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Tourist Trap

In early July, my 8-year-old daughter, Zoe, decided at the last minute to attend a three-day “Dream Week” at her older brother’s camp.

Do you know what this meant for my marriage to Brett? For the first time ever both of our children were to be away from home simultaneously!

We were about to be alone together in our own home: it was a revelation.

Brett and I started brainstorming staycation ideas. What were some fun, inexpensive ways to enjoy the local color while our children were eating s’mores in Pennsylvania?

A stand up paddleboaring expedition in Connecticut was planned, as was a day at the beach. But what to do on day three? A friend in the hospitality business had an idea: he could hook us up at the rooftop pool of a downtown hotel if we wanted to head to the city.

So, naturally, we stuffed some bathing suits into a backpack and headed south.

The valet outside the hotel parked our car. Then we met with the concierge who suggested lunch at a chic little spot around the corner. On our way to lunch, we stopped in a boutique. “Are you from the neighborhood?” The saleslady asked. I felt like she was fishing for something, but what exactly, I didn’t know.

“Westchester,” I explained, thinking, they must get a lot of tourists down here.

Lunch was delicious. As we stepped out into the street afterwards and I started people-watching, I realized how much I had craved a change of scenery. “Oooo – let’s walk around the West Village for a bit before we go to the pool!” I said. “I used to live right here.” Brett picked up the backpack and away we went.

We strolled down Jane Street and Perry Street and West 4th. We noticed the many brownstones that were being renovated as we wandered in and out of quaint shops. “Are you from around here?” A salesgirl would ask. Or, “So, where are you from?”

“Westchester,” I said. And eventually, “Like, NEW YORK. Like, HERE.”

I couldn’t understand it. Why were we being pegged as tourists? What made us seem foreign? I used to live on Charles Street, where I was treated like a New Yorker – thus, basically ignored — and now I was being noticed and treated nicely? What was up with that?

“Let’s head towards Bleecker Street,” Brett suggested.

“Okay,” I said. But, I was thinking, why Bleecker? In my recollection, Bleecker Street was nothing but pastry shops, touristy t-shirt meccas, dingy bars and pizza places. It was a street I would avoid walking on back when I was a resident of the West Village, preferring something quieter and cleaner.

And then we got to Bleecker Street. Have you been there lately? Because, I realized, I haven’t since 1995, and in that time, it has apparently been taken over by the likes of Marc Jacobs. Did you know about this? About the MarcJacobfication of Bleecker Street? In addition to Marc Jacobs proper and Marc Jacobs baby and Marc Jacobs men, there’s his book store, BookMarc. There’s Cynthia Rowley’s clothing store and her candy store. There’s Jimmy Choo and Magnolia Bakery and 7 for All Mankind and Intermix and James Perse. And there’s a Jo Malone – a high-end perfume shop on what used to be the stinkiest street in the entire city!

And, I swear, the street got wider. It’s now like the Champs-Elysees!

No wonder Brett and I were being treated like tourists, I realized. We are tourists.

And that made me feel so depressed. I stood on the corner of Bleecker and Charles and sighed. Even in my cute little bohemian summer frock, I couldn’t pass as a New Yorker anymore. All my worst fears about myself came flooding in: I was old, I was suburban, I was out-of-touch.

I used to wander all over the city, meandering and discovering. Now, I only came to the city for a purpose-driven mission: to see a Broadway show or attend a museum exhibit or to take advantage of restaurant week specials, and then, like Cinderella, with one eye on the clock, I had to leave the party.

When my friends and I drove in for dinner, I worried that we looked less Sex and the City and more Bridge and Tunnel with every passing year.

How had this happened?

Brett led me to the rooftop bar where I drowned my woes in a $14 margarita.

“You see that pink palazzo down there?” Brett pointed out. “That’s Julian Schnabel’s place. He fills it with art and keeps building on to it.” Brett knew this without looking in a guidebook or consulting a map of any kind. Ha, I thought, it is still our city. I enjoyed the pool and the view and felt better.

And then we headed to dinner at a well-known restaurant that is impossible to get a reservation in…unless it’s at 6:00 on a Monday in July. Suddenly the oh-so-hot restaurant grants you 1,000 OpenTable points, so happy are they to have you dine with them.

We approached the maitre’d and gave our name. “We can check that for you, Sir,” a woman said, taking Brett’s backpack and handing him a chit.

We were led away from the main dining room where everyone else was seated and towards a more casual table in the bar area. Alone. My heart sank: I couldn’t even score a nice table at a restaurant anymore?! I was beyond Bridge and Tunnel. I was officially an out-of-towner.

“It’s the backpack!” Brett said, with understanding dawning across his face. “All day I’ve been carrying it around! It’s like the classic trappings of a tourist. We’re marked!” And then I realized he was right: No one walks around his own city with a bright green Patagonia backpack.

Not unless, of course, they’re carrying a change of clothes because they’re mooching off a friend’s generosity and crashing for a few hours at a swanky rooftop pool. Which is quite fantastic, if you ask me, and very much something only a true city insider could pull off.

I mean, we were indeed carrying a backpack, but that’s because we know people.

Brett signaled the matre’d, who informed us that the front of the house was by no means inferior to the back of the house, in her opinion.

As a cynical New Yorker, I though, yeah, right, lady.

And, then, with pride, I realized that only a true New Yorker would make a commotion about her table. So there!

Further, I shared this tidbit with Brett. “From when I was 17 until about 25, I used to dine at an Italian fixture on the Upper East Side. The owner would double-kiss my cheek and then lead me and a friend to “my” table, where I would order wine, dinner, and dessert for us and sign the check without paying, because my dad had a house account.”

“Sounds fancy and obnoxious,” Brett said.

“I loved it,” I explained.

“And, guess who else had a regular table there?” I asked. “In the FRONT corner?”

“Woody and Mia,” Brett said.

“Right – wait, how did you know that?”

“Because you’ve told me this story before.”

“Well.” I paused. “This time, I tell it to you to make this point: tonight, we are not tourists. Tonight, we are Woody and Mia, sitting up front. The old Woody and Mia, back when they were, you know, happy.”

Satisfied, we wound our basil pasta around our forks in silence.

Then we paid the exorbitant bill, called the valet, and drove our car up the West Side Highway, home in under 40 minutes.

The crickets chirped in the sleepy neighborhood as Brett grabbed his backpack and locked the car. I looked up at the blanket of stars. Our suburban enclave suddenly felt as remote to me as our children’s camp in the rustic hills of Pennsylvania.

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