20 August 2015
We are sitting in our rented room – my first foray into the airbnb craze – and watching a movie with the volume practically turned off. Fans are blowing graciously into our sweaty faces and the adrenaline of the day wears off as we sink into the futon that we are sharing. My day didn’t start quite so relaxed.
Truth be told, it all began a mere day ago when, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Ben (my brother) and I landed in Boston for a hurried twenty-two hours where we dragged around our unwilling suitcases behind us through the cobblestoned Boston streets and in with us to the crowded bars and restaurants. It was all a part of a ploy to gather together my best friends from my semester last year in London – and it worked! Last minute, the four of us (and Ben) bought our tickets East and made good on our promises to see each other the next time we could.
So after the beautiful, wonderful, breathless time in the aged city of Boston, Ben and I found that we had to depart for our predetermined journey to New York City – the Big Apple! We were to stay here for three days before departing to Israel on our Taglit Birthright trip.
With our Megabus ticket in tow, we boarded the two-tiered bus and slowly crawled out of Boston, my friends fading from view – waving from the inside of the terminal. The four and a half hour journey inched onward, I made the usual circular procession from listening to music to reading to sleeping until one time I woke up and a big sign signalled “MANHATTAN RIGHT LANE” and the bus followed suit. A tremulous wave of adrenaline burst through my tired body as I realised that, while I may have tromped right across Europe and flown around Taiwan and China – I hadn’t truly experienced this famous city right in my own country.
I had been to New York once in my life, when I was an eighth grader who was fourteen and convinced that life was meant to be lived in a pair of bleached Abercrombie & Fitch flared jeans. I giggled in front of Rockefeller Plaza and begged to skate on the ice rink, I shopped in H&M like I’d never seen clothes before, I put a bulldog temporary tattoo on my cheek to show my team pride (we were watching a Gonzaga game). Let’s just say, times have changed.
So I wondered, what would it be like in New York this time around? Having heard just about everything about the city that one could – people have hated it, loved it, felt ambivalent about it, never wanted to visit it, always wanted to visit it, never thought about visiting it – I was excited to know what I would feel about this much discussed city. I stepped off of the bus and onto a street laden with harried travellers and fast-paced walkers. As Ben and I gathered our bags, I took a look around and felt a rush of excitement – Hey, I thought, All those people saying that they hate New York are a bunch of judgey losers. How I laughed at those wrong people, oh how I laughed! Hah! I thought. Hah! I’m enjoying this historic town and you didn’t! Aren’t I different? Aren’t I open minded? Aren’t I so cultured?
“Come along,” I signalled to my brother, “I know the way to the subway.” And so we dragged our suitcases for what we thought would be the last time through a thunderous city and descended into the caverns of the rattling metro. After purchasing our three-dollar tickets, we confidently strode into the tunnel and waited for the metro to arrive. Only then did I think to look around to make sure the direction was correct – if not, no big deal, as we could surely walk within the caverns to find the right way.
Oh, how wrong we were.
We discovered shortly that we were on the wrong side of the tracks. With longing, we watched across the way as subways came and went, in the direction that we needed. But there was no way over there! We had no choice but to call the three dollars a loss, exit the terminal and cross the street. So we paid another three dollars, went into the creaking tunnel and waited for the next metro. Only – wait. This train was going the wrong direction as well – don’t tell me…? Yep. We went in the wrong direction, paid three dollars each and had to exit twice and all in our first thirty minutes in New York City.
Wary of getting confused again, we decided that the next logical thing was to simply skip the 1 line altogether and sprint down 7th Avenue to Times Square. Because, obviously. So, sprint we did, my pink suitcase scrambling behind me, held onto by my increasingly sweaty hand. We ran, we dodged, we jumped puddles of questionable liquid and shouted Sorry! behind us as we inevitably nudged a few stragglers. But eventually, blessedly, incredibly, we made it to the 7 line at Times Square and we took a frantic second to gaze around us at the flashing lights and neon signs. Wow, we muttered, quite unconcernedly, as we bolted across the street as the sight of the walking man told us to go.
We were safely inside of the building that would take us to the 7 – but wait… where was the 7? I swear, New York needs to ramp up its signage. Eventually, after much scratching of our heads and asking strangers who were irritated that we couldn’t read simple signs, we made our way to the 7. And guess what? It starts at Times Square, so it was literally impossible for us to go the wrong way. Phew. We bought tickets from a nice man selling discounted fare and – we were just as surprised – it worked! And off we sped to the 7. We could sit. We could relax. We could inconspicuously pat at the sweat dripping off of our faces.
We got to the stop denoted by our airbnb host and found the bridge that we were supposed to find and – after a quick dart across a crowded street and a slow climb up a stairway that threatened our lives – we were finally on our way to our New York City home. Our host kindly met us at the foot of the bridge, quiet and inquisitive, she kept our excited chatter up until we reached her flat, she then handed us the keys and she slipped away behind her door, leaving us alone for the first time in days.
Instead of collapsing (as I admittedly wanted to do), we quickly changed and headed out to the streets to explore our surroundings and to grab a bite to eat. We settled at a quiet Italian place, had wine and pasta then walked a bit further before turning back and heading home.
We’re still sitting here, slightly less sweaty, but no less tired, still watching the movie with the volume off and the subtitles on. I still wonder what I’ll think of New York. Right now, it’s a crazy mix of nice-scary-lovely-confusing-nonsense-charming all rolled into one rather muddled mess of an idea.
But who knows, maybe that’s the point of the city after all.