Remember Golden Books? When I was a little boy, one of my favorites was an illustrated take on the country mice/city mice fable.
The country mice travel to the big city to visit their friends, a harrowing journey through traffic and smoke-belching mechanical behemoths. The city mice are welcoming and gracious hosts, but the country mice are only too happy to return to their quiet home.
In turn, the city mice make a visit to the country, a harrowing journey dodging giant, baying dogs and hungry cats. The country mice are welcoming and gracious hosts, but the city mice are only too happy to return to their civilized home.
For my part, I mostly feel like a country mouse. I enjoy the woods, streams and rivers and I am never all that eager to navigate travel to a major metro area. Given the choice of city or country living, I choose country, hands down.
That’s not to say I am paralyzed by fear of city travel. I certainly have driven to, through and around in major cities, from Detroit to Boston to Atlanta to Washington, D.C. I had driven through the Tri-State area of New York, crossing the George Washington Bridge a couple times — but I had never driven into the heart of the city. The couple times I’ve visited NYC, I was driven in by city mice relatives.
But all that changed this past year when our son Sam located in the city to teach high school in Brooklyn.
I first drove him into the city for one of his job interviews in December 2018. We stayed in Jersey the night before and then I navigated week-day morning traffic to and through the Lincoln Tunnel. Sam’s interview was on a street somewhere in the 40s or 50s in Manhattan — we got close to the building, he jumped out, I wished him luck — and I got out of there.
I made my way back to the tunnel, crossed back to Jersey and drove straight back to Olean (Sam was staying with a friend for a few days before coming back on the train to Buffalo).
I called Angie to tell her I made it and was heading back.
“I’m definitely a country mouse,” I joked to her. “I couldn’t take this every day.”
This past summer, Sam got settled into his apartment in Brooklyn before classes started. Angie and I went for a visit in October, which meant crossing Manhattan, going over the bridge and finding his place.
I had never been on the subway, but Sam, already a pro at using the trains, took us on a tour to some choice spots. One of my favorite sites was Battery Park, where I watched an old Dominican guy pull a nice striped bass out at the point where the Hudson and East rivers meet.
Another nerve-rattling exit from the city and, in Jersey, Angie and I joked again: “Country mice.” But the whole thing was just a smidge less intimidating.
On the Saturday before Christmas, I made the run again, this time to meet Sam for more city exploring, to go to the Steelers-Jets game on Sunday and then bring Sam home for the holidays.
More subway traveling, hiking through Central Park, seeing the sights at Rockefeller Center and Times Square at the height of the Christmas season and dinner at a little Vietnamese place.
Driving that Saturday night from Brooklyn to the hotel near MetLife Stadium, I was in Midtown and about to miss a turn (I had already missed one earlier despite GPS). I swept across two lanes and cut off a yellow cab, getting a long, loud horn blast for the trouble.
“The country mouse made it,” I joked to Sam.
On that Sunday I took my first Uber rides — to and from the stadium. It was amazing to me how Sam connected with the driver through the phone app in the post-game chaos, yet we were easily returned to the hotel at a fraction of what it would have cost to park near the stadium.
I get why Sam likes the city. He has his favorite bodegas and parks, his school is a 5-minute walk from his apartment and he takes the train, walks or rides his bike wherever he wants to go. A true millennial, he embraces urban living and loves the energy of the city, of which I have just glimpsed.
It’s not for me. While fascinating and even fun, my excursions to NYC only confirmed what I already knew: I am a country mouse, through and through.
But not such an old one that I can’t experience and appreciate something new, which is really all we can ever ask of ourselves.
With a new year dawning, who knows what might come next?
(Jim Eckstrom is editor of Bradford Publishing Co. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)