I love spending my birthday in New York because every time I do, complete strangers make me feel like a million dollars. The tradition began the year I turned 45 when a guy I’d been dating ardently and exclusively for months pulled an unexpected disappearing act just before my birthday, leaving me feeling desolate and insecure. Although friends were planning an extravagant dinner, I knew that when the night was over I’d be coming home alone, so I ditched them for 8 million strangers and booked a week-long trip to New York.
I arrived on a Friday, and friends I hadn’t seen in years trekked to the city from outer boroughs and counties for lunches and dinners during the weekend, showering me with self-affirming affection. I was glad I came.
But Monday, my actual birthday, dawned lonely, my friends back to their real lives and I on my own. After a tentative walk to a coffee shop near my hotel on Central Park West for a chai latte and a bagel, I decided to buck up and venture farther out.
I headed uptown on Broadway. A few blocks into my walk, a worker at a construction site gave me a thumbs-up and said, “Pretty girl!”
Really? I didn’t feel that pretty, but wow, thanks! Then I went to Zabar’s, and at the checkout line, the cashier called a co-worker over after I presented my ID. “Come see this woman, you will never believe how old she is,” she said. Um…thanks?
Yes! Thanks! I felt renewed, invigorated, powerful, and more like myself than I ever did at home.
Since then, I’ve spent two more birthdays in New York, and each time I’ve been similarly rewarded. On my 48th, as Lauren and I were exiting the subway to meet friends for dinner, a cool young hip-hop looking chick wearing a jockey cap pointed at me as we passed her and said, “Miss, you look GORGEOUS!” And this birthday, my 53rd (or as my friend Jim says simply, “3”), a drummer we’d been talking with at the bar at Café Loup followed us as we left, pulled me aside, and said, “I have to tell you…You are stunning.” A few days later, as I stood on the subway platform waiting for a train to meet Lauren on Broadway for “Book of Mormon”—her birthday present to me, and oh-my-god-incredible!—a handsome man caught my eye and smiled, then said, “I saw you two blocks ago. That dress…it’s amazing. You chose well.”
Stuff like that never happens to me in New Orleans, which is why I’m anticipating many happy New York birthdays to come.