The last time I visited New York City, it was for my ex-brother-in-law’s winter wedding. The bride was from White Plains and had a master’s degree from Columbia. Her childhood bedroom was bigger than the first floor of my home and was largely covered by a collection of pricey porcelain dolls. In short, her parents were loaded and the wedding was an elegant and expensive affair. Most notably, it was an occasion that required, in true New York fashion, a dress that risked as much skin as possible to the frigid temperatures. You know the saying, “It’s not a wedding in the North until someone loses digits to frost-bite.”

The following day, the visiting family, free from wedding-related activities and formal and climate-inappropriate attire, bundled up and eagerly headed into the city to sight-see. My only memory of sight-seeing from the day is donning my heaviest, knee-length winter coat, standing atop the Empire State Building and wishing I were anywhere else. My back to a gusty winter wind, I held onto the border rails for stability, sure I would be blown off the top if I let go. As cold pierced through my ineffectual coat, mittens and scarf-wrapped ears, I wondered how anyone tolerated such bitter winters voluntarily. After returning immediately to the car and blasting the heat at the highest fan setting for the next two hours, I spent the entire ride back to Baltimore scraping the frost-bite off the dead, blackened tip of my nose, and encouraging circulation in my extremities. At that point I made an observation that I henceforth adopted as a personal rule…”New York is a summer destination, or it’s not a destination at all.”

This visit was considerably different from all my previous visits. For starters, it a lovely, hot summer day and it wasn’t raining. (Abide by intelligent rules.) Secondly, instead of exhausting myself by spending fully half my tourist time retracing steps after heading off in the wrong direction, as on every one of my previous visits to New York, I enjoyed the benefits of touring with a reincarnated homing pigeon.

My husband has a combination of skills that make me wonder about his somewhat murky history before moving to Charlotte. The fact is, no one could have such refined orientation abilities without military training or an illicit past. Vacation after vacation we’ll emerge from a subway station onto an unknown street and my husband will point, “This way” as if a needle in his brain always leads him to Magnetic North. There’s more though and his ability runs deeper than just having an internal compass. He is able to memorize entire city maps, remembering the order of streets and whether they run north/south, east/west or in some crooked fashion snaking around monuments or natural features. Sometimes he looks up to the sky, perhaps to a Mother Ship, and says something odd like, “The car is 10 degrees that way at a positive elevation of 10 feet.” He can tell where the sun is even when it’s obscured behind a layer of clouds. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I am. Each time he mutters words about degrees and elevation and uses stars to navigate, I am amazed. I bet he would know where to find the underground utilities if the need arose (and somehow I suspect that at some point, it has).

Without a doubt, I am convinced that he spent some significant portion of his past eluding authorities and/or snipers and the reason he enjoys watching “Bourne Identity” so much is because he identifies with it personally.

So, there we were in New York with no need for maps or GPS devices. I walked where my husband lead, to each of the tourist sites on our mental list. We walked along Fifth Avenue, did a quick pass through FAO Schwarz and the Apple store, peeked briefly inside St. Paul’s Cathedral, strolled through Times Square, trekked up the steps inside the New York Library, then down (and had our backpacks checked no less than thirty-six times), and enjoyed the lovely scenery in a jaunt through Central Park. Lunch was a sandwich of prehistoric proportions after a long, sweaty walk to Carnegie Deli. (The blocks running east/west are much longer than those running north/south.) We finished our day at the Rockefeller Center. Just south of Central Park, it sits centrally between the lower Manhattan business district and the upper (Northern) residential district. Thus situated, three levels at the top of “The Rock” afford visitors a magnificent view of the island in all directions, abetted for us, by a day of clear, blue skies that extended the normal range of visibility.

Even the residents are different than I remember from many visits as a young adult. No one attempted to steal my camera, injure, or urinate on me. In Central Park, a woman set aside her bicycle, offering to take our picture. Then she chatted amiably with us, suggesting tourist spots and answering my many questions about her life as a New Yorker. Later in the day, weary with aching, blistered feet, my face betrayed confusion as I pondered the answer to my husband’s question, “Should we hoof it or take the subway back to the car?” (My husband, of course, had previously memorized each line of the subway and all their access points, in order.) A passing New Yorker stopped to ask if we needed help or directions and then insisted on leading us directly to our subway stop.

I asked both of these warm people if they were native New Yorkers, assuming from my previous experiences in New York and with Ys fans all over that all New Yorkers were forced by court order to be impolite, gruff, crude, and yell loudly and unpredictably over insignificant things. In fact, my mother was partly right about assumptions, the part that “they make an ass out of me.” Both of these kind people were New Yorkers from birth and easily mistakable as residents from a city with a friendlier reputation. Turns out New Yorkers are the new Southerners, except with an appreciation for good public transportation.

I don’t envy the cost of living or housing in New York, or small condo closets, but I do envy the transportation system (which all American cities should model) and I would love to have their choices of events and arts. Mostly, I’d like the figure and health benefits gained from living in a pedestrian-friendly city.

The pigeon returned us to the car and we started our journey to Cooperstown…

Pictures of the excursion can be found here.