The hush before the rush in New York
At dawn, an unfamiliar quiet engulfs the city.
There is something optimistic about a new day, even before the sun has risen.
In the predawn darkness, the New York City taxi in which I'm riding glides down upper Fifth Avenue in perfect time with the synchronized lights, past empty buses and shadowy Upper East Side streets and apartment windows, on a wide-open straightaway, in a still-sleeping city.
The navy-blue sky becomes a backdrop for darkened roof peaks and turrets, while Central Park, to my right, looms black and obscure.
Farther south, at 60th Street, the entrances of the Pierre and Plaza Hotels glow, and the lighted storefronts shine onto the avenue's vacant pavement.
On a nearby corner, a lone sidewalk vendor parks his silver cart, brimming with a rush-hour's worth of doughnuts and drink cups.
A solitary early-morning commuter, coffee container in hand, ambles toward an office building's granite entrance.
At this time of day in New York City, a mere 20 minutes can mean the difference between a peaceful constitutional down an uncrowded sidewalk and a harried hike zigzagging past the first wave of the day's bustling commuters as they pour out of side streets and subway stations.
Today, it is still early enough to absorb the morning's tranquility while I ride to Pennsylvania Station for a day trip to a business meeting in Washington. Clutching a mug of coffee, I am here to witness this urban awakening.
There is an otherworldly, some-other-city quality to Fifth Avenue at 5:45 a.m.
It is as if the city is another person's metropolis, not the one that I have lived in for decades.
Store windows, although familiar with their haute mannequins in layers of colorful clothing and elaborate shoes, have a foreign feel.
Perhaps it is the absence of people blocking a clear view of the stores' wares, and the motion that is always part of Midtown life, ebbing and flowing with the "Don't Walk" signs or traffic making its way downtown in fits and starts or the crowds that swell at the windows of Tiffany & Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue.
My taxi travels to Midtown in record time, the numbers on the passing streets descending rhythmically one by one â€“ 45th, 44th â€“ like minutes.
As I near my destination, a blush of daybreak appears along the eastern edge of Manhattan, across East 42nd Street near the river. The rest of New York still slumbers, and the Empire State Building's spire is still lost in a shroud of mist.
In a few moments, the city will awaken. Workers will pile out of Grand Central and Penn Stations and scurry through crosswalks.
Bus windows will fill with faces that stare down at me in my cab, and the sky will fade from navy to gray to bright blue.
In time, even the thick mist hiding the spire at 34th Street will evaporate, allowing the sun to shine and cast long shadows west toward the Hudson River.
But all this will come later.
For now, though, in this predawn quiet, I'm swept up in the promise and the wonder of something completely familiar yet brand-new.