Recently, I took off to New York City for three days by myself. My husband was headed to a conference in Texas, and I needed a change of scenery – which New York always provides.
I’ve been to New York several times before, to visit Allison when she lived in Queens or for long weekends with J. But I’d never taken an entirely solo trip there, and I had never stayed in Manhattan. So I took advantage of this trip to rent an apartment on the Upper West Side, and spend three days pretending I was Kathleen Kelly.
I have a longstanding love affair with You’ve Got Mail – my favorite Nora Ephron film, and one of my favorite movies ever. I love everything about it: the witty dialogue, the gorgeous neighborhood, the whimsical soundtrack, the charming Shop Around the Corner. I love the minor characters: sweet Christina, clueless George, quippy Kevin, wise Birdie. Most of all I love Kathleen Kelly herself: brave, quirky, thoughtful, utterly human.
Although I’d visited a few You’ve Got Mail spots on previous trips to New York, I took the time to visit them all – and linger – this time around. On my first afternoon in the city, I walked down to Riverside Park.
“There’s a place in Riverside Park at 91st Street where the path curves and there’s a garden,” Joe writes to Kathleen in his last email. “Brinkley and I will be waiting.”
The 91st Street Garden is lush with late-summer flowers right now, and though I didn’t see Brinkley and Joe, I saw plenty of dogs and their owners (as well as runners, cyclists and nannies with strollers).
Cafe Lalo, scene of the famous book-and-a-rose encounter in the movie, is on West 83rd Street, just a few blocks from where I was staying. I’d been there for dessert once before, but on this trip I went for breakfast every morning.
Delicious pastries (croissants and pain au chocolat), fresh berries, cheery yellow mugs. There’s a whole wall of French windows, and fresh flowers on all the tables. Every time I walked up, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking of Joe Fox: “She had to be! She had to be!”
Zabar’s, the famous deli, also appears in the movie, and I popped in to browse the displays of gourmet treats and buy some Earl Grey. I also grabbed a hot dog at Gray’s Papaya, and spotted a eucalyptus candle at a housewares shop on Broadway. (As George knows, they make an apartment smell “mossy.”)
I didn’t find the Shop Around the Corner, of course, but I did stumble onto Book Culture‘s newest location. The children’s section, in the basement, is a wonderland, and the entire store is enchanting.
Mostly, I spent hours wandering the West Side, stopping often to snap photos of beautiful brownstones and light through the trees.
On my last morning in the city, I bought a chai latte and wandered back to Riverside Park, under a bold blue sky. I could almost hear the Cranberries playing as I walked down West 86th, toward the park.
(Then I slipped and fell on some stairs and spilled my chai everywhere, proving that my life is not a romantic comedy after all. But at least it makes for a good story.)
I relish the love story in You’ve Got Mail, of course, but more and more I also appreciate its other main plot thread: an unexpected career turn and what happens afterward. That storyline doesn’t resolve neatly, but that, too, rings true – many careers are not a straight line, and most of us have a few bumps we didn’t choose along the way. I like to imagine that Kathleen found happiness in another book-related career, even as she found personal happiness with Joe Fox.
I had other adventures in New York – including visits to several (more) bookstores, of which more soon. But for now, I’ll leave with you with a few daisies from Central Park – because, after all, they are the friendliest flower.