I got off the plane, and the smell hit me in the face with the force of a Mike Tyson punch.
There was garlic there in large measure, and jet fuel – sure, it was an airport. There was an overlay of stale B.O. and car exhaust, and a hint of the ammonia tang of urine. Maybe a suggestion of curry, and something else spicy. You could have blindfolded me, put me in an airplane, flew me around for 8 hours, and then dropped me out of the plane with a parachute and I would have known where I was from the smell.
I was in New York.
I immediately got a big, goofy, steer-clear-of-this-crazy-person grin on my face.
My stomach was feeling a little queasy after the rocky flight, so I stood on line at a news stand to buy a twelve-dollar airport Coke to settle it. There were two clerks and two cash registers, and one long line of people. One of the clerks was putting I Heart NY t-shirts on to hangars, while the other one checked people out. The lady behind me started to get loud. She wasn’t yelling. She wasn’t rude or inappropriate. She was just loud. “Miss!” she said in a husky voice that commanded respect. “Miss! Hello, Miss! Are you checking people out? There’s a long line here. Miss? Miss?”
“Miss” looked up from her hanging task, and pointed to her register. The loud lady behind me, having earned her reward, trotted over to the newly opened register and bought her overpriced soda and Snickers bar. It didn’t occur to her to ask the six or so people on line in front of her if they wanted first shot at the new register. Why should she? She is the one who asked and got things moving. She’s the one who deserves the place at the front of the line. In New York, initiative gets you everywhere.
This NEVER would have happened south of the Mason-Dixon line, where I usually hang my hat. We would have all stood there, blessing people’s overworked, under-motivated hearts, maybe – but only maybe — stage-whispering to the person next to us something like, “I don’t understand why they don’t open up the other register?” in hopes of being overheard without seeming too aggressive or rude. Then, if we were successful, we would have all argued about how someone else should have the privilege of christening the newly opened opportunity. “No – you have fewer items.” “But you were here first.” “But you got her to open the line.”
My goofy “I smell NY!” grin morphed into something bigger and actual tears came to my eyes. I missed this place.
Home. I missed home.
I was in New York. I travelled there from Atlanta for my 30th high school reunion. I hadn’t lived in New York full time since 1988 when I left for college. Since my parents moved in 2005 or so, I don’t think I’ve been back a half dozen times. I’ve lived in the Atlanta area approximately three times longer than I lived in New York, but New York will forever be home, no matter how seldom I smell the air there.
My high school BFF picked me up at the airport and, after the requisite number of hugs and “So good to see yous” we headed to Long Beach, our home town. Along the way, everything looked remarkably the same. When we crossed the Atlantic Beach Bridge on to our little barrier island, I opened the window. I smelled salt and sand. We drove by the bagel
place where my Dad always got bagels on Saturday mornings before anyone else was up. We drove by the very same barber shop where my father got his hair cut in the same exact way for 60 some odd years. We drove by my old house and I took a picture hanging out of the window like paparazzi. Some of my mother’s plantings were still in the front yard. The maple tree was still there.
The town is a whole lot spiffier than when I lived there. It now has fancy hotels and fusion cuisine. Hurricane
Sandy did a number on some of the charming bungalows, which have been replaced with three story scaled-down mansions. But Gino’s is still there, home of the world’s most perfect pizza slice. You don’t need to adorn it with pepperoni or artichoke hearts or some nonsense to make it have flavor. The flavor is just there.
The constant ocean wind (I will NOT call it a breeze) whipped my hair around and reminded me how still it is inland where I live.
I went into a bakery to get black and white cookies and rainbow cookies to take home to my family. I went in to buy a half-dozen bagels to bring home as well. There’s something about the mineral content of Long Island water that makes all baked goods better. I wish I could take a picture of the way the inside of a NY bagel shop smells.
Back when I lived in Long Beach, there was a marketing campaign. On bumper stickers, t-shirts, and other beach-y paraphernalia was the phrase, “I’ve got Long Beach Sand in my Shoes.” My father always threatened to take a marker to these items and add, “And in my underpants.” The sand was everywhere, and after a while, you didn’t even notice it. Life was supposed to be gritty.
And, for a brief 48 hours of reunion-ing, my life was gritty. There was sand in my shoes and elsewhere, blown into every orifice by the ubiquitous wind, and I was happy. The town welcomed me back with everything it had to offer.
Whoever said you can’t go home again never went back to my home town.
If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori at her website, www.loriduffwrites.com , on Twitter, or on Facebook. Lori is a National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2018 Columnist winner, and a New Apple, Readers’ Favorite, and eLit award winner for her latest release, “You Know I Love You Because You’re Still Alive.” She is also the author of the bestselling books “Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza,” and “The Armadillo, the Pickaxe, and the Laundry Basket.”