Tonight, a curtain closes in Central Park: it’s the final performance of the 54th annual “Shakespeare in the Park”, one of New York’s premier summer traditions. For over half a century, thousands have packed the stands of the historic Delacorte Theatre every week, taking in drama and sunsets alike. It’s as summer as tan lines on Coney Island.
While the Fall equinox is still nearly three weeks away, tonight’s final act pulls a curtain of another kind. It’s not just a big bow for the Public Theatre; it’s Labor Day Monday. Summer (the three-month vacation from reality) is over. The trees won’t change for weeks, but a transition of another kind has taken root.
You can feel this change deep in your bones. The weather’s the same, but in your gut, something has changed. After this weekend, summer is gone. Gone are the coffee-running interns, the hydrant-busting schoolkids, the Jitney-bound islanders. Gone are your pool slides, your pastel sneakers, anything that isn’t neutral and waterproof. Gone, too, is a pulse: a solar-charged rhythm that powers everything from music festivals to Movies in the Park. However it’s expressed, this intangible spirit is a season-long call to be outside in the company of others – and love every second of it.
The soul of a New York City summer is hedonistic in the most selfless way imaginable. Sadly for this buoyant spirit, September 5 is its curtain call. Sidewalk brunches lose their appeal when you’d simply rather be inside. So what’s to blame for this pulse going silent?
Is it earnestness? Between now and July, a certain gravity has returned to all five boroughs: school is in session; the college kids are back. Friday nights now start at 5:00. Maybe it’s that colonial Puritan heritage, but after Labor Day, there seems to be less humor in the world. Nine million people uniformly deciding to straighten up seems implausible, but if the 2007 Mets are any indicator, September is stranger than fiction. Besides, Smorgasburg just isn’t the same when you don’t come back sunburned.
Or perhaps, is it urgency? Within this grand transition lies a primal anxiety familiar to anyone living above the snow line: some morning soon, it won’t just be windy – it will be brisk. After all, shorter days means less sun, less sun means less heat, and less heat means… cold. While early September weekends fall firmly into “shorts weather”, even the most bacchanal grasshopper among us can feel the chill in the air and wonder what we’ve done to prepare for the season. Plus, if you believe the ads on Fifth Avenue, September might as well be parka weather.
September 5, Labor Day Monday, is a sun-drenched inflection point: the last beach weekend of the year means that slowly, surely, inevitably winter is coming.
But well before the snow falls, the leaves will: September 5 is the starting gun for all things autumn. Fall is the only season built for the Hudson River Valley, and it’s here that New York’s grand transition really takes shape. Mr. Softee becomes farmer’s market apples. Brooklyn Flea becomes a trip to the pumpkin patch. Draped in changing leaves, Tavern on the Green becomes orange, red, and yellow. Coffee brews, pigskins fly, and finally the humidity disappears. A New York City fall is a feast for the senses.
And then there’s the style. Not just New York Fashion Week, but the “55 and sunny” uniform that feels at home the second it comes out of your closet. Fall means all things comfy and oversized, the seasonal return of wearing clothes made for the Northeast. For ladies, Fall is the season of broken-in boots, thick wooly flannels, and that sweatshirt you couldn’t even think about in the August heat. For guys, it’s the chance to wear something other than a t-shirt. After today, your sartorial options become millions. High tops look better with pants, anyways.
Above all else, New York City’s fall transition is the return of a spirit all its own. Fall is a harvest, the time to savor the fruits of a long summer. Whether that’s a long weekend upstate or an Octoberfest staycation, now is the time for one last indulgence. Fall is a closeness, the official start of the holiday season. Soon, there will be turkeys in ovens and beloved traditions remembered only after a second glass of wine. The pulse of New York in fall is a different sort of heartbeat: the kind that warms you from the inside instead of waiting for a sunray.
September 5 may seem like an awkward middle between opposing poles, but the end result of this transition is good. For every lost rooftop bar night, there’s are a thousand other reasons to celebrate this seasonal shift. And as for that pulse? Just throw on a sweater, go to Prospect Park, and listen for the crunch of the newly-dried leaves. The spirit of the city simply never went silent.