Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NYC Moments (1)

We've all had those moments where we've entered a room and we hear someone say something like, "My God, he's huge!", and we stand there befuddled for a moment wondering who they're talking about and whether they're making reference to his career or to a certain appendage. This "walking into the middle of a conversation" syndrome can be embarrassing or startling, but you have to admit it's worth the experience if for no other reason then the story that comes out of it. This thought occurred to me earlier today after two classic New York City experiences. But I didn't exactly walk into conversations. Rather, I walked into classic NYC Moments.

The first one happened yesterday morning as I was on my way to work. I have about a 15-minute walk from my house to the 4 subway in Brooklyn Heights, so anything (or nothing) can happen on that walk. As I got closer, I realized there were enormous trucks and trailers everywhere, some with lighting equipment, others with cables and cameras. I kept walking and watched a gaggle of teenaged-like people snacking on breakfast foods at the catering truck, and I realized I had walked onto a film set. Television and movie crews film regularly in NYC, and they love Brooklyn for its brownstones and residential feel. My own neighborhood has been featured in Moonstruck and the Spiderman movies. Now, if I watched more television, I might have been tickled pink to be able to identify the stars of Gossip Girl, for that was what was filming, but alas I cannot tell you who I saw. The show films regularly at Packer Collegiate Institute, usually during periods when they're closed (they're on spring break right now). It's a private school whose Tudor architecture suits the snooty rich kid soap opera environment perfectly. I couldn't care less about the show, but it was fun to think I had very briefly stumbled onto a television production set.

The second experience was a little less fun. I was leaving work on the Upper East Side and decided to walk a different route to the subway. As I turned from Park Avenue onto 77th Street, I was taken aback by all the news crews. I followed their cameras, and I realized I was standing outside Lenox Hill Hospital. This is where the actress Natasha Richardson had been brought after she fell unconscious from her skiing accident. I stopped for a moment, looking at the newscasters. I didn't recognize anyone, and so I started to go on my way. But then something made me stop again, and I looked back at the hospital. I realized that at that very moment her husband Liam Neeson, her children, and probably her mother and aunt, the Redgrave sisters, were in there, hoping and praying for her recovery. It was another NYC moment, the realization that while I knew she had been brought here and had heard about it on the television news that morning, to actually walk by the hospital and realize this was happening then and there gave me a completely different sense about the reality of what had happened to her. (As I've been writing this, I've checked online again, and Natasha Richardson has died. Click here to read her obituary in The New York Times. She was only 45 years old.)

Anything can happen in NYC, and it usually does. These two very different experiences both made me feel like I had walked into the middle of something, and I had. It's called life. We forget so easily that while we go about our own business, going to work and meetings, eating lunch, shopping, whatever, other people everywhere around us are living their own lives. Some are working hard as actors on a television shoot. Others are ringing up sales at a cash register. Others are booking vacations. And then others are praying over their sick loved one while news crews wait outside to know if their mother/wife/daughter has died. It is disturbing to realize that the world that exists in our own head is not the center of the universe. It is only one of over eight billion parts of the same universe, and they are all moving, all acting, all living, at the very same time, in the very same city. I find that synchronicity unnerving, mind-boggling, and comforting all at the same time.

A wise woman reminded me earlier this evening that life is about the journey and not the destiny. So can there be a better place to live an exciting journey than in New York City? I think not.

UPDATE (3/20): Just to show you how frequently film crews are in NYC shooting, by total coincidence my friend TF over at the New York Portraits blog posted an entry talking about the same thing: "We Prefer The Term 'Background Actor."

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