Above left: my father in front of his gas station in 1970. Above right: my father in front of his former gas station (now a BP) in 2011.
My mom and dad came to visit me in NYC a few weeks ago. My dad hadn’t been to NYC since he left town in 1978. He has many aged maps in his head of places that really no longer exist in the world. The Korea he knows, no longer exists. And the New York City he knows, no longer exists. SoHo does not exist in his mind. The Bowery is off limits. Queens is picturesque. The subways are covered in graffiti.
We went around and visited my parents’ various haunts. Their grocery store in Yorkville, which they owned for a short time in the early 1970s no longer exists. The hospital at which my mom worked has grown in size over the decades such that it took my mom a few minutes to recognize the building.
My parents’ faces wore an expression of shock. On the subway, they insisted on standing so that they could see out the windows and observe the city. Other passengers offered up their seats. We refused. They insisted. I told them why. They were delighted. Had the city changed? A lot my father said. A lot. He stuck his tongue out.
But other places still exist as is–the subway system it self, the freeways, the apartment building in which they lived with me as a newborn, the pizzeria we frequented, and even the gas station my dad used to own and at which he worked, daily.
Meanwhile, the city was changing under my feet, too–my history of the city through my parents’ eyes, and in the literal ticking of time.
The shore of an ocean or river will change a craggy rock over time. And time will do that to a city.
For more on my parents’ trip, you can read my write up on the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Open City blog.
5 responses to “NYC, 1970”
“The shore of an ocean or river will change a craggy rock over time. And time will do that to a city.” What a great line! And it must have been so hard for them to see all the changes. For five years in the early 90s, I went to Tokyo every six months. Every time I went one of my favorite shops or restaurants was a parking lot, or a gas station. I hated those changes. To see all that changed over the course of 30 years must have been especially disconcerting!
Thank you, Meghan. I love cities (and their inherent evolution–I live in an apt bldg in NYC that once used to be a parking garage), but man it’s hard to leave a place and discover you can NEVER go back!
This is a beautiful meditation on change. You’re such a fine writer. xo
I enjoyed this story, but what really made it shine for me was your skill in telling it. The strong imagery, your ability to show your parents, and being able to relate it to the changes you see in the ‘now’ compared to in their past. Wonderfully written.
@bloglily: thank you–especially wonderful coming from you, a fine writer yourself. 🙂
@Lisa: thank you–! i have a feeling that decades from now, i’ll be walking in their shoes and wondering where everything went.