As I exited the train and followed the crowd up the stairs and into the grimy, restaurant-packed underground halls of Penn Station, I realized something right away: since my last trip to New York two years ago, I may just have become a bit of a country bumpkin.
There are certainly crowds in Paris - but unless you, say, try to navigate the sidewalks outside the Galeries Lafayette, there is nothing particularly ruthless or extremely fast-moving about them. That was not the case here. I emerged onto Eighth Avenue and almost got shoved out of the way. I used to be the shover - well, at least in my mind - when I lived here. I picked up the pace.
I was a little early for the meet-up, so I strolled around, taking in the energy of New York. Shops open everywhere, music and radio DJ banter spraying out of their doors, people texting while walking, eating while walking, talking while walking, no one was still, not for a moment. Signs lit up and their electricity seemed to animate the air. I started to move faster as memories and new impressions rushed at me all at once. A crowd at the corner of 34th street felt surprisingly dense and huge, but I kept on for a while, then turned and retraced my steps. A few minutes later, I passed under the Hotel New Yorker's charming Art Deco sign and arrived at the door of Cooper's Tavern, our designated meeting place, chosen by super-talented meet-up organizer Richard, Mr. Cranky Cuss himself!
The reason I took all this time to describe my impressions of returning to Manhattan is that it occurred to me that I could describe the meet-up the same way. It was big, it was crowded, it was full of energy - and it was wonderful! It was so exciting to meet everyone in person, and there were a lot of them there to meet: Richard a.k.a. Cranky Cuss, Sharon a.k.a. dirndl skirt, Eva T. Made Vaudeville and her Lady Lucia, Joanne Harper, Jaime Franchi, Frank Apisa and his pal John, Erica K., Seth James, and Sally Allen.
While we thought regretfully of those OSers near and far who couldn't be
there with us, it may have been for the best. Because while the next three hours were truly delightful, there were just so many darn people to talk to! I needed more time! I told Jaime, Seth, and Cranky as we were leaving that the next big meet-up should be an OS sleepover!
Even so, I'm happy to say many fine conversations still were had, and many laughs as well.
Whenever I read about a meet-up, I'm always intrigued to find out what the people involved are like in real life. So here are my impressions:
Cranky/Richard is as kind and jovial as he is in his writing. He's witty and charming, and also very unassuming. And he has this hatred for styrofoam that I had not heard about before. Luckily, no one asked to take away a meal... I am an even bigger fan of his now than before - and I was already a pretty huge fan.
Sharon (dirndl skirt) - Dressed stylishly in a French mariner sweater, she was kind and soft-spoken, with an air of wisdom about her. I was so impressed by how many places she's traveled to, and how she's seen Paris evolve over several decades, in her visits there. She has an unstudied elegance that might have been intimidating to someone like perpetually frazzled and frizzy me, but when she agreed business cards for cats would be a good idea, I felt much better.
Eva T. Made Vaudeville and Lady Lucia - Eva has often told me she thinks we look alike. When I met her in person, I had to agree. Though she's got a far nicer shape than me, and vastly superior eyebrows. Lady Lucia is Eva's partner, whom she often speaks about in her posts. LL is charming and has a dry wit. The two make a very nice couple, with so many interesting things to say. I also found out that Lady Lucia used to do battle reenactments, like my boyfriend - only hers were for the Revolutionary War. Still, roughly the same time period - and now I know someone else who owns an historic replica musket that's almost as big as they are!
Joanne Harper is as sweet as I'd imagined. I just wanted to hug her all the time! She's also just as concerned about animals in real life as she is on her blog; we discussed a lot about current developments in the Caboodle Ranch case, and also about Kaco, a cat who desperately and urgently needs a home.
If you live in the metro New York area and can take him into your life and heart, please let her know - this cat really needs someone.
Jaime Franchi was possibly the biggest surprise of the evening for me. I've long admired her sharp, polished prose, and though she's always seemed nice, I thought she'd be a little aloof. In fact, it was just the opposite: She's a hilarious, high-energy, extremely friendly girl from Long Island. Impossible not to love.
Frank Apisa was the second person I recognized in real life, after Cranky. He looks just like his avatar, and is as puckish in real life as he is on OS. He circulated around, joking with everyone, and was a lot of fun. I have also never heard anyone over 16 defend the Twilight books with as much fervor.
John - I didn't know John before the meet-up, and unfortunately he left early, but he seemed quite a match for his friend Frank!
Erica K. - I was prepared to enjoy Erica K.'s company, especially after having read about her recent meet-up with fernsy (whom we all spoke about, wishing she was with us, too, and wishing her luck with her ongoing legal struggles - fernsy, I hope you felt the good vibes). I was not disappointed. One thing that did surprise me, though, was how polished she looked, with sleek hair and impeccable clothes. Her avatar picture's a bit blurry, so I think that's why I wasn't expecting the smooth, defined lines of her. I am jealous - I could never in a million years have my hair look so perfect.
Seth James is not only a prolific short story writer (penning a piece every week for the OS Weekend Fiction Club), he's also extremely tall, highly intellectual, sardonic, and very generous. And he's obsessed with sharks...but that's another story. : - )
Sally Allen looks like her avatar, yet more doe-eyed. I envy her those eyes - she's like the Anne Hathaway of OS. I knew she and I would have a lot to talk about, and we did indeed, and as we were talking, what surprised me was that she curses! I have no idea why that surprised me, because in her posts, she can talk about the most complex book in a fun way that makes it accessible, but still...I guess I just didn't think she'd curse. Not that she cursed like a sailor. She probably sad two obscenities all night. But the fact that she did, made me like her even more.
It was so incredible to meet all of these OSers in person. I'm still reeling from it. I can't believe it happened. And then - it was over so fast - a run to Penn Station, saying goodbye to Cranky, then Seth, en route as they hurried to their rides home, then Jaime and I battling our way through the mob leaving Madison Square Garden after a hockey game, then a quick hug with Jaime and a rush to the platform my train was leaving from. I got in, sat down, the doors closed, and soon the meet-up and Manhattan were behind me.
It seems like a dream. Here are a few photos I kept looking at to prove it happened (I know I didn't take a lot, but for those of you who asked for pictures, other people took some and will be posting them soon, too, I think):
Group photo, taken by a waiter who seemed very pleased with his work...even though Seth and Lady Lucia's heads are blocked.... (Left to right, starting with the back row: Frank Apisa, Jaime Franchi, Erica K., Joanne Harper, me. Next row: Richard/Cranky, Sally Allen. Next row: Sharon (dirndl skirt), a mostly obscured Seth James. Front: Eva T. Made Vaudeville, with the partially blocked Lady Lucia just behind her.)
Jaime, me, and Richard at the end of the evening.
Seth James and me.
A big Thank You to everyone who came to the meet-up, and a heartfelt "Wish you were here" to those who couldn't.
And an extra special MERCI BEAUCOUP to Richard for organizing the whole thing!