A few weeks ago, I found myself stranded in Soho. I had spent the previous night at a friend’s apartment in the Upper West Side, but had earlier left my belongings at his girlfriend’s Soho loft. The next morning, the girlfriend discovered that she had forgotten her keys and cell phone back at his place, and so had no way of getting into her apartment (where I had to go to reclaim my backpack), or contacting her roommate. The only thing for me to do, then, was to wait — to wander around Soho, checking back periodically at the apartment to see if the roommate had come home.
These hours of waiting were an especially apt choice of torture for me. In general, I like to meticulously plan my days, cramming in as many productive activities as possible. And that weekend was an especially bad time for me to be stuck on the streets of New York; I had reading to do for my classes, mock trial oral arguments to prepare for, research to finish for a professor, and a Yale Daily News column to write. The prospect then, of losing precious hours when there was all this work to be done infuriated me. I called my friend and berated him and his girlfriend for forgetting the apartment keys.
I tried (in vain) to contact other people who might know the roommate’s phone number and considered calling the police to let me in. I am sure that, to all passersby, I resembled one of those stressed and scowling New Yorkers who give the city its legendary reputation for rudeness.
After my anger simmered for a while, though, a funny thing happened. I realized that nothing I was doing — neither my agitated phone calls nor my antagonistic pacing through the Soho streets — was likely to help me get my backpack any sooner, and my frustration began to dissipate. Accepting my powerlessness to improve the situation, I stopped frantically calling people, slowed the tempo of my walking, and began to take in the neighborhood’s charm and energy. The weather was balmy for midwinter, so the fashionistas of Soho were out in full force, sipping coffee in trendy cafes, perusing paintings at galleries, and flaunting their newest outfits. The stores and restaurants all buzzed with activity, as New Yorkers enjoyed a sunny Saturday in Soho.
Faced with a wait of unpredictable duration, I first bought a copy of The New York Times, and read it leisurely from start to finish while trying out pastries at a local bakery. When I went back out to Soho’s cobbled streets, I bought a pair of sunglasses from a street vendor, and ended up talking with him for half an hour about the unrest in his homeland of Haiti. I also explored the neighborhood’s galleries and stores (including Prada’s flagship store-cum-modern art museum), read snippets of various tempting novels at a bookstore, and then just sat on a bench watching the world go by and calling friends with whom I hadn’t spoken in a while. To my surprise, the hours passed quickly, and worries about reading and research receded from my consciousness.
In the evening, I finally got the call that I had been anticipating all day, informing me that the elusive roommate had been tracked down and that I could now pick up my backpack from the apartment. As I retrieved my belongings and began the trip back to New Haven, my first instinct was to list all my tasks for the next few days, and draft a detailed schedule for their execution. Strangely, though, this impulse did not prevail. I felt, instead, an unusual sense of calm and relaxation — likely stemming from the hours I had spent in Soho, unable to work on anything school- or activity-related, and forced to appreciate the vitality of the neighborhood.
In the end, I was not quite able to finish all my reading for my Monday classes, my professor’s research had to wait a couple extra days before being completed, and my News column was turned in a bit later than I (or my editor) would have liked. But I still do not regret my afternoon stranded in Soho. What seemed at first an occasion for unmitigated frustration turned out to be a rare opportunity to savor the sights and sounds of the city without worrying about schedules and deadlines — an opportunity, in short, to step off the churning treadmill of life for a day.
Nicholas Stephanopoulos is a first year student at Yale Law School. His column appears on alternate Mondays.