The Rockwood Files: Bright lights, new city

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

When Tom and I took our honeymoon more than a decade ago, we were mostly broke and went to a neighboring town 45 minutes away. Two days into the trip, we both came down with the flu. We always said that one day we’d take another trip – just the two of us.

Thirteen years and three kids later, we finally did it. Last week we left the kids with grandparents and jetted off to New York City. I’d always wanted to see the most famous city in the world all dressed up for the holidays.

We arrived the night after the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center and followed the swarm of people to the plaza to snap photos. Then we walked past the huge store windows of Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany’s and Macy’s. No place does holiday décor quite like New York City. With lights, moving parts and jeweled creations of every kind, the window displays are as bold and over-the-top as the city itself.

Like most first-time visitors to New York, I couldn’t stop looking up. I’d never been any place as vertical as this island crammed with skyscrapers. But stopping to look up on a crowded New York sidewalk isn’t smart. There’s a certain rhythm to the throngs of people surging down the city’s streets. If you zig or zag out of the fast-moving current, you’ll get bumped out of the way.

After a brisk walk we reached Times Square, where the brightest, biggest billboards in the world go to party. Even though it was well after dark when we got there, the lights, noise and crowds made it feel like noon. Without a doubt, Times Square offers the best people-watching experience you’ll ever have.

For a girl who grew up on the wide-open plains of southern Arkansas, New York felt like a different planet. It’s a city of nooks and crannies – with small but wonderful restaurants and shops tucked here and there. Even the parking lots are filled with cars stacked on top of each other in metal bunk beds.

We did so many of the things on my New York wish list – Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, a Broadway show, the 9/11 Memorial and some really good pizza prepared by native New Yorkers. Despite what I’d heard about the city’s “attitude”, the people of New York were warm and gracious. The cab drivers scared me a little, but that had more to do with driving than disposition.

After four days exploring the city, we headed home. By then we were missing the kids and needed a break from the intense crowds. But I’ve gotta admit. I get it now – all the hype about this one-of-a-kind place. There’s a gritty coolness about it you can’t help but admire. And New York’s diverse mix of people gives you a taste of the “melting pot” America is known for.

As good as it is to go new places, it’s equally good to come home again. On our way back, we had a short layover in Houston, and immediately I felt the shift in atmosphere when we stepped into the airport. I saw women in flip-flops, smelled barbeque at a nearby food court, and everyone moved at a decidedly slower pace.

Then I overheard a man in front of me answer his wife’s question with this phrase: “I reckon so.” And it made me smile. During our four days in New York, we never heard one single person “reckon so” about anything.

So I’m glad to be home again where the iced tea is sweeter and the sidewalks are roomier. But would I go back for more adventures in New York someday?

I reckon’ so.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.