Gettin’ my cultural groove on.

I adore the new home. A wall of solid mirror makes the living room feel huge, and there are floral stained-glass accents throughout. It’s all polished hardwood and gleaming.

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We have the ground floor, there are apartments in the basement, and on the second story. We’re on a quiet street full of homes with their own hints of stained glass and modest architectural flourishes, with small well-groomed yards that often display skill with attractive edible landscaping. There are plenty of shade trees, and the birds don’t seem to be intimidated by foot traffic.

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In short, Joe did a good job finding a nice place to raise a family. Most blocks end in a small selection of shops. Each one looks like a convenience store, but inside is full of treasures.

Prickly pear, papaya, fresh fish, and a selection of staples that give a taste of cultures the locals once called home. Mom and Pop corner stores at home never offer fresh produce, real shopping within a pleasant walk is a relief.

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I haven’t placed the accent of my favorite store owner (the one right on the corner in the pic), but he typifies the atmosphere of so many of these shops. Warm, friendly, accommodating, and somewhat bursting with pride. He’s teaching my daughter to anticipate a free lollipop every time we leave.

I mentioned to him that I’m more comfortable in the country, and he said that to him, this is the country. Calling anywhere in NYC “country” seems laughable, but he kind of has a point, a little. Life is close enough together that it’s stacked up on top of itself here, but we do have areas overgrown with vines, areas with fireflies, even deer a few blocks away.

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You don’t tend to find murals in the country though. And when I say we live in a quiet neighborhood, I mean you only see one or two people walking down each block, and though cars are parked everywhere, there’s also a few moving around at any given time.

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Here the homes sometimes house several generations, the oldest grandparents barely understanding English. The accent thins down to imperceptible in the smallest, most wide eyed and beautiful youth. Here live the people who came to America hoping for a better life, and they did so.

Here, in this city, lives the American Dream. I mean, of course it’s everywhere in America, but here it doesn’t seem as jaded.

Let me give you some specifics. The other day, it was too late for most food options. Our trusty GPS led us to a parking lot surrounded by a decorative iron gate and lush, carefully pruned hedges. Christmas lights in the form of angels lit up the trees.

Three shops stood next to each other, and it wasn’t until we left that we realized they could be owned by the same man. A martial arts studio lay next to an IHOP, then on the other side lay a sushi place. I have got to go there sometime when the sushi-hating Joe isn’t dining with me and my son.

We walked inside IHOP and right away I could tell something was off, but I couldn’t immediately place it. I saw pictures on the walls of a martial arts grand-master, so I figured the students from next door ate here after practice. Then I looked around and saw the subtle “off-ness” was due to a slight Asian flare to the architecture, making it a little different than most IHOPs.

Then the coolest thing happened. An older version of the martial arts grand master stood next to his poster and welcomed us to his restaurant. He wore shorts and knee length socks in a style that reminded me of a tourist in the islands, and suddenly the whole place felt like a tropical island, especially with the faint ocean feel to the air. I regretted not taking my camera.

He was charming, and radiated pride and love for his establishment. His presence and the atmosphere of the place made it an IHOP I will never forget. He helped me realize what it was I was seeing in the community around me, immigrants with true pride in what they’ve accomplished.

Yes, it’s everywhere across the nation, but here it radiates in a way more intense than I’ve ever run across. It’s an excitement that’s a little contagious, and an unexpected treat in this whole big city experience thing.

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