The phone cleanse

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  • Photo: FaceMePLS, via flickr

Lex and the City


Exiting the subway at 14th Street isn’t part of my typical morning commute — Union Square is nearly 15 blocks from my office in NoMad.

Each day, I shuffle onto a crowded L train to make the switch to the uptown N/Q/R line. With my headphones on and a medium coffee in hand, the routine has become almost robotic. I shift into autopilot as I wait for the caffeine to hit, snapping back to reality only once I’ve sat down at my desk.

Today, I’ve chosen a more scenic route. I’ll be walking the second leg of my journey — an undertaking that, in my semi-sleepy haze, seems like a bit of an endeavor. Moreover, I’ve tucked my phone into the bottom of my purse. I’m making a deliberate effort to unplug.

We’re jaded to cautionary articles about phone usage. Foreboding messages remind us how attached we’ve become to our handheld computers and the unlimited ability to consume media. If you’ve ever left your house without your phone, you can relate to the wave of unnecessary, stomach-churning panic that hits once you’ve realized it’s missing. Moving through the day without it feels as though you’re operating without a limb.

This is no attempt to preach — truly, I’m just as guilty of this addiction as anyone else. Rather, it’s an attempt to connect to a city that has so much alternative, authentic stimulation to offer. It’s a challenge to find equivalent entertainment in the ongoing performance that is New York City. It’s a search for inspiration outside of Instagram, a chance to tune in to the vivacious, visceral beat of urban life.

In the spirit of much-loved New York wellness trends, let’s call it a cleanse.

The first thing I notice is how quiet things seem. Union Square is not quiet, of course, but it feels nearly silent in comparison to the constant clamor of percussion and bass that trickles through my headphones without pause. Growing up in the city, you become so accustomed to honking horns and shouting pedestrians that the noise almost fades into the background. The weather is indecisive; my skin bristles with the chill of a sudden breeze and warms as the sun finally escapes from behind a cluster of clouds. Have my senses heightened? It’s been just three minutes, and I wonder if I’ve achieved some level of superior awareness. Will food taste sweeter, scents be more fragrant? I carry onward.

I stumble upon a coffee shop called Chalait. The interior is posh and picturesque: minimal with pops of color, signage with thin line-work. I’m a sucker for good branding. Whole-grain pastries and matcha teas tease my empty stomach, and I decide that I deserve a small break from my journey.

The café is cute, but the cups are even cuter. My brain ticks with the impulse to reach for my phone, to take a picture and edit it to post-ready perfection. I imagine the witty words I’d share besides hash tags and emoticons. If no one sees it, did I even drink it at all? I stop myself. “So cool,” I say aloud, since I can’t text a friend. If I had typed it, I’d have probably spelled it “kewl.”

There’s a bench outside, so I sit down for some purposeful people watching. Across from me, two men set up instruments — a guitar, a snare, and a high-hat — to play some street-side tunes. The technical term is “busking,” something I learned only recently despite living in this city for nearly my whole life.

Their song begins with the bluesy whine of the guitar; the drummer waits with anticipation for his entrance to the tune, a subtle rat-a-tat on the symbol that builds and builds until the two melodies erupt into a lively chorus.

Cars roll past and bikers whiz past them. People yell and construction workers drill. Despite the noise, the musicians’ melody carries. The city pulsates with its own unique soundtrack.

I’m five minutes late for work, but I’ll take another five. In a place that compels you to keep moving, to rush from one thing to the next at a constant rate, it’s hard to even understand that it’s OK to slow down. To stop and smell the roses, or the hot dog carts, or the hot summer garbage or the Balthazar croissants or the cologne of the handsome man that’s been walking ahead of you this entire time.

I think I’ll do this more often.

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