It's been ten years since my last visit, and New York suddenly has so much more to offer. At the age of 11 I cried--it didn't quite feel as exciting as the movies and I had picked up head lice on the plane. But I was lucky enough to have a few amazing experiences, including dinner at the Twin Towers. I'll never forget gazing up the side of it and just being so overwhelmed by the view.
Now as I travel on the subway for the first time by myself, my biggest fear is being called out as just another tourist getting in the way of the commute for the real New Yorkers. Not that I am anything other than just another tourist. But I still have this strong desire to camouflage myself within this “concrete jungle.”
As I sheepishly retrieve my guidebook from my rucksack to find the appropriate map as my stop approaches, the feeling intensifies. Everyone is looking at me, even the tourists. It is now official: I am the most lost touristy person in New York. The two Broadways (East and the famous one) were not helping my cause, as I walk three times back and forth past a collection of cool coffee drinkers. I am definitely not a local.
But after a stressful morning, I took refuge in Central Park. I carefully/desperately listen to each person accents, and here as I sit away from the hipsters of Soho, I strangely fit in. We all have a camera in one hand and a map in the other, causally lounging on benches, carefully planning our next move to the next tourist attraction.
The only non-tourists were the joggers, who were in steady supply. And this is when it hit me, my mission and task as a new comer to New York, was to live like a New Yorker does. I had to do five things that were quintessentially New York (and do the tourist attraction when no one is looking).
Task 1: The Jog. New York joggers come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Sit in Central Park for just 15 minutes, and you'll see hundreds of locals stream by. So I geared up, choosing trainers and a t-shirt to fit in to the autumn/winter jogging season. I needed a route, so I opted for the reservoir; it would give me a purpose and avoid me ending up lost. I chose to go on a Monday around 11 pm, thinking I would avoid the crowds, but much to my surprise the joggers were out in full swing. I couldn't help thinking, "doesn't anyone have a job or do people ever sleep in this city?" I am not the fittest person in the world, and my adventure turned out to be more of a jog-walk. But being over taken by a little elderly lady was a step too far. Being of a very competitive nature, I stepped up the speed until victory was mine! Until some other old lady came speeding on by.
Task 2: A Real New York Breakfast. We do have bagels in England, but everyone knows New York bagels are the one to beat. I figured to really understand this ritual, I had to do it in the middle of the morning commute. The line was long and full of hungry and tired office workers in a desperate rush. As someone who had nowhere to go and couldn't see smoked salmon on the list, I was causing a bit of an unneeded hold up. But after some assistance I realized "lox" was what I needed. I gobbled it up, and the bagel tasted divine and easily filled me up until lunch. But for $8.27 a pop, eating those five days a week would surely take its toll on my bank balance and waistline. And speaking of waistlines, I also tried the typical New York diner breakfast. Seeing a plate full of chips (translation: French fries) with my eggs and bacon was a shock--even for this Englishwoman used to heavy and hearty morning meals.
Task 3: Mastering the Subway. Once I had grasped the uptown-downtown entrances to the subway, it all fell in to place. I even knew where to stand to get the doors for the 6 Train, but I think this was more fluke than actually knowledge. There is not a zone system and the stations rarely have names, just numbers that you can work out quite systematically. My MetroCard served me well as it enabled me to travel on every line and easily got me all the way to Brooklyn on many occasions. I think anyone that has spent a good amount of time in a big city could make sense of it. But the one thing that stuck out for me on the subway was the atmosphere and array of people. The advantage of being alone meant I could just sit back and listen to teenage girls discussing the latest drama, work colleagues talking business deals, or babies crying for minutes on end. It is in many ways the hub of New York life in all it forms, whether you live on the Upper East Side or in The Bronx, on the subway everyone is on an equal level. It acts as a platform for the diversity of New York inhabitants. As a newcomer it is perfect way to really see what the city encompasses and grasp how vast the definition of "New Yorker" really can be.
Task 4: Drinking and Partying. It came as no surprise to me that New York nightlife was amazing. And having just turned 21, the city was my dancing oyster. I was lucky enough to experience a variety of nightlife experiences. Drinking on Bleecker Street with a young NYU crowd. Karaoke bars in Brooklyn with the trendy kids who were very reminiscent of East London inhabitants. Gigs at the Bowery Ballroom
, warehouse parties, trendy dive bars, and the upmarket world of the Meatpacking District. There is something for everyone, and the booze never stops flowing. Even after 4 am, the party goes on and on. But one thing as an English girl I could not get my head around was this tipping and tax malarkey. A fellow English friend who was visiting became very excited with all the dollars she kept finding on the bar--much to her embarrassment the next morning. For me it was not that I didn't want to tip, but it just became increasingly harder to remember after a few drinks turned into drink after drink after drink...
Task 5: Being a Tourist. I could not come to New York and not indulge in the reasons why so many people are attracted to this city. Being a tourist of course came naturally to me; I was in my element. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art
to The Statue of Liberty
, these attractions delivered on all accounts. However, I was sometimes shocked by the high price. The Empire State Building
at $20 a pop is not cheap, especially considering the hours queuing and the abrupt staff who forcefully take unwanted photos in a bid to try and get more of your dollars. The view does help you recover from the traumatic time spent getting up there.
But for my money the Top of the Rock
at Rockefeller Center
offers a slightly more interesting view for those who appreciate great architecture. I found all the tourist attractions can be very overwhelming, so my one word of advice would be to have a meticulous game plan,
because sometimes you just can't face that many endless lines in one day.
Now back in England--back to familiarity--and I can stop and take a deep breath. Through the similarities there are still so many differences. I
missed the greenery of London,
the smaller buildings, and the sweet taste of Ribena.
I realized you
can't become a New Yorker in four short weeks. On the
surface I made a better fake than the knockoffs on Canal Street, but in my head I was always a
little panicked. It is a city that could easily
swallow you up and forget you; making it very lonely at times. But it's this same chaos that makes the city full of the life and culture that I thoroughly embraced and look forward to experiencing again.
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