Reminisce: A Trip to New York, an Unclaimed Bag. Times Have Changed.
A Trip to New York After 9/11 Reveals How Much That City Has Changed
For need of a concrete example in the change in the city of New York’s environs, attitudes and appearance, nothing makes the case more handily than my experience with my sister and the bag.
Though make no mistake, I was wary about the day trip to New York to attend a play as part of her late-life matriculation requirements. All aspects of the trip, from the four hour bus ride to the theater tickets were handled by my sister’s college. It was, by all appearances, a most ordinary sort of day visit, the kind planned and executed by the thousands every day.
It’d been over twenty years since I’d last visited New York and my memory of the trip was not a pleasant one. Times Square, for example, at the time of my prior visit, was a seedy area, populated with sex stores and peopled by many prostitutes. And while New Yorkers have always been known for a churlishness, if not downright hostility, my prior experience in interacting with the locals was extreme even by churlish standards.
I was with my boyfriend of the era and during one brave foray into the streets we were exasperated by a panhandler who wouldn’t take “NO” for an answer and proceeded to follow us for several blocks. We approached a police officer for assistance, pointing to the human of our turmoil and explaining the un-nerving stalking by same.
“What do you want me to do about it?” was the response of this New York City Keeper of the Peace.
When we consulted a subway ticket taker for more detailed route instructions, he responded, churlishly, “Are you writing a book?”
A prostitute, loping along on impossibly high heels that caused us giggles, turned and confronted us menacingly. “What the hell are you looking at?”
Still, I figured, a school trip. It would likely be well-arranged and designed to shield us from these sorts of incidents.
“The theater is in Times Square,” my sister told me. Images of nasty prostitutes, peep show stores, unhelpful police officers and determined panhandlers popped into my head. She was so excited about the trip, however, that I kept my doubts to myself.
Adding to the dread of my twenty year old experiences in The Big Apple was my concern about security. It’d been a scant two years since some terrorists took control of American airplanes and rammed them into the World Trade Center. Since September 11 there had been countless terror warnings, all that included New York City.
My sister and I chatted happily during the entire trip from Delaware to New York. Upon arrival I braced myself for the disappointment in my sister’s eyes as she witnessed the mess that was New York City.
We disembarked one block from the theater. My eyes grew big and round and my mouth grew speechless. For a magnificent city unfolded before me. Broadway, Times Square, 5th Avenue were all around. Times Square itself was the scene of huge, bustling crowds, street vendors, trendy boutiques, handsome theaters and tall buildings that defied the ozone layer. Unabashedly American, state-of-the-art billboards shouted product brand names, displayed stock market tickers and showed newscasts in progress.
We had a few hours before the beginning of the play thus sister and I decided to explore. Every street was bustling with people, visitors, natives, independent street entrepreneurs. All, to my complete surprise, orderly and well-behaved. Several times we lost our way and approached the nearest police officer for assistance. Which there were plenty, I noted. Every one was nothing but polite and helpful.
My sister and I gleefully explored the streets of New York City, all on foot and all mesmerizing. “What a grand city,” I told my sister.
It was in front of the CNN studio where I spotted the bag. It was a gift bag, one of those affairs meant to eliminate the bother of wrapping. I wasn’t sure of the decoration on the bag but by the red-corded handles and stature of the bag, I knew it was a gaily decorated container meant to hold gift treasures, ideally hidden by brightly colored tissue paper. I peered inside and saw some “stuff” but I couldn’t positively identify any individual item. The most obvious detail about the bag was how it sat alone and untended on the busy street of Broadway.
I sidled toward the bag. There was no larceny in my heart but after casual and guarded observation lasting a full five minutes I was sure the bag had been hastily forgotten, left, most likely, by a busy tourist.
“This bag,” I said to my sister in a conspiratorial whisper, tapping the bag surreptitiously with my toe, “seems to have been left here.” My sister followed the tapping of my shoe and saw the bag, alone, forlorn, obviously once owned by somebody.
“Don’t,” my sister said simply. For a minute I didn’t know what she “don’t” wanted me to do. In fact, I had no plan at all as concerned the bag and was looking for suggestions.
“Obviously someone left it here,” I said to my sister. We both scanned the surround. Hundreds of people bustled by, CNN was showing the nightly newscast on a wide-screened electronic billboard, police officers strolled the sidewalks and streets. No one showed any interest in the bag.
“Maybe whoever owns it will come back for it,” my sister offered. I cast my eyes again at the many people all about and pondered anyone so stupid to think that a return trip to retrieve the forgotten bag would yield any bag at all. Perhaps if they were close by, my eyes told my sister. We waited fifteen minutes. Not necessarily for the retrieval of the bag but for attending to our tourist duties. I remained close by the bag but my hands never touched it.
“If you give it to a police officer who’s to say that the owners will know where to go to retrieve it?” my sister said. My thought exactly. It wasn’t as if there was a Lost and Found kiosk on every New York City corner. With bus boarding time almost upon a decision on the bag had to be made soon. By then my inclination was to take the bag for myself.
“If I don’t take it somebody else will,” I told my sister’s furrowed brows. “Since I spotted it first it should rightfully be mine.” The furrows on my sister’s forehead deepened.
“Don’t,” the brows said.
“Okay, let’s go,” I finally said, exasperated by the scolding brows.
“You’re going to leave it?” my sister said, with her mouth.
“Yes I’m going to leave it. I’m tired of arguing with your eyebrows,” I said, then hefted my own packages in preparation for the hike back to the bus. I left the bag where it stood.
The incident has become a form of folk lore in our family. For we did, indeed, depart from New York City and left the bag behind. I chide my sister that there may have been untold treasures in the bag, treasures claimed by someone else and probably not the original owner.
Likely the bag held such as postcards and tourist notions. More important, the arguably joint decision of my sister and me to leave the bag speaks more to the change in tone of The Big Apple than any value associated with the unclaimed parcel. My sister’s eyebrows told a compelling story of harmony, offered a hope that we would not take that which was not ours, described an atmosphere of genial humanity, lamented the poor tourist schlup who left his souvenir bag behind. The New York City of my twenty year old memory would never have inspired such eyebrow morals.
It is truly a magnificent city, made more magnificent by the manner in which it plowed on despite a horrific terrorist attack.
If you don’t believe me, travel down to the front of the CNN building. That bag might still be there.