New York City—my plane just touched down. LaGuardia Airport is a nightmare.
I am here for the BookExpo America, the largest book fair in the U.S. Think: Disneyland for people with big vocabularies.
I have only visited this city once before. I was a teenager, traveling with the church choir.
I was such a nervous wreck I had a panic attack downtown. Dizziness, heart racing, the works. The choir director took me to a walk-in clinic and they gave me a sedative that made me drool on the subway ride back.
I come from simple people. My mother often told horror stories about such big cities. These urban legends were almost never true, but they freaked me out.
“Did you hear about my friend’s sister, Jeanne?” Mother might say. “Her brother’s cousin’s neighbor’s nephew was in New York for a wedding, someone shot him in the kneecaps when he was leaving church, then threw him into the Hudson River.”
Welcome to New York.
I hail a Yellow Cab. I am in the backseat. My driver is from Indonesia. He drives like he’s clinically insane.
He is telling me about himself, but I can’t focus on a word he says because—it’s important that you understand this—there is a lizard is in his backseat.
“Where are you from?” the driver asks.
“Why is there a lizard in my seat?” I say.
“You aren’t from New York, are you? Wanna know how I know that?”
“Can we please slow down?”
“Because you are not wearing all-black Ha!”
“I think your lizard is carsick.”
The cab spits me out onto 76,397th Street, and charges me six hundred dollars. Soon, I am wandering sidewalks, looking for my hotel.
I am lost. I can’t seem to find my way. My mother’s horror stories are coming back to me.
Like the one about the man in the public restroom, murdered by a serial killer who dressed as a priest.
Or the time my uncle got mugged in D.C. And after the robber discovered my uncle only had five bucks on him, he whooped my uncle again and told him to carry more cash next time.
On the street, I pass thousands of people in all-black clothing, everyone is in a hurry, almost nobody is looking ahead. They look downward at phones, texting, Snapchatting, Instagraming, Tweeting, filing income taxes, etc.
I ask a police officer for directions. He smiles at me. He says, “Hey, where’s that accent from?”
“Do they all talk like you down in Florida?”
“Just the ones who live in trailers.”
He guides me to my hotel with a series of hand gestures. But I can’t understand anything he says because he talks too fast.
“Be careful,” he finally tells me. “This is a crazy place.”
He’s right, I see a lot of crazy. On the way to the hotel, I pass a man painted green, riding a unicycle. And four hundred grade schoolers mob me at a crosswalk.
I nearly get run over by a pizza-delivery motorcycle. And I am approached by an old man who asks for quarters. I give him two bucks. Then he says, “Thanks brother, can you break a hundred?”
Finally, I arrive at my room, and my nerves are shot. Below me, are ambulances, police cars, and a million taxis. I see billboards, lights, and road construction. Sounds of jackhammers, foghorns, sirens. Is that gunfire?
I was not designed for a big city. I’m embarrassed to say that I have always wished I could be a world traveler, but I’m too chicken. And you can’t make yourself into something you aren’t.
Even so, I am older now, and I am not as afraid as when I was a teenager. And that’s progress. Sort of.
The truth is, I can’t believe that I am in this city at all. I almost don’t believe this is happening.
If you would have told me five years ago that I’d be here in the Big Apple as a bona fide author, I would have laughed at you and asked you to leave my trailer.
Before bed, I call my mother on the hotel phone.
“Guess where I am,” I say to her.
“New York City.”
She loses it. “Oh, honey! Really? I’m so proud of you. Are you nervous?”
And for a moment I am no longer anxious. I realize that I am a not the same kid who was afraid of the whole world, once upon a time. All of a sudden, I have forgotten the horror stories, and I feel easy again.
“I’m not nervous,” I tell my mother. “For once in my life, I think I’m okay.”
“Well, be careful,” my mother says, “my cousin Ginger’s neighbor knew a kid who got his throat cut by a cab driver that sold his organs on the black market.”
Wish me luck in New York.
Sandi in FL. - May 30, 2019 6:54 am
New York City is like another world compared to a small town. But it’s a fantastic place to people watch. Enjoy the book expo, Sean.
throughmyeyesusa - May 30, 2019 8:03 am
For once I don’t even know what to say. Never been, have no desire to go. (Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived in many large cities and been around the world from London to the Azores, Greece to Ephesus to Marrakech. I’ve lived all over this great country, seen most of the Caribbean and much of the South Pacific (You’d love it, Sean!) But NYC……..No, Thanks. (And they can keep their mayor home too!)
Hurry home safe!
Carolyn McCready - May 30, 2019 8:15 am
I can’t wait to see you at Book Expo! And I love this city – hoping you will begin to as well. ? You will find no lack of stories to tell about this crazy, wonderful place…!
Nell Thomas - May 30, 2019 9:03 am
Sometimes I get envious when I hear people telling about where they have been and where they are going. Then I tell myself: ” Dont think I would do well there or even getting there- best if I just stay around the house.
Sean- so glad that you got to go and the reason- you are a published author. Great accomplishment. Best always.
Jean - May 30, 2019 10:05 am
I have been to some far away places….and I have decided that home in the south is the best place. Good luck…Mr Fancy Author….you are going to conquer the world!
Nona Fox - May 30, 2019 10:22 am
These first comments comments are worse than your mothers. Really ! Wow !
I absolutely love New York. The cab rides . Fun. The people. Different. The food. Incredible. Soak it all in . I hope you go to a play while you’re there. What a wonderful experience. My husband and I have gone to several plays…but our all time favorite was a one man comedy. Billy Crystal in “Seven Hundred Sundays. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen or heard. I laughed the hardest I have ever laughed in my life . He made a book of it .
If I had your address I’d send you a copy. The title was named that Because that’s how long he had with his dad . He wrote the whole thing.
When I started reading your post today I got to laughing so hard it reminded me of that play . So go to a play! Take a ride though Central Park. Or even better go on a tour guided car tour and hear all of the wonderful history… and eat lunch at sacks 5 ave on 5th Ave . And last but not least the MET.
It is Free! You can pay — but don’t pay. They take donations but they are rich – so go free .it is something you don’t want to miss . It is the most unbelievable art in the whole world. The metropolitan museum of art. Unbelievable.
I grew up is a tiny town in Alabama. But this country girls loves NY . I appreciate all the things that are different except the price of everything .It is crazy. But for the short time you are there… . Soak it in . It will give you more to write about .
Enjoy the journey!
The cafe in Sacks is on the 8th floor. Ask for a window seat.
kathdedon - May 30, 2019 1:14 pm
Absolutely, YES to the MET! I can’t go to New York without paying a visit to the MET.
Naomi - May 30, 2019 11:12 am
Sean, my father was born in Poland but his family immigrated to NYC when he was a child so he grew up in NY. My mother was born in Russia but her family immigrated to the US when she was a child and she grew up in Birmingham, AL. She went to NYC to visit relatives and met my father there. They got married in 1940 and my father moved to Birmingham after their wedding; that’s where I was born. When I was older and married, my husband (who died of cancer in 1989) and I went to NY so that I could meet my family. They never came to the South. New Yorkers don’t like the South. Anyway, about 25 years ago, my NY aunt, who was my father’s younger sister, got in touch with my brother and me; I thought she had died. She actually came to Birmingham to get acquainted with us. My current husband and I went to Birmingham to meet her. After that first meeting, we went to NY quite frequently. She lived in Queens and she and I liked the same things–plays, museums, shopping, eating at kosher delis. You’re right; NY is like another country. They still don’t understand Southerners, especially the way we talk. Because of my father’s accent, I could understand the way they talked. My aunt would come South quite frequently to attend her nephews graduations and weddings. She even came to visit us. She liked Southern food, Southern fried everything–chicken, okra, potatoes. etc. We live on a farm outside Atlanta and when she was here for Thanksgiving one year, we had all of our family coming over. She got out her nice suit to wear for dinner but I told her that we didn’t dress up for Thanksgiving; we wore slacks because my daughter and her husband and their son were bringing their 4-wheeler. My grandson took her on a ride on his 4-wheeler on a trail my husband had cleared. The boys played touch football and we had a horse they could ride if they wanted to. She had never experienced a Thanksgiving like that in NY.
Joe Patterson - May 30, 2019 11:16 am
Thanks never been
Ginger - May 30, 2019 11:30 am
Love this one. From small town, USA, in this day and time, the very large department store that we all know and love (tongue in cheek), is very much like New York if you go on weekends or the first of the month. Crazy spreads you know. I went to NY with a group, first time ever, several years back. I found it to be pretty different from what I thought. The people at the hotel, the policeman outside the television studio, the regular people were regular (if that makes sense). Love books, this sounds like a real experience for you, but as your Mom said, “Be careful.”
Alison - May 30, 2019 11:46 am
So happy for you Sean!
Kevin R. - May 30, 2019 12:02 pm
Although it may not be our place, you will be fine. Why, because a country boy can survive. The city certainly makes me appreciate the Panhandle even more.
Connie Havard Ryland - May 30, 2019 12:44 pm
I’m so happy for you! Enjoy NY. I’ve been once, on a school trip with my granddaughter, and it was the most amazing place. I loved it, and will hopefully be able to go back. Wouldn’t want to live there, but visiting is exhilarating and eye-opening. Go to a play. I saw Wicked when I went and it was spectacular. Have fun and be safe. Love and hugs.
Shannon Sligar - May 30, 2019 1:07 pm
I was in New York last week. It was fun but so LOUD! My next big trip will be to Asbury Alabama where I can sit on my mama’s porch and see the most beautiful sunsets in the world!
Eddy - May 30, 2019 1:08 pm
This is so spot on for me! I’m from Greenville, Ms in the Delta Blues Country and was blessed to attend NYU, country come to the city, if you will. The observations and experiences you wrote about today remind me so much of my first day in the city, especially the cab ride and not to mention MY accent! As far as the dressing in black goes, Johnny Cash was ahead of his time! Good luck with everything and God Bless! I love you, Brother!
Donna - May 30, 2019 1:08 pm
Really got a kick out of this column having lived on NYC’s Upper West Side for 8years (plus traveling to the city for 20+ years on business). Thanks for all the snort-chuckles!
Joan Christopher Mitchell - May 30, 2019 1:28 pm
Still laughing! Thank you for starting my morning with your priceless funny unique reflections on that crazy city. I feel the same way about it, but was forced to go because I had children there. Thank God they moved!
MermaidGrammy - May 30, 2019 1:42 pm
You don’t need luck. You’re so blessed, all you need is yourself, Jamie and God. And those children waiting to be adopted. Your impact on New York had to have made the day of everyone you met. Have fun
Barbara Pope - May 30, 2019 1:50 pm
Sounds all too familiar. Whatever you do don’t get on the bus or you’ll never make the Book Expo. Enjoy!
Jack Darnell - May 30, 2019 1:55 pm
I drove to NYC once. Arrived at one of the tunnels at 5 o’clock. I ain’t never been smart! My wife asks, “Do you think that building is the Empire State building?” I did not know nor care, I had never seen so much traffic. I got yelled at if I stopped at a traffic light or I ran it. If I ever return it will be a 2AM.
But I enjoyed the read.
Sherry & jack. (Sherry will be by later)
Shelton A. - May 30, 2019 1:56 pm
May the rest of your cab drivers be sane, no more lizards, and no muggings/knee-capping. God bless you and Congratulations!
Ann - May 30, 2019 2:00 pm
If you need some peace, which you will at some point, go find St. Patrick’s (check off your bucket list) and go in and have a seat. Then just relax with God. Enjoy the big city!
Anne Godwin - May 30, 2019 2:12 pm
Congratulations! I enjoy your slant on life! Got me laughing…
steve - May 30, 2019 2:49 pm
Relax and enjoy it. A unique place with some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Traveled there for years and the positive stories far outweigh the negative. If you like history, and since you are probably Irish, check out McSorleys Pub in the city. The artifacts above and behind the bar will blow your mind.
Linda Moon - May 30, 2019 3:49 pm
You have earned and deserve your bona fides, Author. You’ve made your mama and the rest of us proud. GOOD LUCK in New York!
ann hays - May 30, 2019 3:52 pm
NYC is intimidating!!!
Bill T in Florida - May 30, 2019 4:13 pm
Went to New York City in 1954 from Camp Kilmer NJ on my way to Germany. Went with a native New Yorker. I had been to Atlanta but the NY buildings were so tall I just stood there gawking up. Pretty soon I was joined by a group of up gawkers, some of who I heard say “what is he looking at”. So we left them and went to Jack Dempseys Bar. Keep in mind I’m 19, fresh off the farm in Alabama. Labinsky suggests we eat something and ordered a pizza. I had never seen a tomato pie, but it was good. So we had a few beers and pizza and I got sick. Went downstairs to the gents room and proceeded to get really sick, dry heaves and fell over between the commode and wall and got stuck. Thought and wished I was gonna die. Anyway, I blamed it on that tomato pie, not the beers because I had drank a beer before. Even after 3 years in Germany, it was many years before I ever ate pizza again.
Linda Chipman - May 30, 2019 5:14 pm
My best friend and I went to New York to the World’s Fair – BOTH YEARS! We had a ball. We were only 17 the first year. I went back later in the ’70’s and really enjoyed New York again seeing Fiddler on the Roof. Honeymooned in NYC in 1966. Saw the Rockettes Christmas show that time. So my memories of New York are all good.
Mary T. - May 30, 2019 5:38 pm
I went to NY in the early 50’s, on my way to Salzburg, Austria, with my military family. The waitress at breakfast didn’t know what grits were! Times have changed. I’ll bet they serve grits everywhere now!!! Check it out Sean.
Mike Bone - May 30, 2019 6:18 pm
Take the subway. You will love the urine scented desinfectant.
nunya binnes - June 29, 2019 12:03 pm
This made me lol!!
susankroupa - May 30, 2019 6:49 pm
Hilarious! Take heart. I was quite apprehensive (i.e. scared) the first time I went to NYC, and wouldn’t have done it without my daughters to protect me. “Slow down,” I’d yell if they got too far ahead. “I don’t want to be cut from the herd!” I had a wonderful time, though, and an equally great time on my second visit Even country folk can enjoy the big city, and I was actually surprised at how helpful most people were. Have a wonderful, unforgettable (in a good way) time!
Jess in Athens, GA - May 30, 2019 7:32 pm
Too funny…….”The cab spits me out onto 76,397th Street, and charges me six hundred dollars.” My wife wants to visit New York City. I told her to go ahead and have a good time cuz I’m not going. I haven’t lost anything in New York City, nothing at all.
Joretta Parker - May 30, 2019 8:23 pm
Lordy Sean, never been there and have no desire to go.
Ala Red Clay Girl - May 30, 2019 11:41 pm
I visited the city once and the first thing that happened as I stepped out on the sidewalk in downtown Manhattan was a fly-by pigeon dropping a “bomb” on my shoulder. Still, it was a fun trip but I’d never want to live there. Enjoy the crazy Big Apple!
Robert Chiles - May 31, 2019 12:23 am
NYC is a great place- been there several times with church confirmation pilgrimage groups of kids. So much to see and do. Get one of those Reuben sandwiches, piled high with steaming corned beef; and go see the planes on the deck of the Intrepid in the Hudson. And go to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Have fun, Mr. Writer.
Marcelle - May 31, 2019 2:00 am
You make me chuckle.
My father was from Masselin, Alabama. If you can still find it you’re lucky. It is a very peaceful area; there is also peacefulness in New York. I’m a transplanted southerner with southern roots, New Orleans, Hattiesburg, Massilon, then off to Los Angeles. I now live part-time in New York City.
I can’t find a more beautiful place than to sit on the porch at my grandfather’s house in Massillon and look at the cows across the street. I also find beauty in looking out of my apartment window at Central Park.
Yes the city is full of action. It is full of lights, traffic, noise, and music. It is very entertaining and part of the entertainment are the people. Never be scared of going to New York City; the people are very nice, helpful and warm. It’s also a very easy city to live in. You can hail a cab, take an Uber, take the subway or even better, walk. New York City will never get old, it’s constantly changing.
Enjoy it while you’re there, you’ll never see all of it.
And yes the people do wear black there, occasionally in the summer I also do because the city is so dirty. My southern white cotton would never stand a chance.
Melanie - May 31, 2019 2:18 am
Land o goshen! New York?! Try to enjoy it Sean. It is a crazy place. Good Chinese takeout – takeaway- whatever food though. And great Ruben sandwiches. Do NOT get on a train or subway. Only taxis. And if you are anxious or panicky don’t worry. 99% of anyone and everyone around you is too.
Arelene Mack - May 31, 2019 1:57 pm
Since 1985, I have done some work-related traveled in the U.S. and I can identify with your feelings. When I arrive at my destination, the first thing I do is get my bearings, then I walk around as much as possible to see how the locals act. Then I follow suit. Yeah, some of the places have been scarier than others, but there are more good people than bad ones. Whenever possible, I partner up with people I know. I still don’t have a huge hankering to be in big cities – I will always love the more rural areas best.
Debby Haddock - June 1, 2019 3:02 pm
This made me laugh out loud.
Martha Martin Black - June 29, 2019 8:55 am
Lord honey, bless your heart…….. I so glad you let us know where you are……..
I’ll keep you in my prayers and ask the Lord to especially watch over you and keep you safe while you’re in that den of iniquity. You know that’s where our president is from. That ought to tell you something or scare anybody straight if they aint. Hurry back to us and the bosom of your loving kinfolk and friends. We need and appreciate you and don’t want any of that “New York City?” to rub off on you and taint your wonderful spirit.
Linda - June 29, 2019 2:15 pm
This was uncalled for….
Sandi. - June 29, 2019 3:12 pm
I agree with you, Linda, 100%.
Matilda Wille - June 29, 2019 12:02 pm
I swear, your mother and my mother must be related!
Linda - June 29, 2019 2:14 pm
Enjoy the City Sean…. you’ll be fine….I know they talk fast….just ask them to slow down….it’s a City I know well and visited often being from Peekskill, NY …a small town on the majestic Hudson River about 30 miles North ..used to travel there on the train and by myself and sometimes with friends as a teenager and later as I got older …it’s a fantastic place to visit but I wouldn’t t want to live there either but it has SO much to offer.
Go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grand Central Station, See the UN building and Radio City Music Hall….just to mention a few.
Listen to the people and the rhythm of the City…it always fascinates….
Safe travels back home….?
turtlekid - June 29, 2019 5:50 pm
Perspective!! Love reading your adventures. ✅✅✅✅✅✅
Debbi Lester - June 30, 2019 2:26 am
Good one! Made me really LOL! Thank you for always making my day.
Sean of the South is my hero!