In the early, heady days of homeschooling, when the freedom to go wherever we wanted to go on a weekday was still a new concept, I packed up my “New York bag” (sandwiches, water bottle, hand cleaner, snacks, and extra cash) and hopped on the train with my daughter.
About an hour later, we were in Penn Station, walking toward the 7th Avenue exit, climbing the stairs up to the street, where the city hits you like a burst of smoky perfume. We entered the sidewalk the way you join the circling skaters at a roller rink, picking up their speed and hanging on to it, for fear of falling back and being trampled.
We began to look up, at the billboards, at the blinking lights, at the skyscrapers, and at the skyscraper: the Empire State Building. We walked the few blocks to our destination: Macy’s. I explained that this was the Macy’s — the one in the movie Miracle on 34th Street (the original version, with the utterly lovable Natalie Wood). I pointed out that we were indeed on 34th Street.
And then we entered the store. But how can anyone call it a store? The CVS down the block is a store; the Macy’s on 34th Street is a palace, a museum, an art gallery — anything but a store.
We walked through the impossibly chic cosmetics department, smelling every flower scent in the world. We found what we were looking for — the escalator — and we took that step you can’t do over. You just have to hope that you land on one of the moving platforms, and we did land on one. We began to climb.
We got off on every floor. We giggled at how many floors there were (nine, I think). We looked open-mouthed at the collections of brightly colored non-essentials on each floor. We marveled at how the escalator changed at some point — from a newer-style metal one to a more old-fashioned wooden one. We loved the wooden escalator. It seemed a sacred thing.
After we had been to every floor, we took the escalator back down, all the way down, and we reversed our steps. We went down the stairs from 7th Avenue back into Penn Station and took a train home.
We still do things like that. Whenever we want to. We still pack our bag for places. We still giggle and look open-mouthed at things. We’re still just riding escalators, seeing where they take us. It’s a good life.