On The Road Again


PROVIDENCE – Manhattan. Midweek. Mid-March. 2004. I was coming home from a full day at school and stopped at the corner deli to pick up some food for breakfast and lunch the next day. Loaded down with two bags of groceries, my purse and my briefcase, I moved towards the exit sign above the glass door.

Facing me, on the other side of the glass, was a woman – much like me – late fifties, dressed for business, looking like she, too, had had a long day. But she was blocking my exit – she put her hand on the door and began to push her way into the store. It seemed to me that if she moved over slightly, I could get out and there would then be room for her to come in. So, wearing a smile, I made a series of hand motions through the glass, indicating that she could move over, pointing to my chest and then out – indicating that first, I’d come out, then pointing to her to indicate that she could then enter.

She met my friendly smile with an icy glare and mouthed definitively unfriendly words back at me. And just like that – 58 years as an avid New Yorker – over in a nanosecond.

I went home, called my son to let him know that I had decided to visit him in Providence that weekend, and asked him to have his real estate broker friend show me some houses, just for fun.

I happened to be having dinner with a buddy that night and asked for the name of his childhood friend who was the head of a school in Providence – a school for kids with learning differences, much like the ones I had worked at in Manhattan for the past 20 years. The next day, I called him to set up an appointment on Friday. I wanted to know what the work scene in the Learning Disability field might be for someone with my credentials – teaching, tutoring, development, administration and graphics.

He could not have been more welcoming. “Just come,” he said. “You’ll figure it out once you get here. You’ll be fine.”

Early Saturday morning, the broker showed me a house that had just come on the market, located in Providence’s proper East Side. Love at first sight – just like all my other impulse buys! My kids came to look, we went out to eat and I thought how sweet life would be being closer to them and what joy to fall into such spontaneous get-togethers more frequently. So I submitted an “I’m a savvy NewYorker low-ball bid” and the next day it was accepted.

I went home on Sunday with a contract, quit my job on Monday, put my house in Croton-on-Hudson on the market and gave notice to my landlord on the studio I’d been renting on the eastside of Manhattan. I would have until the end of the school year to get organized. I was a pro at moving. “Change is an opportunity to grow,” I’d said with each move, one every few years for the past 20 years.

One by one, I let my friends and loved ones know that my master plan was again changing. Many people were happy for me, some sad, some angry.

As had proven to be my usual moving pattern, I made a bit of money on the sale. By June, all my belongings were boxed and color-coded, so that the movers could look at the color-coded floor plan and place my belongings into the new rooms in which they, and I, would now live.

I moved out of the apartment on a Thursday morning, the last week of June. The van met me in Croton that afternoon and we packed up. I went to the closing in White Plains early Friday and, cashier’s check in hand, drove to Providence for the closing on my new home late that afternoon.

Riding with me in my car were the classic Singer sewing machine with which my immigrant grandmother had made her living, my mother’s Tony Award – the second ever to go to a woman for Best Producer of a Broadway Play – and my computer. Somehow these three items were symbolic of the strong line of women from whom I have sprung.

Somewhere in Connecticut, I pulled off the highway. I had a good cry. Ferocious sobbing from a place so deep – then over in three minutes. I pulled back onto I-95 and headed into my future.

Nicky Nichtern (nickynichtern.com) partners with not-for-profit organizations to help reinforce their mis-sions by developing improved graphic communications.