Renee, 85, has lived on the upper west side for 25 years. Before that she lived on the upper east side for 35 years. Before that she lived in Cleveland. She took one look at New York City and never wanted to leave again.
Now she's sitting by the picture window in a coffee shop on 86th and Amsterdam, tearing her favorite articles out of the New York Times. She folds them neatly and tucks them into her purse.
Five minutes later she takes them out to read again, unfolding slowly, intentionally.
She spots me looking for a free table. "You're all dressed up for a concert!" She exclaims, taking note of my guitar. "Join me!"
And so I do.
Renee puts down the paper and stares out the window blissfully - "People don't know how lucky we are," she says, shaking her head, crossing her arms against her chest. "Look at that! Would you just look at that sun crawling across the building! Look at that blue blue sky!" she unfolds her arms again and gestures wildly with both, conducting a street symphony.
Although you can only see a sliver of it through the canyon of apartment buildings, I have to notice that the sky IS bursting with saturation this afternoon.
Renee's wearing a black velvet hat from the 1980s and oversize square glasses that magnify her eyes marvelously. Wisps of hair fall out in soft curves, tickling the shoulders of a red sweater as she whips her head around, taking it all in.
"Just LOOK at those beautiful people in their beautiful clothing, and all those the bright yellow taxis, and THAT, will you look at THAT?!?" She points to the glowing bricks on an old church.
"I took one look at New York City and never wanted to leave again."
I'm not sure what to tell her, except that The Big Apple has never welcomed me with such youthful enthusiasm.
She gets up from our table and stealthily fills her purse with something from the fix-it-yourself-coffee-station. Returning she leans in close to my face and unfurls a poker-hand of honey sticks. "These are good snacks!" she says. "And free!"
"May I have one?"
Oh, yes, she says. "You get what you ask for, you know."
85 year old Renee in the black velvet hat and the square glasses squeezes my hand and gives me two.
"Enjoy them!" she exclaims, walking away to make friends of another stranger.
And so I do.