The Last Summer
Like any good romance, my love affair with New York City unfolded slowly, across the four seasons.
I hated my first winter in New York but later, winter soon meant afternoons at the Metropolitan Museum. Curled up in a little corner of the American Wing or the Sculpture Gallery with its spectacular floor-to-ceiling windows. Surrounded by beauty and history, watching the snow fall gently outside on a Central Park all draped in white.
Spring in New York meant the first cosmopolitan martini of the season at the post-winter re-opening of Riverside Park’s Boat Basin, the Upper West Side’s best kept secret and by far my favorite hang-out in the city. Watching the sun set over the Hudson River and the lights twinkle from the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey across the water.
Fall in New York meant the return of Manhattanites to the city, after their summer exodus to the resorts and summer homes in Long Island and the invasion of the city by tourists. Going back to school and re-connecting with old friends. Checking out the latest offerings on Broadway, the exciting new shops and restaurants downtown. Long, thoughtful walks in Central Park with a good friend, to watch the leaves change color.
And, ah…summer in New York! The one season in the city where I always thought to myself in sheer wonder: “Why would anyone want to live anywhere else?”
Summer meant practically living in Central Park: morning runs around the reservoir, rowing in the lake with a smuggled bottle of wine on lazy Sunday afternoons, brunches at the Boat Café and picnics at Sheep’s Meadow, evening concerts on the Great Lawn, Shakespeare plays at the amphitheatre. Summer meant hotdogs and beer during baseball games at Yankee Stadium, weekend trips to the beaches of Long Island, rollerblading adventures from Riverside Park all the way down to Chelsea Piers, ogling tennis celebrities at the US Open in Flushing, Queens. And summer meant 4th of July boat parties to watch the fireworks over the East River, rooftop barbecues and outdoor dance parties.
It was because of an outdoor dance party promised by my friend Mia as one of the city’s biggest summer events that towards the end of August 2001, I found myself along with her and Menka, another girlfriend, in the subway at 11:00 at night on our way to Brooklyn.
After getting lost in Brooklyn Heights, we encountered a black lesbian couple who had gotten engaged during their romantic stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge. Flashing their matching diamond rings in our faces, they happily gave us directions to where we were supposedly going.
We made our way to the promenade beside the East River. I began to notice that several people were headed in the same direction. I also noticed that they were all female and dolled up to the nines: skimpy tops, short skirts and hair out to there.
Then, I heard music. In muffled booms at first then, as we got closer, loud, pounding and insistent. I smelled barbecue smoke and beer in the air and noticed the curious assortment of cars parking in the streets. There seemed to be an unusual number of police cars. And were those fire trucks?
We finally arrived at the entrance to the party. I gasped.
In front of us stretched a long promenade beside the darkly gleaming waters of the East River. The promenade was jammed full with more than a thousand people easy, talking, laughing, drinking, dancing or simply, people-watching from the sidelines. Food booths lined one side, mostly barbecued meats, salads and ice cream. Beer kegs were scattered at strategic spots. More booths were doing brisk sales in caps and t-shirts.
The massive, ancient pillars of the Brooklyn Bridge, its lights glittering, towered above us. Across the water twinkled the impressive skyscrapers of Manhattan. On the river itself were a couple of barges festooned with colored fairy lights and spraying arcs of water in the air, looking like floating fountains. It was all quite a sight.
We were at the end-of-summer fundraising party hosted each year by the New York City Fire Department, I found out from Mia.
That explained the deluge of women I had just seen. New York firemen had a reputation around town for being “hunks”.
They also certainly knew how to throw a party.
One of my fondest memories of New York is of that last summer: of a warm, starry night in Brooklyn by the river, of giggling like silly schoolgirls with my friends as we ate barbecued kebabs, swilled some beer and flirted harmlessly with several extremely goodlooking, well-built men.
Men who went out each day as heroes, working hard in the face of danger, but for that one summer evening, were behaving like regular guys and simply having fun.
Two weeks later, on an early fall morning in New York, a particularly beautiful Tuesday in September, more than three hundred of those men were dead.
This is the second in a five-part series of personal narrative essays about New York City, dedicated to the victims and survivors of 9/11/2001. This writer can be reached via email at email@example.com or via her personal blog – The Bamboo Stiletto, http://bamboostiletto.wordpress.com
Diane Fermin Roeder is a reformed marketing communications expert in the hospitality and financial service industries. She enjoys being an expat’s wife and founding wordsmith of DFR+word.works, a consultancy specializing in content solutions and development for luxury hotels and resorts in China. She carved a 15 year leadership career spanning the Philippines, Hong Kong, the US, and China, with an American MBA to boot. Diane suffers from an incurable addiction to killer stilettos. You may to The Bamboo Stiletto (personal blog) http://bamboostiletto.wordpress.com and Follow tweets: https://twitter.com/bamboostiletto