Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This Is 'New' York Now

The uniformed man with a clam chowdah accent said to me, "welcome to America", and it struck me as a very odd salutation. I was, after all, still in Halifax, though by the letter of the law, I wasn't. America is everywhere.

Last Wednesday I was dropped off at the Halifax International Airport. My ticket indicated a direct flight from Halifax (YZH) to New York's LaGuardia (LGA). After wrestling unsuccessfully with the automated ticketing kiosk, in the manner that plagues me when I try the Superstore's self checkout, I lined up for fifteen minutes to speak to a real live breathing and pooping agent. He was friendly, despite toiling on Air Canada's behalf, and managed to get my ticket printed. I was told to drop my luggage off at the security scanner and when it was confirmed that I had no bombs, oranges or beef jerky in my checked bag, I was told to go through U.S. Customs.

Clearing U.S. customs in the Halifax airport, instead of upon arrival in New York, was a blessing. It was fast, efficient and friendly. This is where I was welcomed to America. Legally, the departure lounge is considered American soil and if I was to survive in this place, I damn well better behave like an American. That said, I ordered some apple pie and washed it down with a Bud Light, then dropped to my smirking knees and thanked god for blessing America more than other countries.

As mentioned in a previous blog, my flight into New York City included a scenic fly-by of Manhattan. I pressed my nose up against the window and craned my head and neck downward. On the southern tip of Manhattan, near the financial district and Wall Street, I could see where the World Trade Center and its twin towers once cast long shadows. The sight of this site always gives me a reflective pause. In March of 2001, I was admiring the view from the 107th floor observation deck of the south tower. I shared this view of New York City with my nine year old son. Six months later, the building would be gone along with over 2603 people, many of them just like my son and me.

I rarely think of the atrocities of 9/11 anymore, except when I'm in New York City. Eight years later there's still a gaping hole where the towers once stood. It's symbolic because America lost something on that day that can never be replaced. Not just America, the world lost something. We became less innocent, or at the very least, less ignorant. The world changed. We no longer marvelled at the view of, or from, the twin towers. We simply asked 'why'. Indeed, why?

If there's one thing that I've noticed while walking all over New York City, it's that this city is not representative of white America, neither is it black America. It's not even America, really. I've heard every language imaginable spoken here. I've walked past statues of Polish kings, and stared skyward at Egyptian obelisks. I've seen burkas, turbans, yarmulkes, fedoras, ball caps, scarves and wigs. My diet, both gastronomic and visual, has been globally flavoured. Sushi and shawarma. Croissants and curries. Men and women...black, white and sand.

New York City is a melting pot of everything, everywhere, everyone. Al Queda's attack on New York City bluntly made it's point but, when I walk around this city, I can't help but feel that Osama bin Laden spit into the wind, and now he and those of his ilk, wear it on their faces. The rest of us have moved on.

Yesterday I witnessed a man, clad in traditional Islamic clothing, feeding Skittles to his hijab wearing daughters. Case closed. Welcome to America!

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