New York City Part 1: When the big city beckons…

I never do a great job getting these blogs written with anything that may resemble timeliness.  Usually I have big plans to write it on the airplane home, or the following weekday night.  But I went to Indianapolis for a weekend in June and that blog still hasn’t happened, so…

Who knows.  Maybe we’ll get around to that blog one of these days.

This one was a little different, though.  The longer I put this one off the less I wanted to write it.  The less I wanted to return to my memories of the trip because it was so, so wonderful it makes my heart physically ache with nostalgia.  This thought made me wonder, briefly, if you could feel nostalgic about something that happened 2 months ago, but then I remembered I felt pained with nostalgia just riding away from the city on a bus from Manhattan to Queens on my way to La Guardia for my return flight.  So I guess there’s my answer.

Oww, my heart.

New York was my fourth solo trip – really my third big solo trip, not counting Indianapolis – and I think this trip I really hit my stride for a couple of reasons.  1) I had a few solo trips under my belt, 2) I had booked my flights and hostel for the trip probably back in March or April and put it in the back of my mind.  Then I was so busy leading up to the trip that suddenly it was September and the trip had crept up on me without me even realizing it.  Which I think was a good thing – I didn’t have time to feel nervous, and 3) It’s New York City.  C’mon.

For this trip I finally had my flights out of and into Dayton – versus Columbus and CHICAGO – so Beau kindly dropped me off at the airport on Friday morning, September 8th.  I breezed through security, probably grabbed a cp of coffee, and got to my gate.  Around me were a retired married couple, a woman in a straw fedora dressed like she was flying to the Caribbean, a college age girl with a unicorn backpack, and a guy who looked to be about my age.  We loaded the plane and took off.  The flight was fairly unremarkable, but it was a clear, sunny day and a beautiful view from my window seat on the left side of the plane and I caught some awesome glimpses at Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan before we curved and landed at La Guardia in Queens.

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We unloaded the plane and at this point I didn’t have, let’s say, any idea how I was going to get from the airport in Queens to my hostel in the Upper West Side.  I could have Ubered or taken a taxi but it would have been expensive and timely.  I ended up pulling up my Transit app and found it would take about as much or less time to grab a bus and the hop on the subway, for significantly less money.  First I would need a Metro Card, and as it turns out the one Metro Card machine in the terminal I landed at was down, so I had to board the airport’s shuttle and ride it to the next terminal where I finally found its Metro Card machine.  Even though I was only in the city for three days, I bought the 7-day unlimited pass for $32.  A single ride fair is about three bucks and I’m sure I took the subway more than 10 times so it ended up being a a pretty good deal.  

My original plan had been to go straight to my hostel to check in and drop my things, however the plane had landed just a touch late, and with having to chase down a Metro Card I was behind by a good hour and so instead decided to just go straight into the city and truck around with my oversized backpack all day.  I finally boarded the Q70 bus to the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street Subway station, went down the steps to the platform to wait for the F train, looked up and saw the guy who had been at my gate and on my flight from Dayton.  We got on different cars on the same train and sped off into the city.  

My destination for the morning was Chelsea and the High Line.  I got off the Subway a few stations early, though, at 34th Street and Herald Square.  I saw Macy’s, looped around the Empire State Building to Madison Avenue, through Madison Square Park and popped out on 5th Avenue and, unexpectedly, at the Flatiron Building.  I walked a few blocks down 5th Avenue and the cut over on 20th Street past Kleinfeld’s Bridal.  Several blocks later I was at Chelsea Piers.  I walked along the waterside there for a while before making my way to Chelsea Market.  Chelsea Market is a “food hall”/shopping mall and overall very, very crowded place at noon on a Friday.  I wasn’t hungry, but aside from a package of about 9 almonds I had on the plane, my stomach was empty and it was a good opportunity for some lunch.  I ended up at Cream Line – a “farm to tray” (what?) stand in Chelsea Market, and while the chicken sandwich with honey butter and hot sauce and strawberry milkshake I ordered didn’t blow me away, I did develop an appreciation for honey on fried chicken.  Try it – you’re welcome.

Next was the High Line, an abandoned-elevated-railway-turned-walkway-urban-park.  It was beautiful, and bustling, and the first time I had seen green since my front yard leaving my house earlier that morning.  Portions of the walkway have built-in seating and I found an empty lounge seat and sat for a time to take a deep breath and people watch.  I walked along the walkway a little farther – to be honest my memory fades a bit here – I think I looped around Chelsea Piers again and then made my way back to the Subway and eventually to my hostel in the 100s of the Upper West Side. 

I guess this is a good place for me to talk about the subway while we wait for my memory to catch up with the timeline of the day.  I was a little leery at first of riding the New York City Subway.  But it’s, like cheap, and I’m, like, poor.  So I rode the thing the whole damn weekend.  And it was awesome.  The thing about the subway is that, right next to a homeless person sleeping or a guy playing saxophone for tips, you have a business person, and next to them is a family, and next to them is a group of teenagers, and next to them are some tourists.  Everybody rides the subway.  It’s well-organized and well-traveled and while some stations are certainly cleaner and nicer than others, I felt perfectly comfortable riding the subway well past midnight both nights of my trip.  In fact, I felt perfectly comfortable and safe my entire time in New York.  Not one time did I really feel unsafe.  Granted, I stayed in fairly populated, touristy areas.  But that is one thing that stands out to me from the trip – I felt safer in New York City than I did at times in Indianapolis, or than I do in Dayton sometimes for that matter.

I’m piecing some things together here but I think I probably took the 1 Train or the C Train to about the 86th Street station and walked along the edge of Central Park up to 103rd Street and over to Amsterdam Avenue to the hostel.  The hostel was huge.  And aside from the fact that my 12-bed dorm smelled like socks most of the weekend, it was bright and clean and friendly.  It had a little cafe near the lobby, and beautiful back patio, and hosted what appeared to be a few birthday parties and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs over the course of the weekend.  It was just far enough away from the craziness of the city to feel a little quieter, but close enough to be convenient, and just a couple blocks off of Central Park.  

I put my things away, freshened up, probably rested for just a while, and then set out for what would become my favorite place this trip and the epitome of my people-watching career – Washington Square Park.  

My plan for Friday night was a guided World Trade Center Memorial and Brooklyn Bridge night tour.  The tour was supposed to meet at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan and so I took the subway from my hostel to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village – a mile or two walk from the meeting area.  This was around maybe 6:00PM and the early evening sun had begun to set just enough to take the edge off the brightness of the day.  The park was golden and filled with street performers and NYU students and so many people who were there just to be there – to be out in the city – to talk and read and blow bubbles and play music and chess.  There was a group of people who would intermittently take off in a dead sprint around the fountain at the center of the park and a group of people standing in a group who would just scream at the top of their lungs occasionally.  I sat down on one of the black stone benches that encircle the park and watched and watched and watched all the people passing through, all the conversations and laughter.  It was busy and buzzing but not chaotic – as if the volume of the city had been turned down – just a bit.  It felt alluring and magical and I could easily have sat there for hours, warmed by the early evening sun.  Soon enough, however, I had to make my way downtown for the tour.  I believe I walked a block or two over and walked down Broadway through SoHo stopping along the way to grab a quick sandwich and a coffee and made my way past New York City Hall to Zuccotti Park.

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The tour began around 8PM – the sun had set and a chill was picking up in the air.  The tour was in two parts – a tour of the World Trade Center Complex and Memorial, and a Brooklyn Bridge tour.  We toured the 9/11 Memorial and our tour guide recounted his personal experience from September 11, 2001 and talked about his friends and firefighters that he knew who died.  We explored the Oculus – a transportation hub and shopping area – the newest addition to the World Trade Center Complex.  We walked past nearby St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church – the oldest church in Manhattan and the oldest building in use in New York City.  It also served to house rescue and recovery workers in the months following 9/11 and despite it’s proximity to the World Trade Center, survived without any damage.  


We then made our way out to Centre Street and learned about the Brooklyn Bridge history and construction.  A few tidbits: the gentleman who designed and oversaw the construction of the Bridge died in the process.  The project was overtaken by his son, who became ill and was unable to finish supervising the construction.  Finally the project was supervised his wife,  who saw it through to its completion.  Also, there was originally some fear surrounding the Bridge after it opened, however P.T. Barnum led a parade of elephants across the Bridge, which I imagine pretty well put those fears to rest.  We walked halfway across the Bridge over the East River, snapped more than a few pictures, and then returned back.

My original plans had been to return to my hostel following the tour.  But it was only 10:30 and I was in New York City and I was experiencing a tiny bit of traveller’s high and who sleeps in New York anyway and so made a spur-of-the-moment decision to try and book it up to Midtown to try and catch the last ride to the top of Rockefeller Center.  And I made it – barely.  I think they sell the last tickets at 11PM and I think I bought mine at like 10:57.

Wow.  Standing at the top of Rockefeller Center overlooking Manhattan late on a chilly fall night was an incredible moment.  To stare out and look at what felt like a million lights: traffic lights, headlights, streetlights, Times Square glowing in the distance, countless windows filled with dim light.  I stood there until I was one of the last people on the observation deck and could have easily stood there another hour – just staring – and was reminded of how I felt on my first trip during my first moments by myself in San Fransisco: I’m really here, I’m really doing this.  I posted a photo of this moment on Facebook with the quote: “The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest.”

Oww, my heart.

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It took everything in me to force myself back to my hostel.  It was well past midnight – easily nearing 1AM by the time I got back and settled in for the night.  

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