For me, being in New York City is like taking a hit off a drug. My pulse races, my pupils dilate and I feel alive. It’s a drug that never fails to deliver–and takes me higher each and every time I come back to it.
I developed this habit in 2004, and like all addictions, it has proven to be very very expensive. From the time in between 12 years ago to now, I was protected from it’s vice-like grip by an overseas deployment, pregnancy, and several lengthy military training schools.
Now that I have the means and proximity to cultivate this little habit of mine, I have returned at least twice since, and I will happily drag my family down with me on this road to perdition.
I’m not quite sure where my obsession with New York started. A large part of it might have sprung from the fact that the only connection that I could build with the US was through the Hollywood movies that I watched; the majority of which either took place in New York, or Los Angeles (where I was born). Whenever I pictured what America would be like, New York almost always came to mind.
Part of it may also come from the fact that I have spent a majority of my life in large cities, like in the United Arab Emirates. So the cacophony of sound, the crowded streets, rude cab drivers and “crazy people” are a familiar and almost comforting thing to me. I feel at home when I am surrounded by the hustle and bustle.
Right now, I live in a place within the bible-belt that people from the boonies think is boony. I’m not used to wide-open spaces and habitual 20 minute drives. I crave the fast-pace of a big city. Living near Tokyo was the closest that I got to a place like New York and I left Japan literally kicking and screaming.
Warning: I will be dragging you through a trip to boring-memory-town, turn back while you still have a chance to save the next 5-7 minutes of your life!
By the time I was ten years old I had lived in and visited more cities than most people have seen in a lifetime. From the bustling cosmopolitan capital of Portugal, to the tranquil sunny streets of Nassau, and the arid deserts of the Middle East. I was arrogant, jaded and believed that I had seen it all. At least until the day that I stepped onto the streets of Manhattan for the first time.
I can’t remember the names of people I have met 10 minutes ago, but I remember that day in 2004 like it was yesterday. During my time as a lifeguard, one of the first real friends that I had made in America, Brenda*, invited me to her wedding in New Jersey. She was going to drive cross country ahead of her fiance so I agreed to keep her company on the mini road-trip.
After a long and tiring drive from the bottom tip of Florida to the heart of New Jersey , I stumbled out of her green Saturn. My legs were sore and cramped from sitting in the same position for almost 16 hours with only three pit stops and a greasy burger in between.
The temperature had dropped by at least 20 degrees. I was uncomfortable, smelly, hungry, and incredibly tired, yet I had to admit I was terribly excited at the same time.
I lugged my suitcase into her fiance’s parents’ house and practically passed out in the hallway. Since there was not a room available in the house at the time we both slept on the sofa bed in the basement.
I was so exhausted that I would have crashed outside on the sidewalk if I had to. Ten hours later, after a long relaxing shower and a hefty breakfast Brenda and I were raring to go explore the city.
Fortunately the path station into Manhattan was only a mile away from Brenda’s fiance’s home. Dressed in our winter’s best, we paid our $3 round-trip metro ticket and stepped onto the train.
As the path bound for Penn Station slowly slid out along the tracks we avidly searched for a seat on the crowded train, coming to our senses and realizing how pointless it was we reluctantly opted to practice our “subway surfing” skills as the compartments shook and wiggled their way over the rail tracks.
After a tedious number of stops, the train finally reached its intended destination. As we hastily made our way through the maze of subway-passages trepidation slowly began to fill the back of my mind as I remembered all the “horror” stories and clichés I had heard in all the movies that I had watched about “The Big Apple”.
But all those thoughts quickly melted away as I crossed through the streets. Friendly policemen at every corner watched over the thousands of pedestrians making their way to work and lunch–I knew I was safe in their hands.
Once I got over my slight bout of paranoia, we both decided that no trip to New York could begin without a little bit of shopping. Our first stop was “The World’s largest Store,” Macy’s. Levels and levels of clothing, jewelry, perfumes, shoes, and any accessory a person could think of filled the department store.
I felt like I was in Heaven. Two and a half hours had flitted by and yet between us both, we had only managed to buy three items. After all, girls love shopping.
When our shopping extravaganza had finally ended, we decided to make our way to one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, the Empire State Building. Upon entering the building itself, I was filled with a sense of awe and respect for its grandeur.
Once our tickets had been paid and brochures acquired, we passed through security and slowly shuffled along with the line toward the observation deck.
The beautiful starry night sky intensified the bright lights of the city. If one looked hard enough, one could make out the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Building, Coney Island, and the rest of the Burroughs.
The wind was howling. It was almost painful to be up there especially since it was nearing the end of fall, but I did not care. I was so grateful for the view.
After an hour’s worth of sightseeing, and through the insistence of our growling stomachs, we decided to submit and find something to eat. Seeing how close we were to the famed Times Square, we walked through the streets and avenues in search of a deli.
Flashing lights and customers filing in and out of its doors led us to a small restaurant named Roxies. It was a cozy, narrow little deli with an upstairs seating area. We quickly jumped into one of the four remaining tables.
I was so hungry that it took me less than a second to order the stacked turkey sandwich. Not realizing just how enormous each sandwich in this deli was, my friend and I decided to split the foot-high, two-pounds of turkey-stuffed monster between us.
After we had gorged ourselves, we were too tired to sit up, let alone leave the restaurant. Brenda suggested that we take a light stroll through central park and work off the food in our stomachs.
A mile’s worth of wandering later, we were once again exhausted; the day’s excitement had finally taken its toll on us. We managed to scrounge up just enough cash between us to take the more scenic route back to a path station, and hire ourselves a horse-drawn buggy.
Entranced by the beauty of the fall foliage, I slowly realized I had fallen in love for the first time–with the city. It was no longer just a faraway fantasy to me. I had finally made it to NYC. I was overwhelmed by a sense of awe and wonderment.
New York opened my eyes, and showed me that every day was a new day and reminded me to be grateful not only for where I would be going, but also where I had come from, since that journey is what had brought me to where I was. That day will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will cherish each memory of the streets I had once only dreamed of walking through.
After we returned to Jersey and her wedding was over, I was sad to go. But I knew it would definitely not be the last time I would return.
*Names changed to protect identity of individuals