A series of urban adventures and outings with friends has led to a serious lapse in blog-related productivity. For the past week, the balance between experiencing and documenting swung heavily towards the former. I’ve got some catch up to do, but it was totally worth it. Thank you to all the friends who made my time in the Mid-Atlantic so wonderful!
After leaving Canton, the next stop on my urban tour of the east coast was New York City. As I drove down Route 8, I grew more and more nervous. Boston had always felt so manageable to me, but New York City was a different beast entirely. As the largest city in the United States, New York City has always made me apprehensive. During my fall semester of 2011, Barcelona taught me firsthand that I was not built for a hyper urban lifestyle. Ever since then, I hadn’t really ventured into too many major cities. Now, I was about to embark on a three-day exploration of New York City. I abandoned Sam in a suburb of the city and headed towards Grand Central on the Metro North Railroad.
From Grand Central, I hopped on the 4 line. As the car sparked along the rails, I listened intently to a conversation between two apparently homeless, black men who were loudly narrating the different places they had lived beneath New York City. As we trundled past passageways and vaulted areas, they spoke fondly (and sometimes very negatively) of the benefits that each tunnel allowed. Some had fluorescent lighting that allowed you to shave every morning. Others had been known for their remarkably quiet occupants. Now that is a conversation that you will rarely overhear in a rural setting. After navigating my way to Brooklyn, James showed me around Brooklyn until we found Connor and headed out to dinner. It was a remarkably relaxed and simple evening punctuated by a heaping plate of vegan Pad-Thai and many a welcome story from two of my best friends. Maybe I had been wrong about the Big Apple.
Friday was a workday for all of my friends, so I struck out on my own. Some quick research the night before had highlighted a small vegan cafe in Brooklyn called Clementine Bakery. I’ll be posting more about that later, but it was totally mind blowing. From Clementine, I began my hike across the City. I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge dodging bicyclists and selfie sticks as I stared into the distance at the Statue of Liberty. Once on the island of Manhattan, I wandered past City Hall on my way to the 9-11 memorial. Even though 14 years have transpired since that fateful day in 2001, I still remember the events of that morning with childlike wonder and innocence. I didn’t really know what was happening, but I knew that the adults around me were profoundly affected. Now, I watched the waters cascading into the black infinity of the pools, paying homage to the sacrifice of all whose lives changed on that day. The monuments inherent reverence and power were inescapable. It was a stark and simple reminder of suffering and pain. The presence of smiling faces, laughter, selfies, and humor in such a place felt completely out of place. After debating whether or not I should brave the lines to go into the museum, I decided to move on. I had to save something for my next visit.
Turning north, I hugged the western side of each block to avoid the heat of the sun. In search of another sticker for my rocket box and kindred spirits, I wandered towards the Patagonia store in SOHO. Upon arriving, I immediately tracked down a bathroom. It is way too difficult to find public restrooms in NYC! Luckily, Patagonia came through. As I exited, I realized I was in a far larger and more comprehensive Patagonia than I had ever seen before. I snooped around for a bit and discovered that this was actually the flagship Patagonia retail store and the first store to feature a “Worn Wear” retail section. I gazed greedily at deeply discounted Synchilla Snap-Ts, Nano Puffs, and hard-shell jackets. Normally, I would’ve stocked up, but I did not have a normal paycheck, so I snagged some stickers and headed out.
Outside, I reconvened with one of my Apogee kiddos from the past two summers. We headed off together towards the High Line, sharing stories from the past year and fantasizing about the future. The High Line had been on my radar for a few years now, but it hadn’t been reason enough for me to venture into NYC. It is truly amazing though. The abandoned elevated railroad has been completely transformed into a peaceful walkway shrouded in trees with pools and open vistas into the city. The pace is relaxed and the air surprisingly quiet. With artistic displays and discrete food vendors, you almost instantly forget that you are in the center of the largest city in America. I felt entirely comfortable there.
With continuing sections still under construction, we descended from our elevated paradise and settled back into the rhythms of the city. Instead of circumventing the madness of Times Square, we bisected it, watching the waves of people jam themselves through the electrified intersection. Just beyond the flashing lights and blaring speakers of Times Square, I could see our street dead end into open space. The skyscrapers ended and trees began to fill in the low horizon. I knew we were almost to Central Park.
Tess, my guide, had gone to school in the area and had run cross country and track workouts in the park for her entire career. She led me past fountains, past castles, through fields, and around twisting corners until we finally ended up at the Ramble. Designed by Frederick Law Olsmtead as the “wild” section of Central Park, this 38-acre area of woodland is unlike any other part of the park. Here, Olmstead saw an opportunity to recreate wilderness. As you enter the dense, almost overgrown forest, the horns of anxious taxi drivers disappear. You are met with exposed veins of bedrock, thick undergrowth, watery grottos, and a labyrinth of paths that will carry you up hills, over rustic bridges, and past clearings. The ability to lose oneself (both mentally and physically) in the Ramble is a clear indication of Olmstead’s success.
After orienting ourselves at Belvedere Castle, we headed towards the Great Lawn to enjoy the sinking sun and people watch. Tess, however, had one last trick up her sleeve. Continuing northeast, we followed the bridle path as it paralleled 5th Avenue. Finally, we turned towards the sun. Where the Ramble had demonstrated wilderness in an urban setting, the Reservoir stunned me with its tranquility and grace. I would never have imagined that a city of millions could hold such a serene body of water at its center. Staring across its expanse, I once again forgot I was in NYC. As Tess and I parted ways, I checked my phone. Hyperbolically, it said that I had walked over 50,000 steps, roughly 23 miles. Later that night, I logged my route and found that it was much closer to 15 miles. My sandaled feet were a little sore and more than a little caked in dirt. My sense of accomplishment outweighed the minor aching in my arches.
That evening, Michael, my roommate for two years at Bates, drove up to the city for the rest of the weekend. We spent the next day wandering through Brooklyn and checking in. Each of my long awaited visits with Batesies has served as a simple reminder of how bizarre college really is: four years of intense personal relationships that shift dramatically once you receive your diploma. College isn’t real life, but it sure is wonderful while you are there. My time at Bates, interactions with my professors, and visits with old friends over the past month all completely reaffirmed my love of Bates. It had never really faltered, but it was nice to be reminded of how much perfect those four years were.
In the early evening, I made one last solo foray into the crowded streets of Manhattan to see two of my friends from my abroad program in Barcelona. Mistaking Washington Market Park and Washington Square Park, I did a bit of jogging before we finally convened on a small café near Bleeker Street. Both Alison and Micha are wonderfully settled into their lives as New Yorkers, something I would not survive. Our conversations wandered in just about every direction imaginable, from jobs, to significant others, to the future, to the lives of our fellow CIEE-Barcelona comrades. As the sun drooped in the sky, I pushed back my chair and started the trek back to Brooklyn.
Getting a few more miles in, I ended up on the roof of Connor’s apartment. Night had swallowed the city by this point and the constellations of Brooklyn and Manhattan twinkled low on the horizon. Even I could see the beauty of those silhouetted concrete pillars and their flickering lights. With sweet potatoes and apples roasting on the grill behind me, I watched the nighttime traffic slow, but never falter. This city never slept, but I knew I had to at some point.
In the morning, Anna and I experimented with banana ice cream before heading off to brunch at Wilson’s with Connor. Anna and I then headed for Manhattan, hoping to raid the Worn Wear section of Patagonia once more. I was looking for something in particular (which I ended up finding in the Bowery), but we picked up a sweet Synchilla Snap-T for Connor. Our wanderings led us past an Icebreaker store, whose employees definitely knew less about the company’s offerings than I did. I’m sure that is either a sign that I need to start working for them or that I need to calm my obsession with their woolen offerings… Shortly thereafter I hopped on my last subway to Grand Central Station and finally to Metro North to reunite with Sam.
I had survived New York City. In fact, I had enjoyed New York City. I was, however, ready to move on.