My first trip to New York City was a religious one. I’ve always been drawn to New York — I don’t know if it was my love for ballet and theatre or a natural desire for chaos, but I’ve always felt one with New York, like I know it, even though I’d never been before today. It had always been a life goal of mine to live in New York City one day, but as I’ve gotten older and past dreams have been realized or changed, the simple idea of just visiting New York got further and further away, to the the point that it felt out-of-reach. A little over a year ago, I felt helpless at the idea of not being able to experience New York in my early twenties — it was almost a mini-identity crisis for me. Today was more than a few hours in a new city for me; it was a realization of a dream I’ve had since I was a child and a reminder that I am capable of anything, if I just fucking do it.
Note: I wrote the following on the train back to Washington, D.C. after my trip to New York City. I have decided not to edit any of the language to reflect the time that has passed since.
I’m writing this on the train back to DC to stay one more night with my friend Austin before heading home tomorrow morning. My feet are swollen, smelly, and in pain; my bra is secretly off under my over-sized sweater and, even though it was a comfortable sixty degrees in the city today, I have dried sweat sticking to my entire body. I am the farthest from glamorous right now, but I feel like Holly Golightly with a martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Billy Joel is playing on repeat in my ears as I try to process everything that happened today. It was so much, yet so little, and I don’t want to forget a second of it.
I knew trying to do New York City in a day would be a challenge and sensory overload, but it was solely a matter of money, and since I was already spending time in DC, why not take a short train ride up to New York?
I was worried about a few things about today: missing my train back to DC, getting lost, being robbed or worse — but all of these were pushed to the back of my mind as my goal became clearer. I was determined to do this trip on my own, so the city and I could have some alone time together, so I could have a truly intimate experience with her. That’s the thing about New York — she might be over-flowing with people, but she speaks to each person individually and privately. New York allows you to become one with her.
Of my worries, none of them particularly bothered me — I have some common sense, can read signs and navigate myself alone in a city, and have a solid resting-bitch-face that has generally kept people from messing with me in the past. I had a bigger worry than any of those previously mentioned, however: what if I didn’t like it? What if after all these years, New York was a total let-down for me?
You know how people say they know their partner is “the one” for them — how they always keep them excited and even their flaws are a part of their perfection? While I’ve never felt that way about a person before, I’ve always felt that way about New York. After today, I can say that if Crate & Barrel released a candle that smelled like rotting trash and cigarettes, named “New York City”, I’d drop a pretty penny on it, because even the areas of grotesque, stale air in New York were more intriguing to me than the fresh air I can get anywhere else – it’s just a part of her charm, and that stench can’t quite by replicated by any other city.
Upon getting off my train and following the hoard of people up to the street, I felt my palms go clammy and my eyes begin to water. The light streaming in through the doors of Penn Station was that of the city. I opened the doors and was faced by — “Is that Madison Square Garden?” I thought to myself, before confirming it by the signs covering the entrance. I didn’t have much time to stare, though, as I was meeting a friend at some restaurant on Broadway and I needed to find it. Having pre-checked my route on the train, I’d memorized it quickly, not wanting to look like a tourist. I quickly crossed to Thirty-First West, towards Broadway. I soaked in the music of the city — the horns, the buzz of engines, the occasional yelling or clanging of construction. It was that construction which caused me to be faced with my first challenge of navigating the city, as I had to re-route around an entire block, before getting back on track.
Lunch was good and my friend gave me the no-nonsense tip of following Broadway all the way up to Central Park, so I could hit a bunch of spots at once. After lunch, that’s just what I did. I’m naturally a fast, impatient walker, so I managed to get to Times Square (about ten-or-so blocks) in a matter of minutes. I followed the obvious locals in their jaywalking habits to best learn how to do it effectively. I made great time.
Times Square was uneventful and dead — visiting in the middle of winter, on a weekday, and at the brink of a national pandemic, there weren’t many tourists. I peacefully walked through, admiring the stores, screens, and other staples.
This is when I veered off of Broadway. By the time I reached Times Square, I was feeling more comfortable about where I was and where I was going (and, as John Mulaney says, it’s literally impossible to get lost in New York — all the streets are numbered!). I knew a couple of other places I wanted to see were off of Broadway, so I pulled up Apple Maps, noted where they were and just winged it. This was probably the most liberating part of my whole trip — forgetting any worry, just going with the flow, taking it step-by-step, and morphing into my surroundings. This is why I love traveling.
I was mainly looking for Tiffany’s, specifically the flagship store, since I’m a slave to commercialism and also love the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’d been toying with the idea of purchasing myself a small piece of jewelry to commemorate my trip, but I wasn’t entirely set on it.
In the process of searching for Tiffany’s, I just happened to stumble upon 30 Rock and Radio City Music Hall. I sat down across from Radio City in order to take a quick breather and, looking up, saw Jimmy Fallon’s studio. Crazy how the city gives you what you want without any effort on your end.
Giving up my search for the flagship Tiffany’s, I ended up walking up Fifth Avenue without really meaning to, and that’s when I saw her — Tiffany’s. Well, kinda. The flagship is currently under renovation, but they’ve opened a four-story replacement for it in the meantime.
Upon walking in, I was warmly greeted by three of the eight-or-so security guards standing by the door. Ah, yes, I was in my zone. I made my way up to the second level to the “fashion jewelry” to see if I could find anything in my budget. The woman helping me was so accommodating and helped me to find something simple yet iconic (ah, Tiffany’s), and upon finishing my purchase, we came to realize that we’re both from North Carolina. New York truly gives you your own experience if you just let her.
I walked out of Tiffany’s a few inches taller than before. Though this wasn’t my first piece of jewelry from there, I had bought it with my own money to signify a life-changing trip for me. It was more than just a ring — it was a reminder that I’m capable and ambitious, and also very stylish.
The rest of my day was spent just walking around — Central Park, more of Fifth Avenue, and Times Square again. I was vainly attempting to take it all in during such a short time. By the end of the day, swarmed by New Yorkers just trying to get home, I felt completely at ease. I was traversing the streets of mid-and-lower Manhattan confidently and easily. I had become one with the fraction of the city I was able to see.
I obviously didn’t get to see everything I wanted to, but I did enough in the short six hours I had. I was reassured in myself and my dreams. It was justifying. It was eye-opening. It was everything I needed.
That’s what’s so amazing about traveling and traveling alone — it’s a deeply personal experience that can have long-term effects on a person if you just open yourself up and simply allow life to happen.
I’ll never get today back. I’ll never re-live these experiences exactly. I’ll slowly forget the intimate, minute details over time, but I’m hoping in some selfish way, that writing them down will preserve the glimpses of time, the emotion, for me to re-live whenever I’m feeling hopeless or nostalgic, because I have a feeling that this trip is going to define the rest of my life.
The shortness of the trip doesn’t bother me; that’s why we keep traveling after all — so we can continue to see more, learn more, and simply be more.
until next time,