Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New York, New York ~ Day 1, Friday, July 9

Ah. Yes. Even here it’s still Friday, though only barely. And soon I’ll sleep, whether the city does or no. I brought ear plugs!

A friend once called New York City the pinnacle of civilization. Maybe he’s right. All I can say for sure right now is that Manhattan Island is the most intensely urban area I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in Mexico City. Traffic saturation in the La Guardia airspace kept us on the ground an hour and a half in New Orleans. Think. A city so bustling that the fingers of its business extend invisibly throughout the country and perhaps the world, holding planes gently but firmly to the tarmacs in airports hundreds or thousands of miles away. Yet for all that, my luggage appeared on the conveyor only a few minutes after I got down to baggage claim, so they apparently run a tight enough ship. And I didn’t really mind the delay. After all, I’m on an adventure!

The adventure did start on the plane. I sat a seat away from a friendly woman who lives in Connecticut along with her friend who was across the aisle from her. She quickly drew me into their banter, and we chatted about what it was like to live in New Orleans. Pinnacle of civilization or not, they both agreed that New Orleans was a far superior city in terms of fun to be had. I can’t imagine they’re wrong, but then, I’m in love and biased. Because this is a cyber-age, chance meeting need not be an end as much as a beginning, and we exchanged names with the intention of becoming friends on Facebook. God bless Facebook.

A guy outside the airport offered to take me to my hotel for $49, but that seemed high, so I headed over to the bright yellow cab stand. It was the right decision. My cabbie was silent for the entire drive, but turned out to be incredibly nice when the hotel wasn’t where I expected it to be. He turned off the meter so we could go another block looking, while I called to verify the address. I’m glad that we found it within half a block. But for the half-block that I felt incredibly awkward and troublesome, he was incredibly kind.

I wish I’d asked him all the questions I was wondering. Like what, if anything, the beautiful old bridge beside the one we were on as we crossed over to the island was used for. Its stonework was heavy and ornate and it was a lovely structure, along completely different aesthetic principles than the ethereal trellis of the suspension bridge we were on. It seemed almost gothic, and certainly grand, in spite of the graffiti on its thick columns and its heavily-rusted girders.

It made me realize how much New Orleans complements or has shaped my sensibilities. In New Orleans, we would treasure this sort of bridge, and keep it maintained if we could, at least for foot traffic. Maybe they’ve done that here, though I doubt it. The lamps weren’t lit and the whole thing was in heavy shadow. But in my mind I could see horse carriages crossing a bridge like that, with lanterns swimming in murky, mysterious bay fog. And out the other window, buildings. Buildings. So many tall buildings. Until we reached the oasis of Central Park, that’s all there were… buildings. I caught myself wondering how people could live in so many buildings. But they do. We passed wrought iron railings around areas and flanking stoops while above climbed flat after flat, into the sky. Stoops that people sit on. People were sitting on a few, talking, just like in movies or on Sesame Street. I must sound like an absolute yokel. Maybe, for all my fairly adequate international travel experience and my 15 years resident in the nation’s fourth largest city, maybe I am.

And that’s the secret to why I didn’t chat with the cabbie, like I’m normally inclined to do. For a rare moment, I find myself utterly and thoroughly intimidated. It’s similar to the feeling I had at the doors of St. Peter’s in Rome, when I felt small enough to fit through the eye of a needle. But this is a crucible of a much different sort. Tomorrow I will leave this snug little hotel room I find myself in now, and I will step into whatever weekend traffic one finds on Broadway on the West Side. I expect it’s fairly epic. I will skitter like a small insect along the streets and down into the subway, probably brushing shoulders with hundreds of strangers and not making eye contact.

And for all the excitement I feel to be here, I’m afraid.

But I don’t really have time for fear. I need to sleep soon, because tomorrow is going to be a big day. I only have three days here, and spending them eating take out Chinese in a rented room and looking down on Broadway on tiptoe, peering over the window unit air conditioner because I’m too terrified to go out on the streets isn’t anywhere in the schedule.
For heaven’s sake, Laura, you’ve wandered Rome on your own. You can do this.

Remember. It’s an adventure!

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