Though my travels have taken me far and wide–23 countries on 5 continents as of this writing–I had never been to New York. It was a strange point of interest when talking to many of my American and European friends who had all been. “What do you mean you’ve never been to New York?”
To me, New York has always been “there,” close enough to get to at a moment’s notice, but far enough away to make a quick trip impractical. So I never went.
I can’t really say that I had much interest in going, either. I’ve met a lot of New Yorkers over the years, and if anything, their personalities have made me less inclined to give their city a fair shot. Generally, I’ve noticed New Yorkers are quick to shit on those of us from the “Fly-over” states, and I don’t care how incredible your city is, you shouldn’t shit on other people’s homes. Especially not mine.
Regardless, my ambivalence toward The Big Apple quickly faded when Christine suggested that we meet there before flying out on our South American Tour. Of course I had always wanted to go, and better yet, I could see my long-lost best friend, Renato.
So, last week, I boarded a plane in Knoxville, hiking backpack in tow, to fly to New York’s Laguardia Airport. The approach was stunning–past the Statue of Liberty and Downtown Manhattan, and quickly making our descent into Queens.
I met Christine at the American Museum of Natural History after briefly (but not horrendously) getting lost on NYC public transit. I had been waiting for this moment since we first started talking about it; would we get some coffee, I would give her a surprise gift that I had been teasing her about for months, I would get a big hug and then we’d go into the museum. Instead, I reached in my small backpack, realized that I had left the surprise in my larger hiking backpack (which was now in the museum’s coat room), and simply had to mutter, “Well, I’ll show you later.”
We spent a few hours wandering around the displays of planets, dinosaurs, rocks, and everything in between. Toward the end of the day, we found our way to the massive blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life, which hung impossibly from the ceiling of the museum. Then, we joined the other museum patrons in lying under the whale, looking up at the ceiling–the panels of which were lit in such a way to make it appear as if we were under water, beneath the ocean waves.
Finally, on the way out, after retrieving our bags from the coat room, I was able to surprise Christine with two tickets to the Broadway show, “Newsies.” Excitement and hugs followed.
Then, it was back to Queens, this time to meet up with Renato. I first met him at Halls Middle School, in North Knox County, Tennessee. We didn’t fit the typical mold of an East Tennessean then, and we certainly don’t now. In 8th grade, he was tall, geeky, and socially awkward. Standing at 6’6″, he’s still ridiculously tall, still geeky, and yes, still a bit socially awkward. He’s also one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met, and it was wonderful seeing him again.
He moved to NYC a few years back to try to find work as a jazz musician. Ren plays gigs every now and then, but he pays the bills by working in retail. Now, he’s living in a nice little apartment in Astoria with his girlfriend, Tara.
We went out for Greek that evening, and we fell back into our normal pattern of inside jokes, just as long-time best friends are prone to do. Since both of our lives had been in flux, it had been impossible for us to be in the same place at the same time. We figured it had been at least 3 or 4 years since we had last seen each other. It was over all-to-quickly, but hopefully it won’t be another 3-plus years until I see him again. I would have loved to spend more time with him that weekend, but we had a Broadway show to attend!
When we left the apartment Saturday morning, we had three things on our agenda:
- Take the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.
- Go to the show.
- Watch the sunset from the The Top of the Rock.
We only managed to accomplish #2, and only very barely at that. First, we took the wrong train and somehow ended up in Brooklyn. We made our way back to Battery Park, but we could only view the statue from a distance, as we were now running late for the show.
The public transit woes only continued, as we missed our stop, got out at the next one, and decided to walk. Then, we made the mistake of trusting the Trip Advisor application on my ipod, and ended up blocks away from the theater. With only ten minutes until curtain, we ran through the city streets and found our seats out of breath and just in time.
Newsies was, in a word, fantastic. It was very energetic, its songs were catchy, and we left with giant smiles on our faces. Since that night, Christine still periodically bursts out into, “King of New York.”
From there, we made our way up to Rockerfeller Center, saw the enormous line to go to the observation deck, and decided our money would be better spent on beer.
I guess one out of three isn’t bad.
Sunday was our last day, and it was a late start for us. Renato cooked us some pumpkin spice pancakes, then we headed to the airport where our South American adventure could begin in earnest.
Oh, and since I was pretty harsh toward New Yorkers at the beginning of this post, I’ll finish by saying this: I don’t know where the reputation of the “Rude New Yorker” came from, just about everyone we spoke to in the city was extremely kind and helpful. Hope to go back, sooner rather than later.