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Opinion: Observations from a quiet and rainy New York

A man walks through the rain during an intense afternoon thunderstorm in 2012 in New York City.
Spencer Platt
/
Getty Images
A man walks through the rain during an intense afternoon thunderstorm in 2012 in New York City.

I was on the road a lot this week. Early one morning I got into a New York cab for the ride through Queens to LaGuardia Airport.

It was still dark. I clicked on my phone and called my family. I stayed on the screen to read emails and roll through the news. Aaron Judge had hit his 62nd home run. New protests in Iran. More losses in Ukraine. New political polls, celebrity lawsuits, and divorces, each story urgent.

Then I looked through the taxi window. Raindrops against the glass made the streets look like a painting that might hang in a great museum. In a way, I suppose, it was. Imagine a title: City Streets. Pre-dawn. Rain.

Drizzle slicked the sidewalks, made streets shiny, and streetlights glisten. Some people seemed to be just setting out for work and stepped quickly. Some looked as they might be just coming home from long hours on a job—or their second job--and looked slower.

There were young people with backpacks, bulky with schoolbooks. I saw some of their sweatshirts: Queens Academy, Sister Clara Muhammad, Van Buren High School.

There were older folks in blue hospital scrubs worn below rain slicks and windbreakers, and people wearing sweatpants, hunched under umbrellas to walk their dogs in the rain. The dogs stopped their trotting to squat on small tufts of grass along the sidewalks.

As we clattered and bounced over city streets just before sunrise, I could see all-night markets under bright lights, ringed by rows of apples, oranges, and bananas, bright as the red, orange, and yellow in a crayon box.

There were all-night diners, glossy with white lights over red booths, swiveling steel stools, and glass-doored cabinets sheltering half-gone cheesecakes and pies. You could see some people dawdle over dwindling cups of coffee and sandwich crusts, and others lined up to take away paper coffee cups in one hand, and a bagel or donut in the other.

You could see people of all kinds, in pants, dresses, yarmulkes, women in saris, slacks, or head scarves, a man in an orange turban, and lots of Mets and Yankee caps.

Routine as clockwork, yet utterly remarkable. The city that never sleeps changes guard. Shifts passing in the night, just before dawn, some going to school, some to sleep, some to work, some, perchance, just out to dream.

Now and then it can be good to lift our eyes from our screens and look at the great big show of life that is all around us.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.