I was the last person to use a subway token to pay for a ride on the New York City subway.
I was the first person to order all twelve pillows from the Benjamin Hotel Pillow Menu.
I was the only person to appear live on all three major-network morning television shows. On the same morning.
No wonder I so love this city. It’s the only place I know where I can eke out a triumph.
Those triumphs were achieved while I was covering New York as a feature writer and columnist for Gannett Newspapers. But I’ve always considered my biggest triumph to be that of getting a job writing stories about a city with so many ways to be triumphant.
I first wrote about New York as a freelancer for The New York Times, The Daily News, Newsday, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other papers. When I got my job, my first assignment was the Feast of San Gennaro. I believed I had reached the top. I couldn’t have imagined the Pillow Menu.
I liked the personal-victory stories, because they allowed me to select only the sorts of challenges to which I was able to rise. But I have always been captivated by the city’s classic haunts, because they represent the real New York, and they represent actual victory.
I wrote of long-running places that have since faded away, like the Schapiro Kosher Winery and the New York Doll Hospital, and of places that survive, like the Tenth Street Baths’ Russian Radiant Heat Room, which I never exactly entered because I burned my hand on the doorknob.
I won prizes including Columbia University’s Mike Berger Award, named for the first writer of The New York Times’ “About New York” column. I liked to think of an award as a decision from a worthy panel of judges that it was all right for me to keep my job. So far.
New York City is always changing, but now it’s changing into another city. I can’t stop it. But I can do at least three things:
Celebrate its charming old stuff, spotlight its quirky new stuff, and occasionally ridicule its ridiculous stuff.
I’m doing my best.