The Magic Words
It was about 50 years ago, and three friends and I were returning from a 10-day canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness. We drove nine hours straight to get home and were exhausted and hungry when we got to New York.
Then Larry said the magic words: “Wo Hop!”
We all nodded in agreement and headed directly to our go-to Chinese restaurant. It was about 3 o’clock in the morning when we arrived at 17 Mott Street, tired, bedraggled and famished.
We trudged into the restaurant, grabbed a table and proceeded to wolf down shrimp congee, sweet and sour pork and shrimp curry noodles.
Food never tasted so good.
— Michael Golden
I was born and raised in New York City. I attended my first Broadway show while I was still in the womb (“Fiddler on the Roof,” starring Zero Mostel). I saw my first movie at Radio City Music Hall (“Bedknobs and Broomsticks”).
There is 8-millimeter footage of me toddling around the Central Park children’s zoo, and photos of me as a teenager at the top of the Twin Towers. I knew which deli had the best corned beef on rye, and where to get the best dim sum in Chinatown.
I loved everything about growing up in New York: the clackety-clack of the wooden escalators at Macy’s; the clink of a token being dropped into a subway turnstile.
When I was 15, I got my working papers at the State Department of Labor; at 23, I got a marriage license at City Hall.
In my mid-20s, I moved away, but I visited as often as possible. Once, while waiting to cross 42nd Street at Fifth Avenue, I found myself looking up and marveling at the Beaux-Arts architecture of the New York Public Library’s main branch.
Unaware that the light had changed, I felt someone push past me hastily.
“Tourist,” she said.
— Stacy Reich
I was on my way to a physical therapy appointment. When I got there, I encountered a woman standing in the lobby near the elevator bank.
The elevator door opened, and I got on. The woman got on after me. I pushed the button for the 14th floor, and she asked me to push the button for 16.
She then asked if I would ride with her to the 16th floor, and then go back down to 14.
Thinking she was in a rush, I said sure but that since I had already pushed 14 the elevator was going to stop there anyway.
She explained that she was extremely claustrophobic and would not ride on elevators alone.
I said that of course I would ride up with her.
The door closed, and there we were.
“So how’s your day going?” she asked.
“Pretty good,” I replied.
She started to laugh and proceeded to tell me the origin story of her elevator claustrophobia — something to do with getting an M.R.I. — until we got to 14.
I didn’t get off, the door closed and we rode up to 16, where she got off and thanked me for riding with her.
I thanked her for asking.
— Jeyn Levison
One Saturday this past summer, three friends and I decided to make our first-ever pilgrimage to Barney Greengrass.
We had just begun to discuss our ordering strategy excitedly when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
It was the woman at the table next to us, and she was visibly irritated.
“Will you girls please quiet down?” she grumbled. “Your voices are so loud I can hardly hear myself think.”
She turned back around and began to poke angrily at her tuna salad.
My friends and I exchanged glances and continued our conversation at stage-whisper level.
Toward the end of our meal, one of us remembered that the restaurant did not take credit cards. I volunteered to run across the street to an A.T.M., but before I could get up from my seat, I felt another tap on my shoulder.
It was the shusher again. She reached into her purse, pulled out a crisp $100 bill and pressed it into my hands.
“For quieting down,” she said.
— Sarah Gruen
In the 1990s, I commuted into Grand Central and then took the Times Square shuttle across town to catch the 1, 2 or 3 train down to Penn Station for work.
I typically got off near the 34th Street entrance to the Long Island Rail Road, where a Maya Lin sculpture was fixed to the ceiling. I always admired it and was sorry that my fellow commuters were so busy rushing that they rarely looked up to see it.
One day, as I approached the spot where the sculpture hung, I was happy to see two young mothers gazing up at it with their strollers close by. As I passed, I overheard one of them speak to the other.
“Yes,” she said, “and it’s by Maya Angelou.”
— Rhonda Magid
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Illustrations by Agnes Lee