“Table for one please!”

by Debra Chappell

Landing at La Guardia airport at 6:00 in the evening, I made my way to the Super Shuttle for the trip to my hotel.  I have to admit, I was a bit nervous.  Not only about meeting my new agent and the two prospective professional editors I’d come to see, but about the logistics of travelling in such a large city… alone.  Sure, I’d been to New York several times – with my husband and with the entire family on holidays.  This however was quite different. I was dependent on only my GPS and limited instincts, both of which I was trusting entirely for the first time. The fear that one or the other could be wrong paralyzed me on more than one occasion.

Though I’d considered bringing a friend to make a girls trip of it, in the end I decided it was best to come by myself, to focus, to concentrate on the business at hand, and be left alone to digest each meeting, make notes and review all the information I’d be receiving – even if that meant spending evenings alone in my hotel room with some cheap wine and room service. (Ha! Good luck finding either!)  When you’re in New York in December at the height of the holiday season however, that’s a pretty tall order!

I collected my luggage and checked my messages while waiting for the shuttle bus.  There was one from a friend back home saying “I hope by now you’re at the top of Bergdorf Goodman sipping champagne and overlooking Central Park…”  She went on to suggest some hit plays to see, places to eat, and sites to take in.  I admit it deflated me just a little. I could do without the reminder of all the things I would have to forego.  My professional future as a writer depended on this trip – I couldn’t let Broadway and shopping and champagne and the Berg…man  Good…whatever obscure my focus.  (Though cocktails overlooking Central Park did sound appealing… )

As the shuttle made it’s way to my hotel (in midtown Manhattan – an arm and a leg for an average room that cost $69 a night at home – breakfast buffet included,) I couldn’t help but be seduced by the sparkling city dressed in its holiday splendor.  I checked in, dropped my bags, and immediately set out on foot to explore the glittering city and search for a place for dinner, promising myself to be back early.  I had a full agenda the next day and needed to be in bed by a decent hour.  I found a lovely little Italian restaurant around the corner and sat next to a friendly, outgoing couple from Paris who spoke excellent English and seemed more than willing to share small-talk along with their breadsticks and antipasto platter.

I awoke early the following morning, dressed myself in the outfit I’d purchased for the occasion (knee-high boots, cashmere sweater and scarf, and long tailored jacket) and set out to find a traditional bagel shop.  The minute I stepped foot onto the sidewalk and into the crisp, bustling New York morning, I felt like I’d entered the human race for the first time.  There’s a sense of purpose, a sense that really big things happen here, a sense that everyone is rushing to get someplace extraordinarily important.  Even the little old ladies carrying their canvas shopping bags are dressed for the city and walk with hastened urgency.  Though my first meeting was still hours away, I was swept up in the hurried energy of it all. I found myself standing more erect, striding out, walking with resolute purposefulness.  By golly… I was determined to find that perfect bagel!

so wanted to sneak up Lexington to 42nd and on over to Times Square, just to have a little peak around and soak it all in, but maintaining my focus, headed back to my hotel instead, deftly juggling my coffee and bagel. I arrived back to my room a good hour before my first meeting, went over my notes and questions one more time, and tweaked my hair with the curling iron. Settling into the cab for the ride to the first editorial meeting, the strangest feeling came over me.  It was a powerful sense of legitimacy…that though I was a visitor, I was no longer a tourist.  I had a viable purpose!  I had a reason to be here! I have business in New York City!!  Like the bustling little old ladies on the sidewalk, I BELONG HERE! (Imagine the music rising here and Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air – if you’re too young to remember, don’t rub it in!)

Alas, the feeling was fleeting.  It dissipated completely when we passed the Empire State building and I muttered holy crap to the slightly bemused cab driver, while craning my neck for a better view.

My meetings with the two editors couldn’t have gone better.  I was impressed with them both.  They each had their own strengths and though completely different from one another, they both were more than capable.  One has been an associate editor for several years at an established leading publishing house.  The other has written for television and is quite successful as a freelance editor.  They each had the technical expertise and industry know-how I was seeking.  What I was looking for in particular was personal chemistry, that intangible something you feel when it all ‘clicks’.  I also needed someone who could offer practical guidance in an encouraging way and keep me on task (read that: hold my hand and kick me in the butt, sometimes at the same time!)  They each had a different approach to their craft and different method of working – it was like choosing between Chocolate Silk Decadence Cake and Triple Berry Summer Cobbler.

After both meetings, as the afternoon slid into dusk and the long city shadows crept in, I sat in a bustling coffee house filled with festive holiday shoppers.  While they were checkin’ theirs twice, I was making my own list – of the strengths and weaknesses of both the professional editors I’d met earlier.  I highlighted their technical skill, intuitive abilities, and the elusive “it” factor, and also noted what I thought were their drawbacks.  By my second biscotti and peppermint mocha, I was already leaning towards one of them.

I was anxious to talk it all over at length with my agent – we’d scheduled our appointment for the following morning.  Though she had assured me the decision was mine alone to make, I valued her input and opinion.  Walking the 20 odd blocks back to my hotel, I was so engaged in the stewing going on in my brain, I hadn’t noticed that night had fallen and it was getting chilly.  When I arrived back in my room, blisters had formed on my heels, it had started to rain in earnest and I had pretty much made up my mind.  Knowing there was nothing more I could do for the moment, I gave myself permission to enjoy the evening.

I was feeling so good about my decision, the events of the day, and my instincts leading me in the right direction, I decided to walk to dinner in the pouring rain, not caring for once about my drooping hair, soggy coat, or how the hell I looked when I got there.  I had spotted the restaurant –Aureole (on 42nd, just a few blocks from Times Square – ZAGAT rated – what the heck!) earlier in the day when I was walking from one meeting to the next and had stopped in to make a reservation.  When I had explained to the hostess it would be a ‘party of one’ she looked up and said, “Oh, I just love that! Good for you!”  I had smiled a little self-consciously then, but now somehow, arriving dripping wet and drenched to the core, I surprisingly felt on top of the world!