City Lights: Stories About New York

City Lights: Stories About New York

by Dan Barry

Paperback(First Edition)

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With a poet's clear eye and a journalist's curiosity about how a city works, Dan Barry shows us New York as no other writer has seen it.

Evocative, intimate, piercing, and often funny, the essays in City Lights capture everyday life in the city at its most ordinary and extraordinary. Wandering the city as a columnist for The New York Times, Barry visits the denizens of the Fulton Fish Market on the eve of its closing; journeys with an obsessed guide through the secret underground of abandoned subway stops, tunnels, and aqueducts; touches down in bars, hospitals, churches, diners, pools, zoos, memorabilia-stuffed apartments, at births and funerals, the places where people gather, are welcomed, or depart; talks to the ex-athlete who caught the falling baby, the performance artist who works as a mermaid, the octogenarian dancers who find quiet joy in their partnership, and the guy who waves flags over the Cross-Bronx Expressway to wish drivers safe passage.

Along the way, Barry offers glimpses of New York's distant and recent past. He explains why the dust-coated wishbones hanging above the bar at McSorley's Old Ale House belong to the doughboy ghosts of World War I. He recalls a century of grandeur at the Plaza Hotel through the tales of longtime doormen who will soon be out of a job. He finds that an old man's quiet death opens back into a past that the man had spent his life denying. And, from the vantage of the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan, he joins tourists as they try to make sense of still-smoldering ruins in Lower Manhattan three weeks after September 11, 2001.

Each story in City Lights illuminates New York, as it was and as it is: always changing, always losing and renewing parts of itself, every street corner an opportunity for surprise and revelation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312538910
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 03/31/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 655,113
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Dan Barry wrote the weekly column "About New York" for The New York Times from June 2003 to November 2006, and now writes a national column for the Times called "This Land." He was a nominated finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his coverage of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and for his coverage of life in New York City, and shared the 1994 Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting while working at the Providence Journal. He is also the author of a memoir, Pull Me Up. Born in New York and raised on Long Island, he lives with his family in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Read an Excerpt

City Lights


New York, Starring New York

NOVEMBER 26, 2003

From an Alabama Sousaphone, a Fanfare for the City

They deserved New York. Those who have willingly donned the maroon-and-gold uniforms of the Pinson Valley High School marching band, who have lived to the tweets of their director's whistle, who have played so much upbeat music that they can bring pep to "Avé Maria." Yes, these children of Alabama deserved to participate in that glorified commercial known as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

But none deserved New York more than their five sousaphone players, including Andrew Parsons, sixteen. His lot in band life is to lug around a heavy instrument that looks like a tuba straining to be a boa constrictor. While others frolic among the high notes, he and his four mates boomp-boomp-boomp in the low. Andrew likes that.

Those boomps were an integral part of what won his band its brass ring: selection as one of the nine high school bands in this year's parade. Hundreds of practices followed, as did car washes, cookie dough sales, and other fund-raisers to pay for the 950-mile trip to New York.

They left Alabama on Sunday evening, 261 students, parents, and teachers packed into five chartered buses. They breezed through Washington on Monday and got to their hotel near Newark Liberty International Airport around midnight. Andrew shared a two-bed room with three other boys; he slept on the floor.

The band practiced its routine again in the hotel parking lot yesterday morning, somehow blending "Old Man River," "Jingle Bell Rock," and "Big Noise from Winnetka" into a toe-tapping medley. The band director, Jeff Caldwell, who stays up nights thinking about band precision, blew his whistle and told everyone that they looked and sounded great.

Then the people from Pinson Valley piled onto the purring buses for a day trip to Manhattan. Like many around him, Andrew had never been to New York, although he had been to St. Louis once. He had his name tag around his neck and his camera in his pocket. He took a window seat, not far from where his parents sat.

As the buses pulled out, Andrew set aside his performance anxieties—about remaining four paces behind the mellophone players and four ahead of the percussionists—to focus on Manhattan. The first stop was to be lunch at the South Street Seaport.

"Never heard of it," he said as Jersey whirred past. "What is it?"

Over the next few days the Pinson Valley band will have the same New York experience as that of most of the other parade bands. Accommodations at a New Jersey hotel (it's cheaper); meals at Planet Hollywood and the ESPN Zone; Thanksgiving dinner on a chartered boat; a Broadway play; and visits to South Street, Times Square, and ground zero.

"I'd like to see where they were," he said of the twin towers.

The buses hit congestion on the road to the Lincoln Tunnel, which meant that the Pinson Valley tour included protracted views of a McDonald's, a Taco Bell, and some auto junkyards. Andrew pointed at an industrial parking lot and said, "We have stuff like that in Birmingham."

The buses inched along, eating away at Andrew's excellent adventure. "Is traffic always like this?" he asked. He was gently told yes.

Then the lead bus pulled into a Wendy's restaurant parking lot, a stop that was not on an itinerary that had been months in the planning. Soon all five buses were in the lot, waiting for a woman whohad hustled inside. Andrew stared out the dusty window and asked whether they were already in New York. He was gently told no.

Some students passed the time by wondering what they might have for lunch in the seaport's food court. Their meal coupons listed options that ranged from California rolls to Nathan's hot dogs. "What's souvlaki?" one of the students asked.

The woman returned, and the five buses eased back into the congestion. But traffic quickly cleared up, and soon there appeared the Manhattan skyline across the Hudson River, dominated by the largest building that many of them had ever seen.

"Oh, wow!" said students and parents as cameras and video cameras clicked and recorded. Andrew was on the wrong side for this panorama, so he hurriedly handed his camera to his mother. Too late, though.

At the Lincoln Tunnel toll, a few students puzzled over a sign that said camera use was prohibited inside the tunnel. "They don't want you to find a way to blow it up," Andrew explained.

As the buses drove into the tunnel's dusk, a parent explained that they were traveling under the Hudson. Then came sunlight, and tall buildings, and quiet. Andrew Parsons, a sousaphone player from Alabama, had made it to the show.

CITY LIGHTS: STORIES ABOUT NEW YORK. Copyright © 2007 by Dan Barry. Foreword copyright © by Alice McDermott. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N. Y. 10010.

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