You're walking down Broadway, 125th to 116th. The subway tracks are elevated here, running down the middle of the street. You could have taken the subway, but you're still trying to get a feel for your new neighborhood. You walk uphill, passing Spanish bodegas, Ethiopian restaurants. A man with a cart tries to sell you mango slices, heavy with chili, salt and lime. They're good, but you're going to a faculty party -- the first of the year, your first real academic job, in your new department. You're only a lowly post-doctoral fellow; you have a lot of people to impress. You don't want to risk getting mango juice on your tie, or mango bits caught between your teeth.
The ground levels out, and the train disappears underground. It was crowded up by your apartment, but here, the streets seem almost deserted. You pass a massive divinity school, with high, fortress-like walls. As you approach the university, the streets fill up with students. It's not a long walk, down Broadway to the university. But it's more than a little surreal -- bright yellow taxis dashing past, more people than you're used to crowding through each intersection. And the buildings -- tall, dingy. The streets are dirty too -- all of New York seems a little dirtier than Chicago was.
Not that you mind; it adds to the aura of the place. Dirty, dangerous, exciting. The people rushing on the streets, hurrying to get from here to there, desperately searching for...something. You feel like anything could happen in this city. You could find a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk, or you could get mugged for a quarter. You could meet a beautiful woman; you could take her to bed. You could even be a different man, tomorrow. There's a tremendous sense of possibility here. Anything could happen.
Even the campus feels different. The University of Chicago, where you did your graduate work, was a gothic relic. Low grey stone buildings, festooned with gargoyles and creeping ivy. The classics department stood at the corner of a quiet quadrangle of lawns, and the university itself was surrounded by Hyde Park. Technically part of Chicago, but in fact, more of a protected island, a quiet academic haven. Living in Hyde Park, you could forget the outside world existed -- it was just you and your books, the old buildings and the green grass. An ivory tower. But here -- here the architecture is neoclassical, arches set into dark red brick, buildings that rise many stories high, facades flat against the bustle of the street. This is an utterly urban university, part of the city in a way the U of C never was. It fits in here, beautifully. The question is, can you fit in half as well? What are you doing here, in New York? What will happen to you here?
You climb the steps of the hall, open the door. You can hear the party -- women's laughter, men's deep voices. You join them.
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