More than 30 years ago, I dated a woman who once casually said, "Oh, whenever I go to New York, I lose touch with reality." I believed it then, and I believe it now. The reality of the city is hard to grasp. Even standing on the 102nd floor observation platform of the Empire State Building at midnight, with the awesomeness of New York spread out below, it's impossible to begin to grasp.
The place is a concentration of dreams. Both physicists and social scientists talk about "critical masses" necessary to make certain things happen. The sheer concentration of people - one of the densest concentrations on the planet - produces many critical masses.
It is a place of sheer contradictions. The streets are mean and tough, but the music is beautiful and the art is unrivaled. The most regulated, socialist city in the country is the heart of capitalism for the world. The most Democratic city has a Republican mayor. The most crowded city is the place where people can feel most alone.
And it works its magic. The choir could have sung anywhere - in Atlanta or Los Angeles or Detroit. The Temple Theater in Saginaw has about as many seats as Carnegie Hall. The sound in the Mt. Pleasant High School Auditorium is almost as good.
But none of those places strike the same spark in the soul as the words "Carnegie Hall" and all that goes with that.
Reality is standing on that busy street in Astoria, Queens, at 7:30 on Monday morning, waiting for the M-60 bus to LaGuardia as the newspaper hawkers peddle the Daily News and A.M. New York, and everyone is cold and tired and not ready for Monday. Reality is noticing that the industrial parts of New York are just as battered as anywhere in Detroit. Reality is the screaming bag lady, the loose electrical plugs in the midtown hotel, the brokers, the geeks and the junkies.
Reality is the sheer extremes, the sheer range of everything, the exhilaration, the fatigue, the sense of living life to its fullest.
I fell asleep, overwhelmed, before the plane left the runway.