Running toward peace with New York City


BY Maria A. Merayo

Many things came crashing down just a little over two years ago in New York City. As Americans, we still feel the rawness of it. But this Californian’s heart has found a special kind of solace in something that was also destroyed because of that tragic day.

Not all of the destruction was bad. Walls separating us as Americans were torn down. I smile as I write this because one of those walls is so steeped in cliche it’s almost laughable. I am referring to that rivalry between New York City and Los Angeles; that East Coast, West Coast thing. I remember as a college student in the ‘80s talking to well traveled Los Angelenos about their New York City experiences. “Those New Yorkers are so abrupt.” “Too many people on the streets.” “Geez, couldn’t they be a little nicer?” Then I would talk to my classmate Vincent, or “Vinnie” as he preferred people to address him. I was a writing student and sharp-witted Vinnie was a film student. His New York accent was so thick and creamy I could slice it with a “butta” knife. Vinnie had aspirations of being the next famous Italian-American film director a la Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma. He made it abundantly clear that the only reason he was in Los Angeles was to attend film school, get some Hollywood contacts and then get the hell out back to New York. His distaste was so thorough; I was instantly attracted to it.

What is so bad about us? His response was searing and as final as an epitaph, “You aren’t us.”

Well the rivalry marches after college. I live in Phoenix, Arizona and meet this fellow who I can see kind of dating. We give each other our histories and then he finds out where I’m from. His reaction kicks me in the brain, “Oh you’re from La-La Land?” This guy isn’t so dateable anymore. “Yeah I’m from LOS ANGELES. Where are you from, New York?” “Denver.” “Oh.”

Finally, I noticed a trend that scarily went beyond the simple ribbing. There was a genuine danger in the music world of rap that mirrored a true and vicious opposition in gang warfare between east coast and west coast gangs. The brutal territorial borders had extended themselves. You could get shot for supporting the wrong coast. It came to a head when Tupac Shakur, the New York rap singer with now legendary status, was shot dead by an unknown gunman. The yells of rage in the rap community pointed to a west coast rivalry. I was aghast. What had happened to us?

Sept. 11, 2001 pierced the soul of every American. Here in Los Angeles as in every community in America, people scrambled to aid the victims and families of the horrific aftermath in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. We Los Angelenos are at the furthest outpost in the continental United States from ground zero but we needed to touch you, to reach out to you, to comfort our dear brothers and sisters in the Big Apple. Your bravery, courage and zeal for living awed us and continue to inspire us to this very day.

Even rap artists seek to express the challenges common to the urban world on both coasts. When that artist says, “East coast, west coast” in that poignant rap rhyme, they are speaking of solidarity, not separation. The wall between us is where it should be, in a place of non-existence.

I was thrilled beyond imagination at the opportunity of being a spectator at this year’s ING New York Marathon on Sunday. My boyfriend, Michael, will be running the entire 26.2 race and I will be on the sidelines cheering him on. All of a sudden we dove into plans to fully realize our dream of coming here. We poured through our guidebooks, checked Internet sites and found ourselves renting movies with specific New York settings to get ourselves in the mood. New York will be getting down in celebration on this wonderful day of the marathon. You deserve it so much. You deserve all of the happiness civic life has to offer. I will be standing on the marathon route, yelling, rubbing elbows and cavorting with you my beloved New Yorkers. This is one Los Angelena who will be supporting all of the participants who come from every corner of the world. For one glorious day, they will all be New Yorkers and I can rightfully shout, “Lookin’ good New York!” I will weep in joy and pride to see the love of my life, Michael, amongst you. Get this, he isn’t even American. He is British. Our friends across the pond are there for us even if they don’t agree with us; we are true friends. No more, “One if by land, two if by sea.” type nonsense. Of course we are going to that swell Village restaurant named precisely that to celebrate our New York experience. I will scan the crowd and think back to my classmate Vinnie. I wonder if he is here. You know what? I bet you he missed the beach and staring down at the names of movie stars forever immortalized on the Hollywood walk of fame. I bet you he is sitting outdoors at a Starbuck’s on Sunset Boulevard, with shades on, calling his lovely California wife back at their Malibu beach house.

Maria A. Merayo is a freelance writer.

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