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10 June 2007

another New York suitcase story.

people perched on the edge of Imagine

This seems unalterably true: whenever I go to New York, I'm going to come home with a suitcase story.

Sorry if I have been silent, lately. Not only is this a heady time (just moved to a new home, with boxes left to unpack; now writing regular articles for this fabulous magazine in Seattle, and our wonderful wedding less than five weeks away), but I have been away from home.

Yes, it's true. I had to leave the Chef for three days.

(Don't laugh. We're so tender with each other that this was unexpectedly hard. After all, we hadn't been separated since last July, when I was in Alaska for two whole weeks. You never could have told me, before I met him, that I would want to stay close to home, so joyfully.)

However, we both braced ourselves and laughed our way through it. After all, I was going away for some great reasons.

The good people at the Gluten Intolerance Group asked me, several months ago, to fly to Richmond, Virginia, to be one of the keynote speakers at their annual conference. Of course, I said yes. I am honored. And I am also, perpetually, struck by the surreality of my life. You could never have told me that my first visit to the South would be instigated by a gluten-free speech.

Life constantly surprises me.

The least expensive, and least invasive, flight I found to Richmond involved a long stop to New York. Well, if that was true, why not make it deliberate? I arranged a nearly all-day layover in the city, so I could meet my editor for lunch.

I never turn down the chance to be in Manhattan.

And this is why I was, once again, lugging my suitcase up and down museum steps. Last year, in February, I had a grand adventure with my blue suitcase. I learned, then, that there are no luggage lockers in Manhattan train stations or places of rest. But, happy with my sly knowledge from last year, I knew where to go. A museum.

Last year, I left my luggage in the coat room of the Natural History museum. After paying the entrance fee, I could escape the weight of a giant suitcase for the entire afternoon. That's what inspired my decision for the itinerary on Thursday.

My plane landed at 8. Lunch would take place at noon, in the Village. Common sense said to stay close to that area, maybe write emails in a coffee shop, until I could meet my editor. But the chance to be in Manhattan for nine hours does not inspire common sense in me. So I took the Air Train, and then the A-train, and switched to the 5, and made my way to the Upper East Side.

When I had asked Sharon, days before, what she would do with a few hours in New York, she said, "I'd go to the big room at the Met. And then I'd walk through the park." She's smart, that one. That's exactly what I wanted to do.

Mostly, I knew, I needed to go to Strawberry Fields. I needed to go there for the Chef, and take photos, and call him from the Imagine sign, and sigh into the phone just how much I loved him. (If you don't know our John Lennon connection, read this.)

I could have gone to the west side, gone back to the Natural History museum. But I wanted to experience the grandeur of the Met, the bustle of the Upper East Side, see that building I love, gawk at the flower displays on balconies of brownstones, watch the nannies and their children walk along sun-dappled streets.

And beside, the Met? It's really nearly free. Here's a secret that newcomers wouldn't know. The Metropolitan Museum of Art emblazons a huge price on their signs, but the fact is? It's "suggested donation." I'm all for supporting art, but when I wanted to be there for ten minutes? I don't mind giving them a dollar.

So there I was, with a much smaller suitcase this time, on the subway. There are so many stories on the subway that I felt entirely awake, no matter that I could not sleep on the overnight flight. The older man who sat with an algebra book on his lap, but who could not study because he was so busy laughing with the young boy sitting across from him. Or the young woman who stood timidly by the greasy pole, hemmed in from all sides by other human beings pressing into the car, so she smelled her own hair, every few moments, just to make herself feel better.

I never grow tired of the subway.

And then I rose from the 86th street station, so familiar to my feet. There they were, the guys selling produce on the curb, their tomatoes probably covered in car grime. Dean and Deluca, gleaming as always. And on the corner of 5th and 84th, a flurry of little girls, dressed in light blue pinafores and starched white shirts, giggling with each other, looking every inch like a page from the Madeline books.

Still, by the time I reached the steps of the Met, I was ready to rid myself of the suitcase. The sunlight made me itchy — I wanted my arms to be free to take photographs. Almost there, I thought. Almost there.

When I reached the top of the steps, an officious security guard shook his finger at me, then pointed toward a sign. "No suitcases! Not in here." His finger alerted me to the image of a suitcase, with a big red line through it.

"But wait!" I spluttered. "They let me check it in at the Natural History museum!"

"This isn't the Natural History museum," he said, bluntly. Well, that was true.

"How long has this been going on?" I asked him.

"Since September 11th." While he talked, he was waving people past him. I stood there, gaping, not knowing what to do. When there was a break in the surging masses, his face softened, and he leaned into me. "Sorry, sweetie. Normally we send people down to the Guggenheim, but they're closed today."

I thanked him, especially for his last-moment kindness. Weary, I turned around and prepared to drag my suitcase down the steps.

On the second step, I noticed another security guard. He was eating a sandwich, his face amused. He caught my eye. I caught his. Something in his sly grin made me realize he might know an answer.

"Hey listen," I said, as I dragged the suitcase, exaggeratedly, as though it weighed twenty pounds more than it did. "You wouldn't know anywhere I could stow my suitcase, do you?"

He looked around, dropped his voice, and gestured down the steps. "Yeah, the hot dog vendor."


"Look, you didn't hear it from me, but if you slip them a little money, they'll watch your suitcase for a couple of hours."

"Is it safe?" I asked him, already laughing.

He swallowed, and said, "Yeah. Look, it's the same guys every day. They do a nice little business. I'd trust 'em. But don't quote me."

(Oops. I just did.)

Grinning, I thanked him, then lifted my luggage into the air. Already, it felt lighter.

When I reached the hot dog stand — the bottles of water and soda splayed out in front — I asked the guy behind it, "Is it true you store luggage?" He looked around furtively, and said, "Twenty bucks."

Twenty bucks! Yikes. I thought about saying no, but there I was. I needed to be back on the subway in an hour and a half, and I would never make it to Strawberry Fields with that suitcase behind me. Oh, all right. I gave him the money, and he rolled my suitcase, quickly, behind him. I walked away.

And I don't regret it. That walk in the Park was idyllic. There were small girls skipping around the Alice in Wonderland statue. Old men on a bench, leaning into each other, talking as they probably have for dozens of years. Dappled sunlight, the smell of popcorn, students propping themselves on schist rock for an outdoor class, sassy teenagers talking on their cell phones, and people running under leafy-green trees. I can never spend enough time in Central Park.

I have to admit: as many times as I have been to Strawberry Fields, and stood in front of the Imagine mosaic, I cried this time. I missed the Chef. He was in my ear, because I talked to him while I was there, and he is always in my heart. But I wished he was there. Somehow, in a deeper way than it has ever hit me before, this fact hit me: I really do get to marry him. I'm going to spend the rest of my life with the best love I have ever known. (Thank you, John and Yoko.)

Finally, after taking far too many photographs, I had to make my way back across the Park. I had a lunch to make, an eagerly anticipated lunch. I needed to be on the subway. Time to retrieve my suitcase.

As I approached the hot dog stand, the man behind it caught my eye. He pointed at me, then behind him. As I started to say, I'm ready for my bag, he put his finger to his lips. Shhhh. Confused, I obeyed. When I was within two feet, he looked around and said, "Are you ready?"

"Yes," I said.

He looked to his right, and then shouted, "Vidal!!"

Instantly, the back of the silver coffee cart opened. I saw another man, furtively looking around. And then I saw my suitcase, covered with a light-blue towel. "You ready?" he hissed at me, through a whisper. Yes. He looked both directions, looked at me, and then ripped the towel from the suitcase and shoved my luggage at me. He slammed the door, and I stood there alone.

I laughed all the way to the subway.

Welcome back to New York, Shauna.

* * *

(In the coming days, I'll be sharing more stories, of a gluten-free lunch at Gotham Bar and Grill, barbecued pulled pork in Richmond, a glorious conference experience, and how not to eat gluten-free at the airport. This trip amazed me.

But I have to say, I'm happy to be home.)


At 4:31 PM, Blogger Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

I love the suitcase story! I'm going to point my friend who used to live in New York to it, she'll get a real kick out of it.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I can't believe someone else has used the Met vendor storage racket! A year ago I was in New York for the day with a dear friend… early on in the day I trash picked a mannequin in the garment district and was carrying it with me with little trouble until I got to the Met… the security guard laughed said sorry and then suggested I talk to one of the vendors… and for $5 my mannequin was safely stored.
I love that you wrote about this here!

At 5:49 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for capturing some of why I love living in New York. Looking forward to reading about your lunch!

- Olivia

At 6:14 PM, Blogger ChupieandJ'smama (Janeen) said...

A hot dog vendor? That is one of the funniest thing I've read lately. I hope he didn't touch your suitcase with any hot dog buns :) Great story. Can't wait to read more!!

At 6:26 PM, Blogger evil cake lady said...

oh, this is an awesome story! i've never been to new york, just seen it portrayed in movies, tv, and the like, but this, this was by far the best!


At 7:14 PM, Blogger E! said...

Shauna, having escaped New York to live in VT & having never looked back, I have to say that for a moment you actually made me want to go spend an hour or so in the city. Your writing just feels so good...I love coming here for a fix! Next time you're in NY, check out for me - my friend Heather suggested it & you'll probably get to NY again before I do.

At 5:50 AM, Blogger nika said...

yikes! Its awesome you were able to trust him but I think I would just pack super light. When I go into NYC (I live 3 hours north) I try to not even have a purse. NYC is like 300% better if your not dragging anything around (I can not imagine going with my kids either).

Spent one new years eve there with a friend, running at top speed through icy rainy streets trying to get to Times Square (didnt make it) ... kept my ID and my money in my hiking boot and had nothing else (well.. also my friend is a blackbelt in karate so I didnt need to carry anything at all).

I would not be able to relax if I left my stuff like that. I guess I am just to attached :-) (even if it were just undies! I know pathetic)

At 6:21 AM, Blogger Allergic Girl® said...

hysterical shauna--that hot dog vendor thing, hysterical.

BTW, i only pay .25 at the MET, usualy for two!

At 6:43 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

only you can find the joy in ny subways. after being stomped on my foot by 5 inch hills last friday, i am still plotting to track her down and chop off heels of all of her shoes. :p
i have been reading your blog for a few months now and love it. many warm wishes to you and the chef.

At 7:14 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

That is so bizarre! Sssssh!

At 7:42 AM, Blogger Tanaya said...

This story is so telling. It is very revealing (about you, that is). I love that you trusted the hot dog vendor, so many people wouldn't have! I love that you saw stories on the subway. I love that you are able to acknowledge the importance and beauty of the every-day. I love that you share, so intimately, your heart & soul. (and I'm happy you're back home, in the arms of The Chef, where you belong).

At 5:10 PM, Blogger LoLo said...

What a great story. Never been to NY but it sounds like I could have fun. I am a southern belle misplaced in the north, originally from Mobile, Alabama. We actually live in Pittsburgh, PA but moved from Richmond, VA. We still have our house there. I can't wait to here about your trip there and the barbecue you ate...our favorite it just outside Richmond, "Pierce's Barbeque". I could have seen you too! I was living in VA for two months with my mom, newborn baby and all, and we just came back last week. I would have totally gone to hear you speak.

At 6:02 PM, Blogger terry said...

i love this story, especially since i just returned from new york myself!

and i must add, this was another trip made better by you and what you wrote last year about all the gluten-free food to be found in manhattan.

so thank you, again, shauna!

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Sheltie Girl said...

Priceless! I'll have to remember the hot dog vendor when I go downtown.

Sheltie Girl @ Gluten A Go Go

At 9:35 PM, Blogger Jean Layton-GF Dr. Mom said...

Your post leaves me jealous.
I love how you see the mundane and trivial and realize that they aren't. I love how you trust that you are guided to the right solution. But most of all I am jealous that you got 9 hours in one of my favorite places on earth.
I miss NYC, felt like I was leaving OZ when I moved to the other coast.
Your post reminds me of all the good of NYC. I love Strawberry Fields, the Met, the Alice in Wonderland statue.
Hope we hear more soon, but I would completely understand if you save it all till after the wedding.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger ~Kat~ said...

Say did you see that compilation tribute CD of John Lennons songs? I'm sure you have but just wanted to point out another stellar opportunity to buy product for Darfur Aide....
Your NY story sounds eerily similar to some of my Boston experiences...

At 11:33 AM, Blogger julie said...

You are such an amazing photographer and writer - I'm looking forward to your book! I have a son who is high functioning autistic and it's so nice to see beautiful food with his special gf/cf diet.

Another thing, our family is moving to Chicago and we want to do a blog for family and friends to see us all the time. Why do you like blogger? How do you make yours look so fabulous and well designed? I'm a graphic designer that has been out of the field for quite sometime so I know good design and photography when I see it :) Any suggestions, ideas, thoughts would be so appreciated!!!

Congrats on your upcoming wedding, you look so happy. I grew up in Seattle, what a beautiful location!!!

At 2:49 PM, Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

If I cut my hair short I have a little scar on the top of my head you can see. When people ask me what it was from I say, "I cut my head on a mushroom."

And what I mean is that once, while playing on the Alice and Wonderstand statue I pulled myself up on Alice's hand and my head met with on of the mushroom caps.

I'm glad, after all of the missing, you could fill up on nyc, my original home, and have an experience even Eloise could envy.

At 5:16 PM, Blogger Vanessa said...

Hey Shauna - that street vendor is totally trustworthy, but next time you're in NYC with a suitcase give me a holler - I work at the Met and would be happy to stash your stuff in my office and run you around for quick tour :)

At 9:19 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Thanks everyone! I'm so glad that everyone else got a kick out of this crazy story. After it happened, I couldn't stop laughing, and I just knew I had to share.

It cracks me up that some of you have done this too.

And Vanessa, I will take you up on that. I'd love a personal tour of the Met!


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