September 29, 2023

What began as a day to roam on this trip to New York City that I’m taking with my wife, who is here on a work trip, turned into (for me) an all-time walk to remember.

The day ended with nearly 28,000 steps and more than 14 miles covered, all on foot.

That’s not exactly true. The day ENDED with Woodford bourbon, neat.

This was a walk to remember, a day to remember.

In this start to the post-pandemic era, we’re one and all rethinking everything.

Rethinking the universe.
Rethinking government and society.
Rethinking purpose.
Rethinking professions and passions.
Rethinking work and play.
Rethinking how we spend our time.

It’s a great reassessment, per a Washington Post article about the national worker shortage being less about availability and more about workers saying they’re done with low-wage, high-pressure, poorly regulated jobs.

But I’d take it a step further, and say that this is a period of great reassessment about everything.

The day started with a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts, coffee that promptly earned a spot on my pink Polo shirt. So it was back to the hotel for a quick change. I went for my Texas Rangers Nike Dri-Fit t-shirt because the temperature in Manhattan was 61, which when the sun is out is downright warm.

A quick search of Google Maps showed that the Brooklyn Bridge was a mere 1.6 miles away, and I’ve made that long a walk many times over, at once. I’ve run three half-marathons. Little did I know my fourth would happen by accident Friday, May 7.

I mapped out the trek to the Brooklyn Bridge. Our hotel is in Cooper Square, which is an extension of 3rd Avenue, which turns into Bowery and then sort of segues into Chatham Square and then St. James Place. Eventually, you find access to the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian path.

That’s what I was looking for.

Brooklyn is sentimental to me not because I had ever been but because my dad had lived there in the early 1950s, a student of Tony Aless at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. I failed to ask Dad the proper questions about his time there, but was left with memories of roommates he disliked because they were sloppy and liked to sit around in their underwear. I’m guessing that, being jazz musicians, these roommates were herbally fortified.

Just a guess.

Dad also used to go watch Duke Ellington play. He’d never get into the club, as I’d recall, but he’d stand outside and look in. He was so poor, he’d tell us, that he and his roommates would have tomato soup, comprised of ketchup and hot water.

None of these stories were romantic to me, but the fact that my dad had been talented enough to get into a school such as the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and be taught by a man as respected as Tony Aless, while living and making it in New York — it always impressed me.

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”

The walk to the Bridge was pretty non-descript. My walk through Chinatown was merely on the outskirts, I believe.

But the walk across the Bridge was glorious. It’s as if I could feel an energy from Brooklyn sucking me in, although I had no intention of going past the Bridge itself.

Built in 1883, the Bridge connects Manhattan Island to Long Island. Until Friday, I never knew that Brooklyn was part of Long Island. I thought Long Island was this borough unto itself, instead of an island that stood alone from Manhattan and included Brooklyn and Queens and places like the Hamptons and Fire Island.

So. Much. I. Don’t. Know.

But I knew I could walk a couple miles to the Brooklyn Bridge!

Walking across it was a vibe unto itself, and I most certainly want to make that trip into that part of the city and explore someday.

But about the topic of rethinking.

For me, it’s about being in touch with what other people are doing and thinking. For example, in my walk along the Bridge, I saw at least a dozen Instagram influencers stopping to pose for shots. In the back of my mind, I could hear several of my friends or people I know make fun of that, disparaging an entire generation because this is what they do.

That’s not me. That’s my generation. Or older. Younger, too. So many people who aren’t heavily involved in digital or social who poo-poo it, writing it off as something that’s less than real.

And what I see are Instagram influencers on the Bridge working. Developing their brand by creating content that an audience wants.

Some of them likely have huge audiences and brand deals, while others might only have a few followers They’re aspirants, hoping to turn a hobby into a business.

But even if they weren’t, all the world’s a stage, am I right?

It reminded me briefly of the famous photo from World War II, “V-J Day in Times Square,” except that the woman in that photo had not consented to being kissed. To be clear. Alas, that turned into a photographic moment, and I sense that many people on the Brooklyn Bridge that day were creating memories, making moments.

The walk triggered a memory from a week before, at the YMCA in Norman, Okla., where an 80-year-old man talked to me and another fellow in the sauna about what he had learned about cryptocurrency. He was excited for the future, and he was drinking kombucha. I am pretty sure he’s headed for 100, so that’s two more decades to thrive. Paired with what I had been studying via guys like Gary Vaynerchuk about NFTs and artists of all types, I realized that what I’m rethinking and he’s rethinking and we’re all rethinking isn’t our decision.

This (big, capital T this) is happening, like it or not.

New ways of investing, and new things to invest in.

This is likely just the start of an era for creativity unlike anything we’ve ever ever seen. Creators of all kinds can build supportive audiences not only through things like YouTube and Instagram and TikTok but also through Patreon in a very real way, and now through selling shares of their works as NFTs.

I can’t quite put my head around it all, except to know that life is short, and being a creative means needing to be and feel creative. And, oh by the way, there is an ecosystem being developed by which anybody can make a living by doing almost anything.

We’re rethinking what is possible.

We’re rethinking this construct of 9-to-5 jobs and office spaces and, really, everything. Businesses that depend on the labor of the masses are in for a shocking wake-up call without understanding what’s happening.

Once I got off the Bridge and back into Manhattan proper, I stopped at an Egyptian restaurant called Zooba. Had a bowl of Koshari. It was great, and I was powered for the next stage of my walk.

Quickly I measured my speed. It was taking me less than a minute to navigate each block, south to north. This means that if I was on 15th Street, it would only take me 24 minutes to get to the start of Times Square. That’s not precisely true because I still had to go from 3rd Avenue to 7th or 8th Avenue, and the blocks east to west in New York City are big. Those take at least a couple, three minutes each to conquer.

Screw it. I can do this. I didn’t know how many steps I had yet taken, so I checked. I was somewhere around 13,000 and change.

And I wasn’t tired, although my feet were starting to ache a bit. What hurts the most when I overdo it, sitting or moving, is typically my sciatic nerve on either or both sides. In this case, the motion was helping me a bunch, especially considering I had spent most of the day before sitting on an airplane.

Suddenly I was at the Empire State Building, a structure I had been up just five years before. I was near Macy’s, and I was approaching the New Yorker Hotel. I stayed there in the 1990s, twice even.

I checked my phone for the address to the New York Times building. Somehow in five trips to New York, I had never stopped by this building that has strangely pervaded my dreams off and on for years. There are two types of dreams I have: travel dreams and newsroom dreams. The travel dreams mostly involve New York, Atlanta and Tokyo. The newsroom dreams have been a combo of where I work now, where I worked before and the New York Times, which in my dreams was less of a modern building and more of a castle in lower Manhattan.

Back to rethinking.

Now that we’re toward the start of a post-pandemic era, I think about the news business and newsrooms. And cities and smalltowns. A lot was made in 2020 about the exodus from cities and from places like California to places like Texas, because of regulation and taxes. The corporate desire to lessen their real estate footprint, to save money, in a work-from-home world.

What I’ve seen in New York City, honestly, is a desire to return to what we had — an appreciation for being together, for hustle-and-bustle, for the chaos of the concrete jungle. People have asked me what it’s been like here, and aside from some empty buildings where businesses once were, it’s felt normal to me.

The streets are very busy.

Restaurants and bars were largely packed.

Taxi and Uber drivers talked about the return of tourists.

But I think the grand re-think is going to be about terms – the terms in which folks are willing to return to the office, especially in bigger cities. The terms in which staff at restaurants and bars are willing, and the pay increase that will be required. Only 266,000 new jobs were created this last quarter, about a fourth of what had been expected. This wasn’t the doing of the business world. This was largely the workforce saying, “thanks but no thanks” to terms that no longer worked for them.

When I tell you that the entire business world is going to have to rethink compensation and safety and culture at all levels and in all businesses, I’m not rethinking it for myself. I am presenting to you reality, a reality that will impact the coasts first and then move inward – as all things always do.

My feet were toast by Times Square. I had been on a quest for a new cap, so I had stopped by three LIDS locations in the city, all of which were pretty lame. Not much of a selection for a city as big as the Big Apple.

It was time to walk back to meet my wife at the hotel for dinner. She had a long day, too, and I wanted to surprise her and take her out for a fun start to our New York weekend.

Would I try to hail a taxi? Or would I gut it out from 7th and 44th back to the East Village?

I won’t lie. I tried to hail a taxi, but I was on the wrong side of the street and it was rush hour, and it was just me — and I didn’t look like I was going to the airport or some place far away that would have resulted in a big fare and tip.

I just looked tired.

Mind over matter, I told myself I could knock out this last couple of miles and made it back to The Standard on Cooper Square by 5 p.m. or so, just in time for some local news. My final tally for the day was 28,512 steps, and per the pace I was walking, I estimate to have walked 14.19 miles.

A good getaway is supposed to help you reset, to refresh. That is always my quest for a trip like this, but I was also going to support my wife on her work trip. That mission, whatever it is for her day to day, is always my top priority.

But in my resetting was a re-thinking, an acknowledgement that the world is changing and, at least I believe, my way of thinking about it is a bit ahead of the curve in my everyday world. We’re about to move into a creator’s economy driven by currencies we don’t nearly understand, and millions of people will refuse to do work that they once did for a variety of reasons: low pay, thanklessness, safety, ethics, etc.

This is the result of a pandemic that has killed 3.28 million worldwide. That type of event tends to change perspective in everybody.

And what I saw in my half-marathon of a walk across Manhattan and, partially, Brooklyn is a city and a generation that totally gets it.

For some folks, this will be a nerve-wracking next couple of years.

For me, it’s the ultimate in excitement.

Let the creators’ boom begin.

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