The summer of 2006 had already approached. I had two weeks paid vacation and I had established in my mind where I wanted to visit. My heart had always been into traveling and visiting different cities and sociologically evaluating them. At this point I had traveled the country and had hit two of the largest cities in the country – Los Angeles and Chicago.
What was left? You guessed it – New York City. The east coast was a region of the country I had never been. I decided to take a road trip along the eastern seaboard for the next two weeks and, of course, New York City was included in the itinerary. We were fortunate enough to attain lodging in New Jersey from a girlfriend of one my friends. We wouldn’t have to worry about accommodations in the city.
We got settled. As more time went on, my nerves anticipated the encounter of a territory unexplored. The morning we departed for the city, we went to the train station near Wanaque, New Jersey. Across the tracks was a coffee shop with muffins, pastries, etc. My friend used the restroom while I conversed with the guy at the counter whom I assumed ran the place. I told him we were heading into the city and he said, “You sure picked a hell of a time to be going.” It was hot and it was going to get hotter. I expected people from this part of the country to be that way, it didn’t surprise me any. Well, we weren't in Indiana.
More and more people started coming to the train station. For the record, they're not all rude. We talked to a man who was helpful on directions. I made conversation with a hot foreign girl. When we boarded the train, there were train personnel going around punching holes in our tickets using hole-punchers and wearing those train conductor-like hats. I automatically kept my focus out the window noticing neighborhoods and more people at every train stop, as we approached closer to New York City. I kept track of how much nearer we were getting by looking at the N.J. transit map I had. I remember coming across Newark and seeing oil refineries before we entered the tunnel. Down we went. I stared through the thick glass window at the pitch darkness while we rode underneath the river.
When we got off the train at Penn Station, we took the escalator up to the main station floor, definitely remaining to the right side as people were running up it in a hurry to get to their train. While I waited for my friend, I observed the bluntness of the atmosphere. It was similar to someone walking really fast right toward you, You'd better move or they'd run into you, no telling what would happen after that. It hit me – they won’t accommodate you. You have to adapt to their settings. Simple.
While we waited for a taxi, I noticed a man, clipboard in hand, inspecting cube trucks standing at the freight entrance of Madison Square Garden with paddy wagons and other forms of captive transport parked on the side. We got our cab, rode to the bus tour agency. Before hitting the tour busses, we stopped at a Burger King, above a subway, hearing and feeling the rattling of the train every five-to-ten minutes.
The very first thing I wanted to see was Times Square. There was some cookie promotion thing going on where they were handing out free cookies. I made a mistake and ate mine, then subjected myself to more. I felt like I was in the center of the universe. There were NYPD cars lined up along some areas of the street. There was even a police post in the middle of the square. We went in a few shops. The only thing that stood out that I may have wanted to buy was an NYPD T-shirt, the exact same one I could buy online. I declined.
We hopped on the tour bus, a double-decker. People were pushing to get to the top – better for sightseeing. We made it up without stepping on anyone's feet. I wanted to see SoHo and Greenwich Village so we rode along the congested streets with the sun pounding on us. The bus tour guide was rambling on and on over the intercom, annoying. I tuned her out. Every time we stopped at a light, the light was only several feet above our heads. Getting hungry, I decided I wanted New York City cuisine.
I picked out an outdoor café that looked like a great place to eat. I felt like one of the Sopranos. The spaghetti was terrific; our waiter was from Indonesia, gave top-notch service. I was thinking even the food was going to be near out-of-sight. It wasn’t that expensive, I was amazed. The next stop was SoHo, “south of Houston Street". I have heard it’s a shopper’s paradise, celebrities can be seen there.
I was not impressed. None of the stores had anything I wanted, many of them were dirty, I saw a lot of graffiti. I have a new name for SoHo – SoHoverrated.
You'd think New Yorkers would be proud of the Yankees. I don’t remember seeing one person wearing a Yankees cap. I recall seeing a few people wearing Mets jerseys, managing to sight them in the midst of hundreds of people. The only other reference to any New York team was a display window that had Yankees and Mets jerseys taped to it.
We went to Ground Zero. A gate surrounds the sight. In the large pit where the towers once stood, I saw the beams and framework of the parking garage, the holes in the subterranean walls that provided way for the electrical, heating, etc. A construction crew was working. The most fascinating thing was a piece of broken steel beam in the shape of a cross, proudly displayed. We walked along the metal gate where you could buy pictures of the World Trade Center and other memorabilia.
I had to experience The Brooklyn Bridge. We got off the bus, a block or two from the bridge. At the beginning of the bridge, there was a vendor selling Poland Spring bottled water. I guess Poland Spring is a big thing on the east coast. Between the two lanes of traffic was the pedestrian lane. Cyclists had their own lane, right next to the people on foot. Each time a person on a bike passed me, I felt a brush of air sweeping my side. Don’t stand too far to the right unless you want to be involved in a nasty collision with a ten-speeder. We spotted a police car between the lanes of traffic monitoring activity. I wanted to walk all the way across the bridge and back, to say I did it. So we did.
Next was the Empire State Building. The ground floor lobby, slated with marble, is impressive as you enter. We waited in a line that was bent around path ropes used at banks. After an hour, they tried to push off mug shot pictures of us standing in front of their backdrop. When we got to the observation deck, it was cloudy. I saw the entire island, though, just as in pictures, television and satellite photos – Central Park – the whole nine yards.
It was getting late, rain was approaching. The level of darkness made it suitable for the city lights to be on. Yes, Times Square, baby! Seeing it lit up was amazing. It was time for us to head back. We flagged down a taxi. There is nothing more memorable than riding in a New York taxi, along Times Square, gazing at the buildings, lights and the hundreds of people – all this while my friend discussed whether or not President Bush prays with our Muslim driver. I guess our driver was so distracted by the conversation that he missed our turn and ending up having to go back around the block resulting in us being overcharged.
We returned to Penn Station, caught our train back for Jersey. We had no idea where we needed to be to catch our train. We asked this one lady at a desk where to go. She was rude, did not want to help us one bit. In fact, when her co-worker came back, she asked him loudly if he was going to relieve her so she could go on break. When she finally found out where we should be, she pointed to its location, kept hollering the name of the gate.
On the train to New Jersey, we were sitting in front of some Hispanic people. One them made a remark about how hot it was in the car. The train personnel man was walking by, heard the remark and said something like “It’s hot? If you’re gonna complain, you can go back there where it’s cooler. No one’s making you sit up here.”
There you have it, from my point of view. I don’t regret visiting New York City. It has its ups and its downs. The ups are obviously the unique landmarks and the experiences nobody can take away. The downs are some of the rudeness, getting lost. Luckily for us, we made it around fine. After spending a day doing everything there is to do in Manhattan, I was New Yorked out. But that was my purpose, to get it out of my system.
My thoughts and views of the city that I've had all my life were finally put to rest – an experience I’ll never forget or regret.