When I awoke for my first day in New York, I could hardly believe I slept so well. It was so hot and humid I could hardly stand it. Sometimes people back home complain about humidity, but I guess I am lucky enough to be used to the humidity when it is actually warm out in Portland. But in New York, it took on a whole new level for me. There were smells everywhere, one of the most obvious being garbage. Hot garbage. There were piles of garbage bags lining the streets, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. There isn’t a lot of room for dumpsters, and how would there be room for dumpsters large enough to hold all the trash all the people in NYC inevitably create?
The neighborhood, Bushwick, had a bit of a gritty, dirty feel. Along with the garbage came rats. There was some graffiti, some of it quite impressive street art. Mostly the streets I wandered in the neighborhood seemed home to apartments (of course), bodegas and Chinese restaurants. Fire hydrants were opened, spilling gallons of water into the streets for children to play in, who eventually became bored and went inside, leaving the hydrants to spill their liquids until someone was called to shut them off.
In the morning, I got online and probably spent more time than I would care to admit searching around for some idea of where to go, what to do, how best to get there without having an all-out panic attack. I had previously decided I wouldn’t need a map and didn’t want to “look like a tourist.” This idea has always been embarrassing for me. This is another reason why I rely on my cell phone to take photos instead of lugging my camera around.
Though now I have gone places virtually impossible to fit into, NYC seemed plausible: there were so many different people from all over the world, how would they know who belongs there or not? If you want to blend in, don’t carry a map, for one. Move more than you stand around, glance quickly at signs in the subway stations and go the direction that seems correct. It worked out for me, luckily. I would not have guessed that however, so on my first day in Niina’s apartment by myself, I sat anxiously in front of my netbook, Googling things. Probably unimportant things. Anything to delay me setting out into the city.
I don’t know why I was so worried. I found the subway system to be easy to use, the signs prominently displayed and I comforted myself by thinking, “Well, if you end up going the wrong direction, just get out and cross the street and go back down and go the right way.” Can’t lose, really. And by knowing the general direction I was headed and some of the stops, it was easy to figure out whether or not I was heading in the right direction. I also figured if I got lost, no big deal, I was on an adventure anyway, right? I had no real goals in mind other than wandering around, seeing what there was to see.
Honestly I can’t even remember what I did first. I know I spent hours working on math homework but I won’t bore you with those stories. I also spent many hours simply walking. I have such a love for architecture, and it really resonated in me that at the time, these were the oldest buildings I had ever seen in my life. Being from the West Coast means not a lot of older buildings. Portland itself has destroyed a fair share of historic buildings before I was even born. Seeing so many historic buildings everywhere I went was amazing to me.
I ate some decent food while in New York, but nothing stood out enough for me to even remember the names of the places I went. I didn’t really seek out highly rated places, just sort of went with whatever I was craving at the time. I was on a pretty tight budget too so I had to keep it pretty cheap. Needless to say, anything I could possibly want was available. Perhaps next time I can do a better job planning for excellent food, though. I feel fairly spoiled with Portland’s restaurant scene, it isn’t hard to find a good meal here, either, but I did find the prices in the places I ate at in New York to be on par with what I was used to, maybe a little more since tax was involved. But again, I wasn’t really seeking out top restaurants.
On a handful of days, I found myself wandering for a good portion of morning and early afternoon, only to head back to Niina’s place before the weather got too hot. For whatever reason, the humidity there just completely overwhelmed me. I felt sticky and covered in a film of grime everywhere I went. Yes, it sounds disgusting, and it was. I hate feeling like, that but I’m not sure how I could have avoided it. It almost felt like the heat just soaked into all the buildings and sidewalks and roads and just wouldn’t dissipate. I’d go back to her place and rest a bit, not that it was any cooler inside than out, but at least I could get some homework done and rest. I was also texting my soon-to-be-boyfriend non-stop since he was the newest and most exciting addition to my life and I just wanted to tell him everything. There was a pretty hardcore school-girlish glee there I just couldn’t put a cap on. I was also kind of leaning on texting him as a bit of a crutch to help me feel more comfortable.
One night, Niina and I went out to find something to eat. We ended up at a chunk of four Indian restaurants, two on top and two on the bottom. Each was garishly decorated with loads of Christmas lights, including novelty ones like chili peppers or what have you. They all looked exactly the same and had guys outside with menus trying to coerce you to go into their restaurant and not their competitors’.
I was trying to be sneaky but I am pretty sure he’s looking directly at my phone. Oops. The inside was even more full of lights and rugs hanging from the ceiling, I think we were in a kind of outdoor area with tarps over the top to enclose it.
There weren’t a lot of days I got to spend time with Niina so it was fun to do so and have someone around to make decisions for me, sad as it is to say! It did take a lot of the edge off for me. We did a few other things, I accompanied her to her band practice, had a picnic with her and her bandmates/friends and had dinner at her place with a couple of her friends as well. Other days I was left to my own devices and the only things I had really ultimately planned on doing for sure was visiting Central Park, go to the Met, go to Coney Island and the aquarium and go to Battery Park and at least see the Statue of Liberty from afar.
I am happy to report I did get all of these things done. Central Park was easy, I sat and read there, mostly, people-watching and squirrel-watching. I felt a little strange going somewhere new and just sitting and reading a book, which is, I guess, something I could do anywhere including on the airplane back home. But I was on vacation and a large part of my vacation includes relaxing with a book, preferably outdoors and in the sun. I almost felt like I had to defend my own actions to myself, however, especially with how many things people had suggested for me to go do and see while I was there. But that was their plans for me, and as mentioned I had a limited budget and maybe I don’t always enjoy the same things my friends do, anyhow. What’s wrong with relaxation? Sadly because of my high stress and anxiety levels, it’s not uncommon for me to justify “sitting around doing nothing” but I felt it should be a little more forgivable while on vacation.
When I went to Battery Park, it was more of the same: arguing with myself about why I was just sitting around. I didn’t really care to get on a ferry and go stare at the Statue of Liberty up close, seeing it from the park was good enough.
It was at this park where a homeless man engaged me in conversation before attempting to sell me his poetry. I explained I didn’t have any cash and he was polite and moved on. This was kind of a culture shock type of moment, because a lot of homeless people (or people posing as homeless folks) in Portland are very aggressive. I am not sure when this started happening, but at some point there was a huge surge in people on the street demanding things from people passing by. It’s not enough to politely say no, a lot of people will start arguments or throw insults at you for not giving them what they ask of you. I work downtown where this occurs most often and many people in one day will ask you for things, it’s just simply not possible to help all of them, but doesn’t stop some people from feeling entitled to what is yours. Obviously this doesn’t go for all people but a large amount of panhandlers have taken up this attitude and I am not sure why. This was a different experience for me in New York, where I think only two or three people ever asked me for anything.
The park had a gorgeous water view and was full of benches to sit and read on. I did that for quite some time and at some point I felt like I should look up from my book, and what I saw surprised me.
A female turkey was directly in front of me on the path and just kind of wandered off. Before she did, I was able to snap a photo, and later I looked up something to the effect of “Turkey in Battery Park” and found that she even had a name: Zelda. Zelda has lived in the park since 2003 according to the Wikipedia article I have linked. If you want to know the short yet interesting tale of Zelda, I encourage you to check that page out.
I’ll cover my visit to the Met and Coney Island in my next post which will go live in a week. I could probably fill an entire entry with just the photos I took at the Met but I will attempt to restrain myself.
I will leave you with this photo of what was probably one of the most amusing alterations of ads in the subway that I saw (there were many different ones but this is the only one I photographed):
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