My reading in New York City had just ended and I was signing books at the sidewalk tables out front. A young man approached: “Are you Lori Tobias?” For an instant, I stared at him, nearly speechless. I am used to people approaching me on the Oregon Coast with that question. But let’s face it, the Oregon Coast is essentially a 363-mile-long small town and my mug has been plastered in newspapers around here for more than a decade. But big city, anonymous New York?
I’d been anticipating this day with both excitement and dread for months. And finally here we were. Days earlier, we’d flown into Pennsylvania to family, then took the train to NYC. On the day of my reading, my niece and her friend met us for a lunch cruise around Manhattan. I was doing my best to be calm, trying not to think of the many ways I might make a fool of myself. But my emotions were right there just beneath the surface — as I was about to learn. The ferry motored close to the Statue of Liberty and we headed to the top deck. And then the music started. “God Bless America…” I felt the tears rise, then took a deep breath and gave thanks for my sunglasses. Then, just as I was commending myself for holding it together, that unmistakable voice filled the air:
“Start spreading the news
I’m leaving today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York.”
And I burst into tears.
That afternoon, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for my big night. It had been a great visit so far. You always hear about how rude people are back east. I can tell you that I had not one bad experience — OK, so the town car driver fibbed about the price and outright lied about Obama being in town — but there was also the taxi driver who insisted on taking our photo outside the hotel, and the drug store clerk who walked us outside to point out the various places we might want to see, and the kindly New Yorkers who helped us through the subway turnstile, after I continually failed to make it through. Turns out, I was entering too early and getting stopped before making it to the other side. Since the tickets are only good for one swipe, I had to buy another — and then another. Yes, we did look like we were from Hooterville.
The day had been sunny and warm, but as I dressed, I noticed it had grown darker. I figured the days were growing shorter faster than I’d realized. My reading was at 6. At 5:30, we headed downstairs to ask the doorman to hail a taxi. That’s when we saw it. A mini squall had blown in and the rain was coming down, the wind howling like, well, like the Oregon Coast. Upside-down umbrellas, sheets of rain. The doorman spotted a cab half a block down the street. “Will you walk with me?” he asked, umbrella open and ready.
“No,” I replied.
Was he nuts? I had just spent an hour fussing in front of the mirror and he wanted me to walk a half a block with no more protection than his umbrella? Seriously! So off he went alone into the rain and wind, somehow persuading the taxi driver to back up the street, at which point I, undercover of the doorman’s umbrella, bolted to the backseat.
My reading started late as everyone else struggled in from the storm. But what a night. What amazing friends. We talked, we laughed, we raised a few toasts. They bought books. I signed books. And when it was time to move on, we agreed we would continue the party over dinner.
But as it turned out, there were not quite enough seats, so my niece and her friends opted to venture off on their own to enjoy a rare night on the town without their kids. As I stood outside signing their books, I heard that question: Was I Lori Tobias?
“I am,” I said.
“I caught the last half of your reading,” he said. “I read about it in Oregon Coast TODAY.”
“How on Earth did you get your hands on an Oregon Coast TODAY?” I asked.
“I live in Newport,” he said.
And in that moment, New York City did not seem nearly so big or anonymous at all.
Lori Tobias covered the coast for The Oregonian for nine years. She lives in Newport, where she freelances for a number of regional and national publications. Follow her at loritobias.com.