s right, New York has been home for years. Even though, it’s loud, crowded, claustrophobic, dirty, critter ridden and infested by juice bars, the city will always be my home. Being a brave penguin, I marched on.
Afterwards, I eventually traveled to Riverside. Thanks to Google maps, I felt at home without leaving the East. The Only thing missing was a hug from my dad and an amazing burrito, cha, cha, cha.