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Volume 4, Issue 78: The Ride
"You know, in Italy, they consider wine food."
Hey, the book’s out. If you haven’t bought it yet, you should. If you have, you should write a (hopefully positive!) review of it on Goodreads or Amazon or both. I hope those of you who have a copy are enjoying it. Also, bookplates are finally (and slowly) rolling their way out to some of you over the next month.
I lived in New York City for nearly 13 1/2 years, from January 2000 to June 2013, from the ages of 24 to 37, just about a formative a 13-year stretch of age as you could possibly imagine. (Fine, maybe five-to-18 is a more dramatic evolution. But boy howdy is a person different at 37 than they were at 24.) So much happened in my life during that time in New York City. I moved literally a dozen times, I had 15 different jobs, I met friends I’ll know when I’m in my 90s, I finally figured out the subway, I witnessed the worst terrorist attack in American history, I got married, I became a parent, I started a website that gave me the career break I’d been waiting decades for, I began working for the magazine with the city as its name, I wrote five books, I got to meet Bob Gibson, I never did figure out how to grow a beard—lots happened in New York! Every time I’m back in New York, I feel both a little closer to and a little distant from that city that in many ways taught me who I was, that city that forced me to prove my mettle and earn my keep, that city that has changed (and will forever change) so much and yet I will reside deep in my bones for the rest of my life. I love New York City. It will never leave me.
But, until Tuesday afternoon, my Midwestern parents, along with hundreds of millions of people who have no connection to New York City and may even actively disliked the place, had done something in New York City that I never had: They had gone up to observation deck of the Empire State Building.
It is perfectly natural and human, when you live in a town with a big tourist attraction, to avoid that tourist attraction, and the area that surrounds it, as if it is quarantined. I have friends in Austin who clear the hell out of town with the South by Southwest hordes show up; most people I know who live in St. Louis have never been up in the Gateway Arch; I once told a friend in New Orleans that I was going to the French Quarter that night and she looked at me like I’d just shat on her rug. When the Super Bowl was played at MetLife Stadium a decade ago, most of my New York City non-sports-fan friends didn’t even notice because the NFL had all its Super Bowl Week shenanigans events in Times Square, which might as well be Boise, Idaho to your average Brooklynite. (I actually think Times Square has essentially turned into Florida since the pandemic, but that’s another essay.) It’s not only not cool to avoid the tourist traps when you live in a city, it’s actively healthy: Who in the world wants to be around tourists?
But it can lead to the bewildering sensation of having lived in a city for more than 13 years, to have it flowing through your bloodstream, to truly and profoundly love it … and not experience something that can only be experienced there—something that hundreds of millions of people know about it that you do not. I was so busy protecting my little corner of New York City—this is my city, only I know what makes this city great—that I missed big huge awesome things. Obvious things.
So now I’ve been atop the Empire State Building. And you know what? It was great.
This week, I took my nine-year-old son Wynn to New York City for three days. Wynn is not interested in sports like his older brother, so we didn’t waste time going to Yankees games or touring Madison Square Garden or taking him with me to an MLB Network hit. We just hit all the stuff that people hit when they go to New York City for the first time. We went up in the Empire State Building. We saw the new World Trade Center (which, because it was built my final year in NYC, I am cursed to forever call the “Freedom Tower”) and the 9/11 Reflecting Pool. We walked through Brooklyn Bridge Park. We saw a Broadway show. We went to the American Museum of Natural History. We ate at a fancy steak restaurant where the staff wore crisp clean white shirts and they played Sinatra over the loudspeakers and everyone called Wynn “Little Man.” We walked and walked and walked, all day, and then came back to the hotel and had a “nightcap” every evening while listening to live music in the lobby bar. We fit it everything you can fit in in three days, and maybe even a little bit more.
It did not resemble the New York City I became an adult in, where there was struggle and confusion and searches for dollar slices of pizza so I could pay my rent that month, where I fell in love and got my heart broken and drank too much and worried that I was never going to get to do any of the things I wanted to do, where I got my life together and I got to host parties on transcendent nights of American history, where I saw my son born and spent a terrified cab ride getting him back to our apartment when he was three days old. On this trip, New York was just a place where a nine-year-old could see things he’d never seen before, a big playland of New, a place where he could be introduced to a world he had no idea existed before and maybe, just maybe, open his mind to just how many opportunities this planet might have have for him.
It was a place where you could go up in one of the most famous buildings on Earth, and thus every time you saw that place the rest of your life, you could say you’ve been there. That place, that place where Cary Grant’s supposed to meet Deborah Kerr, that place that King Kong climbs, that place they show a shot of before every Knicks game, that place where Kermit the Frog screams to the universe that the frog is staying … you’ve been there. Remember when we were there, Wynn? It’s something that imprints on you, forever.
When I was younger, I reflexively rejected what most other people wanted to do, what was popular to do: I often found myself not wanting to do something simply because other people wanted to do it. I still have a little bit of this stubbornness, but you have to be careful about it as you get older: It can calcify into petrification, an immobility that makes you unable to change and experience the wonders of anything that might alter your worldview. There was a time when I would have mocked you for wanting to see the Empire State Building; I think I actually did this to my parents when they saw it back in 2003, I’m not going with you, I live in the real New York, that’s just for tourists like you, not New Yorkers like me. But this is no way to live.
I’m embarrassed I hadn’t been up in the Empire State Building before. It’s great! (I prefer it to going up in the new WTC, if just because at the Empire State Building, you’re actually outdoors.) And it made me want to see more, to do so many other things I’ve never done because I thought they were cliched, or too obvious, or too crowded. The Grand Canyon. Mount Rushmore. Yellowstone. I’d like to float down the canals of Venice, to visit the Pyramids, to stare at the Sistine Chapel, to maybe even climb Mount Fuji. I used to try to keep my world small, and it’s only now, later, that I realize how truly big, yet accessible, it is … how much of it I can see. I can tell you the best jukeboxes and booths and drink specials at every dive bar in countless New York neighborhoods from 2000-2013. But nobody cares that I’ve been there. They care if I’ve been to the Empire State Building. What’s it like up there? Does it look like it does in the movies? There’s a great big world out there. I’ve missed so much of it.
This summer, I put up a map in my son’s room. It’s this:
For every place in the United States that William has been, we put in a blue push-pin. For every place in the United States that Wynn has been, we put in a red one. And if they’ve both been there, gold. I want it to be spackled with gold, red and blue by the time they leave this house, in a way such a map in my house growing up never would have been. I want them to see the world, this beautiful insane country, and I want them to feel comfortable anywhere, that they always belong, wherever it is they go.
And mostly: I want them to have stories to tell. I want them to be able to say, “I’ve been there.” To have it imprinted on their brain. To have it be part of who they are.
We can get so closed off in this world, so caught up in our day-to-day toils and troubles. We can recoil from what is new and unfamiliar, to retreat into what is comfortable and simple. I want my boys to say yes to the world. I want to say yes more to it myself. I want to fill that map. I want to fill all of them. I want to say I’ve been there. Where? Everywhere.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
The Six Division Races, Post-All-Star Break, Ranked, MLB.com. Only the NL East is settled, really.
The USWNT Has Already Won, New York. I love me some World Cup.
Five Teams Who Might Break Out in 2024, MLB.com. My 2014 Cubs analogy.
Grierson & Leitch, no show this week, but we’ve got a huge show coming on Sunday.
Seeing Red, terrible NYC hotel wireless made it so I had to go solo this week.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week, taping next week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“The 11 Iron-Clad Reasons the USWNT Is Going to Win the World Cup,” David Hirshey and Roger Director, Soccer America. Nobody writes about soccer better than my friend David Hirshey. So far so good!
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers!
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Vampire Empire,” Big Thief. I’ve been raving about this song since I saw them play it in Atlanta on the last tour, and it’s finally out on Spotify. Sometimes Big Thief’s recordings are a little unnecessarily quirky, distracting from the song’s inherent power, and there’s a bit of that here. It’s still a terrific song and will absolutely knock you over live.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
See new stuff. Learn new things.
Have a great weekend, all.