“People have two choices when they describe the Big Apple. They either love it or they hate it and there is no alternative in between.”
~María Hernández Feo
I first traveled to New York City with my family when I was ten years old. As a child looking out the window of a yellow taxi cab, I remember marveling at those massive buildings, as if I were staring at a beautiful concrete painting in a museum. I questioned a lot of things in the ride from JFK airport to Manhattan. I wondered whose idea it was to arrange a city into a perfectly symmetric building masterpiece. I asked my dad why walking through those streets felt like traveling in a Rubik’s Cube. I never could figure out how to solve the Rubik’s cube, but my dad proceeded to explain how streets run north and south and avenues run east and west. In spite of my father’s explanations, I didn’t understand what he meant, so I just followed him. As I passed by Hot Dog carts and Falafel trucks, I could smell the aromatic airs of delicious, greasy food. The fumes where so strong they infiltrated my hair, and my head smelled like a spicy bonfire for the rest of the day. The sidewalks often vibrated with the passing of the metro. At the time, I thought the subway was an underground world in which people journeyed to another dimension, a dimension that lived beneath this sky scraping jungle. It just so happens I was not entirely wrong on the reality of the subway. Sitting in my first Broadway show with my brother, while both of us were dumbfounded by a flying Mary Poppins, was a particularly special moment too. Sailing through the Hudson River and waving hello to an emerald Statue of Liberty was also very exciting for little old me. Going down this memory lane helps me reinforce my fascination with New York, the same passion that guided me through my most recent visit. Recounting these stories lets me know that people have two choices when they describe the Big Apple. They either love or it or they hate it and there is no alternative in between!
Before I continue with the details of my latest trip to New York City, I would like to share an anecdote that took place in Central Park and has become a staple in my family’s stories of me. If you ever find yourself in Manhattan and you don’t take time to stroll through Central Park, there is something wrong with you! At least, this was my father’s belief system when he took my brother and I there. Instead of having us walk through the park like normal people, my dad decided it was a good idea to rent bikes and cycle our way around. When we put our helmets on and began cycling together, I was riding behind my father so I thought I was safe. Little did I know Central Park was enormous and breathtaking. While passing by ponds full of ducks, watching squirrels climb trees, and paying attention to the the people enjoying their pick nick afternoons, I was getting very distracted. My dad was wearing a blue outfit, and the man cruising in front of me was also wearing a blue outfit, so I naively believed I was still accompanied until something unexpected occurred. The man in front of me stopped and got off his bike, and when he turned his face, he was not my dad. In other words, I was alone and lost. Surprisingly enough, I did not panic at the notion of being a child, abandoned in a foreign place. I felt like Kevin Maccallister in “Home Alone 2” just calmly hoping for my family to find me before the thieves captured me. I kept riding onward. Later, I came across a car that had the letters NYPD written on it and a lady leaning on its hood while eating a mustard-filled Hot Dog. This hungry woman was a police officer, and I approached her seeing as she was the most appropriate person to go to with this problem. She asked if I tried calling my father. For some reason, I hadn’t so I did that first. I forgot my dad’s cell phone was in my pocket, and it was ringing through my pants. The police officer started taking my information, and I tried to describe my father’s physical appearance to her. All I could mention where his gray haired, old looking features, and that wasn’t really enough to work with. Suddenly, a pale, terrified, old man ran close. It was my dad, relieved at the sight of his missing daughter. After this incident, I was heavily monitored every time I rode bikes, but I got to see Central Park properly on foot. For this, I am glad!
Now, as a twenty-year-old venturing through New York City, I have gained a different appreciation for this town. First of all, I cannot get enough of the quintessential, unapologetic, say what I want and take no crap from anybody, New York attitude. You have to know what you want with these people, and you can’t hesitate. There are many instances in my life where I am very shy when I ask for things or I become reluctant when I answer questions. Here, if you want to stop and buy hot chocolate, you better lay down your order fast and assertively. This is the one place where I feel like I can do that and not come across as a bitch. After leaving this city, I have been trying hard to pull out my inner New Yorker, just so I can keep people from trampling all over me. Still, this persona lives somewhere within my spirit, and at least I know she’s there when I need her. Another thing I love about New York is the fall/pre-winter weather. This is the time when orange leaves float down cool breezes in the street and in parks, leaving room for tree branches to carry snow. Also, seeing the Christmas decorations spread around every block, the giant Christmas Tree in Rockefeller center, and snow piles in the sidewalk is pretty fantastic.
This time around I had the opportunity to do something I have always wanted to do. I went up the Empire State Building and loved every minute of it. It’s amazing how these people were able to build such an epic, sophisticated, 102 floor landmark in the 1930’s. To think it surpasses the grandeur of the Chrysler Building is outstanding. As I stood up there, watching the view of the city, the scale of the construction, the sight of the Hudson River and New Jersey, I felt like I embraced this experience in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to as a child. I was fully immersed in the importance of being there, trying to come up with ways to tell you all about it, and I’m thrilled that I am able to document this moment with you right here.
In one of the nights I spent there, I watched a new Broadway production called “Come from Away” which is a musical that chronicles the experiences that some characters had during 9/11. The music, the comedy, and the fact that the actors played more than one character during their performance was delighting to see. It was one of the most relevant and unique musicals I have ever sat through, seeing as it depicts a horrifying situation in a lighthearted way. It also promoted a message of unity among people who come from all corners of the world, and I definitely recommend this Broadway show to anyone whose interested.
Ultimately there aren’t enough good things I could say about New York City. I can’t even think about one bad memory I have about this hell of a town (except that small hiccup in Central Park, but it wasn’t really so bad). Everything from making my way through the World Trade Center, running my fingers along the names of the legendary artists that have performed in Harlem’s Apollo Theater (like Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Michael Jackson), browsing through incredible street art, sitting in reading corners in Central park, watching Billy Joel perform in Madison Square Garden, going through the Museum of Natural History… It’s all a great privilege, and in a way, I feel I am indebted to this city. Whoever said that there is nothing you can’t do around the streets of New York was exactly right. If I never get to travel here again, that is fine by me because I have accumulated some precious gems in my memory bank (although I do hope I get to explore this city some more in the near future). Going back to what I said about people loving or hating New York, the fact is that there are those individuals who cannot stand the quickness and the immense activity that is lived in New York City. Not many people are fond of crowded streets and odd smelling sidewalks, but when it comes to me, I absolutely adore it. My dad kept telling me New York is a place that people can only withstand for about two days, but if you ask that 10 year old who was obsessed with the fragrant smell of Hot Dogs and the fast paced walk of people on the streets, if you talk to the woman who is writing this now, she will tell you that a lifetime is not enough to encompass the majesty that is New York City.