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Once upon a time, when cell phones were merely toys for the nouveau riche and Apple was just a fledgling computer company, a young man walked the streets of New York City as if each step was scripted. Every morning, he’d leave his tiny rented room and take the 1 train from the 96th Street station down to 23rd Street. In his hand was a copy of the New York Daily News.

On his back was a satchel with his evening work uniform. And over his ears were headphones, always on and always loud.

He absorbed the sights of the city while quintessential New York music pumped through his head. The mix tape was scored accordingly as the timing of his steps and the cadence of his movements became habitual. New Yorkers are creatures of habit, so the young man made certain to have the proper mix of music cued up to see him through his routine.

The tape began with Benny Carter, one of Harlem’s most influential jazz musicians. His saxophone did the talking in “Tell All Your Dreams to Me.” Deep-rooted jazz gave way to some New York punk, which had been intentionally chosen to coincide with the chaotic scene on the subway at rush hour. Bleecker Street’s own prodigal sons, the Ramones, put the young man on high alert with their anthem “I Wanna Be Sedated.” All those interesting people that the young man encountered on the train took on whole new personas as the Ramones sped up the tempo.

By the end of the day and the time the young man punched out from job number two, the city had morphed into an entirely different kind of metropolis, so the young man cued up a track to illustrate the sounds emerging from the shadows. He reserved the tape’s last song, Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” as his nightly send-off into the heart of Manhattan. That was the young man’s routine for years.

The young man has since grown older. His satchel has been replaced with a briefcase, his Daily News has been replaced with the digital Daily News, and his headphones have been replaced with an iPod. Yet one element of his younger life remains consistent: Whenever traveling in New York, the now older man puts on that enduring Billy Joel ballad and roams the streets of the Big Apple as though in a time warp. Such is the essence of the Piano Man and the indelible imprint he has left on both music and people.

We are pleased to feature Billy Joel on the cover of American Way. Master entertainment writer Robert Wilonsky met up with Joel on tour in San Antonio recently, and the singular rock star gave tremendous insight into his career -- past, present, and future. The story (page 26) reads like a timeless allegory of an ageless entertainer, and it serves as an anchor for this travel- and history-steeped issue.

Writer Jack Boulware revisits the 1940s Roswell incident (page 20), while Jeannette Cooperman maps out a host of fun day trips that are only one hour away from an airport near you (page 32). And no issue running over the Fourth of July would be complete without a patriotic flag story, deferentially told by writer Jim Morrison (page 22).

Billy Joel and his tour mate Sir Elton John will be in Washington, D.C., on July 11 and then in Columbus, Ohio, on July 14. Take that Greyhound on the Hudson River line and see them live. (Actually, it’d be better if you flew there.) You just might see the older man there too.

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Adam Pitluk