1.64 million people live on the minuscule space of Manhattan Island. On a typical weekday that number rises to approximately 3.1 million. (1) 1.63 million are commuters who enter for work. The city becomes stuffed from the other boroughs through bustling cabs and sweaty subways. But also through the celestial roofed Grand Central station. I always wondered where are all those trains were coming from as they pulled into the station and enter into the chaos. When a city child asks where do these people come from, their parents speak to them in worried, muted tones, “The suburbs.”
The suburbs. Home to millions of people. The suburbs exist so you can visit and work in the city and not have to be in the grind perpetually. I guess some people like trees not in contained areas, and want open space where they can breath!
I had the pleasure to be invited to visit one of these illustrious places last weekend. Chappaqua, New York. An hour train ride from Grand Central. Home of 1,400 people including the Clintons. This tiny suburb’s average income is $105,439 so we’re not talking about just any normal suburb. Chappaqua, New York was founded by Quakers in the 1730’s and name comes from the Native Americans who used to live in the area. Shahpahka as the Quakers heard the natives call it means "the rustling land" or "the rattling land," or “a place where nothing is heard but the rustling of the wind in the leaves.” I’m not going to lie to you, not much has changed since the 18th century.
My friend Reed invited me and Leo to spend the day with him there. Leo and I have heard countless stories of this town. He told me there was a great deli to try there, which always gets me excited. I was teeming with excitement as the train pulled up to the small station. I was imaging all the stories I heard about this place. I was imaging a preppy downtown with more pink shorts than a Nantucket vs. Martha's Vineyard regatta. As I arrived I noticed the temperature change. It was boiling in the city that day, but all the free space made this town only thirty miles farther north feel like Antarctica. I was overjoyed to have escaped the convection oven of concrete that a summer day in New York entails.
The town was barely a town. The 8 or 9 shops stood idly as two cars sat along the side of the road and an old man sat on a bench reading a wrinkled copy of Time magazine. It was night and day from the sweaty haze of Manhattan.
“Wow, there are actually people in town. It's usually deserted,” Reed said peering out the window at the brick and wood shops. If this wasn’t deserted I don't know what is, I thought to myself. Only one shop seemed to have people in it (by people I mean three people but that's pretty hectic): Villarina’s Deli and Catering. The little store with its bright green overhang and big glass windows looked homey and warm. We walked into the shop and it reminded me of all the times visiting my grandmother in New Canaan and going to a deli there. I had to honestly look around for a second and make sure it isn't the same one. All north-eastern delis look the same. They all have the big glass viewing box stuffed with food, chalk boards hanging behind the counter scribbled with countless options and shelves of assorted chips and snacks standing all around you (and if it's classy a ceiling fan roars in the background). I got a 99 cent Arnold Palmer and some wrap with a weird name like, “The Tommy Boy” or “The Chubber.”
The wrap came out wrapped excessively in crinkly aluminium foil and dropped in a big brown paper bag that was much too large for the wrap. We left and sat on a bright green bench and began to eat. The bacon and avocado was delicious together. It wasn’t very spicy so I went back in and asked for some hot sauce.
“Could I have some hot sauce please?”
“Hot sauce? What do you mean?” The man behind the counter said in a very harsh tone. At this point I’m collapsing back to my awkward tendencies. Does the fact that I’m asking for hot sauce imply that I don’t think his food is good or well seasoned? Am a bad person? I stand just staring at the man, not knowing what to say. I’m planning my escape route when he just starts cracking up. “Oh my god! Your face! Oh, man I got you. Alright yeah, here's your hot sauce.” I take the hot sauce and escape that interaction as quickly as possible.
I ate the wrap and walked around the town with Reed and Leo. To my left was a huge castle of a school. It was huge, gorgeous building that looked like it had been built for a feudal lord. “Is that the private school?” I ask Reed as we play on the neighboring playground the last remnants of the delicious wrap in my hand.
“No that's the public middle school” he said, as a Porsche flew down the two lane road. I realized here I was only thirty miles from New York City, but I never felt further away.