Once in a while, we win the lottery. Mine was when I found out I was finally going to cross the Atlantic and travel back in time.
New York, baby. I couldn’t even bring myself to say it then for fear that this x-square meter jungle of freedom and creativity, its air pregnant with dreams, would escape me.
“You’re really lucky,” one of the challengers from NYU told me in a nice little office space in Park Avenue. I think my eyes freakishly twitched as I thought if it was possible he could read minds. I have been about thinking how lucky I am since I got to the infamous city that never sleeps, from the moment Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” literally welcomed me to New York in the comfort of my plane ride well-aware that I have breached the space-time continuum (haha), from the moment I had to pay 5 dollars to use the airport trolley to the jawdropping effect of the lit up art deco buildings as I stared up at them in that drizzling midnight, from the moment I could feel the right side of my face was red while the left side was blue due to the larger than life billboards in Times Square – I was in New York, the city where it seems just about anyone fits right in, yes, that New York.
I guess my perplexed look lasted a minute past crazy so he clarified, “You’re lucky because this chilly weather is not typical during this time. I don’t know why it’s so cold, but it’s nice that it’s cold.” And I thought, oh just like how I don’t know how I got here but it’s nice that I did.
Fire escapes and small porch staircases filled my 3 days as I walked around the city in a light sweater and equally light scarf. I was not prepared for the cold but again, it was New York, baby. Everything seemed familiar yet exciting, suddenly making me ponder why I find this sensation some sort of a paradox. It’s almost as if I know the city like the back of my hand from all the TV shows, movies, books that I have indulged in over the years, it all seemed like one giant set a la Truman Show. I could almost see Carrie Bradshaw about to cross the street as I walked out of Tiffany & Co. and Spiderman swinging down the triangular brick building downtown – heck, I could even be that one cameo that the camera zooms in as he swings down to save the day. It was New York, and, the more air I breathed in – anything felt possible.
The middle-aged man behind the counter seemed in a hurry to take my order as he held the tongs in front of me. There were just so many choices of bagels, dips and even side dishes! I ended up with with the garlic bagel with the safest and plainest spread and what he called “healthy salad” which was basically just cucumber and tomatoes. In my half of the shop were mostly filled with old people, some tables with small groups chatting over coffee while some with solo flyers reading today’s paper. The other half were made up of the cashier and the colorful and scrumptious display of bagels, dips and side dishes, that was continuously filled with young professionals coming in and out as they got their bagels to-go. I took my seat in the unoccupied bar facing the glass wall with big lit-up red letters spelling “Tal Bagels” out in the front. After taking photos of this unassuming bagel sitting in front of me in its white wrapping paper, I took a bite from what is now the best bagel I have eaten in my life. I continued to watch on outside, seeing professionals, construction workers, hipsters and students blend into one fast-moving train on the sidewalks of Lexington Avenue.
Bagels then progressed into noodles in Chinatown, craft beer in SoHo, Cuban dinner in Timesquare, and, snacks in the coolest diner in Brooklyn. A small mundane trailer stood out like a sore thumb in the hipster street of Williamsburg filled with interesting shop lots, skateboarders and cyclists going around with colorful murals behind tin garbage cans as their backdrop. But anyone who is observant will know that mundanity has no space in a city like this and yup, just like that, it turned out to be like one of those speakeasy bars that were mushrooming around Manila. The trailer with an interior designed to be an all-American diner opened up to a a backyard grill with interesting art splashed over its walls and trees holding up fairy lights that created the whimsical ambience of this quirky place. The time and place called for some afternoon margaritas and over some funny stories, I felt the place become more alive as the sky dimmed and the fairy lights shone brighter than the stars.
The streets were sights in themselves. I could go on and on about the fire hydrants and big garbage bins lining up the sidewalks, or, the old hotels with the extended green roof and a doorman, or, the stairs that lead to the dirty subway or how the streets changed from really busy and full of people to just having one old woman walking a well-groomed dog, or, staring down a fork road filled with buildings that seemed to follow a color scheme of red and browns. I enjoyed wasting hours going back and forth streets where prep school kids were coming out from school and unknown artists distributing their demo CDs on my way to the Met. I enjoyed not feeling my face nor my fingers as I tried to look for this funny sounding cookie store, Momofuku.
It’s crazy when I think about how I got to this side of the world at this particular time when it’s unusually chilly. But as I entered Grand Central Station on my last night, seeing people coming and going from all directions and couples making out on the platform in this massive place, I tell myself like always, you are never where you are not meant to be. 🙂
Visit New York! I did not follow an itinerary for this trip because I wasn’t technically on holiday. But, I would suggest to visit Central Park and then Chinatown and then look around the shops in SoHo. Then cross the Brooklyn Bridge, have a pizza at the end, and, get to Williamsburg and do not hesitate to go into the quirky shops. Then go to downtown, see the Twin Towers memorial then come back up to the Met. Oh and have a bagel. Please, have a bagel.