It is a gift rarely granted: to walk in another's shoes, to feel the familiar road suddenly drop away, to know how sore your feet get after wearing the same wingtips or high heels for 10 days straight.
For several hundred young professionals, displaced from their pricey apartments on West 44th Street until Thursday because of the Times Square construction accident, life over the past week and a half has offered an eye-opening lesson in the unexpected discomforts of being adrift in New York."You just can't go home: It is unexplainable how much that affects you," said Cindy Dupree, who owns an artists management company and has lived for five years at 130 W. 44th St. After the scaffolding collapse at the Conde Nast building on July 21, she moved in with friends.
Most of the streets around the building site were reopened a week after the accident, which killed one woman and turned Times Square into an eerily empty canyon devoid of people and cars.
But even after a measure of normality was restored, West 43rd and West 44th streets between Broadway and the Avenue of the Americas - the epicenter of the accident - remained barricaded. As of late Wednesday, city emergency management officials were saying West 44th St. would stay closed until at least Sunday, but they surprised residents Thursday morning and opened that street.
The word spread quickly among the displaced artists, actors, students, lawyers and business executives who make up the bulk of the residential tenants on a block dominated by restaurants, small businesses and the Lamb's Theater. They came, incredulous at first and then whooping with pent-up joy as they ran toward their apartments with lumpy plastic bags in their arms and borrowed suitcases bumping along behind them.
For many of the temporary vagabonds of West 44th Street, it was the little indignities that vexed the most - the homely polyester underwear bought out of desperation at the corner drugstore, the separation from a much-loved laptop computer, the empty space in a wallet where an ATM card should be.
Many of the West 44th Street residents, who pay from $1,300 to $2,000 a month for one-bedroom apartments, were self-conscious about making too much of their brief foray into homelessness.
At the end of every passionate account of being stepped on in the middle of the night while sleeping on friends' floors, of forgetting the answering-machine code needed to get their messages and of blowing their diets in daily restaurant meals, there was usually a mention of how petty it must sound in light of the more serious human cost of the construction accident.