Friday, August 8, 2014

Beantown and the Big Apple: Days 5,6,7

            Well, I’m on my way home. Yes, yes, I know, I didn’t post anything about New York, but here’s the thing: I didn’t have any internet for the whole time. I wasn’t about to bring my laptop into the city just to spend my vacation time looking at a wifi signal. So, I’m waiting until now, riding back to Boston on the same train that brought me to NY.
            New York is possibly the most famous city in the world, and as such, has been written about countless times, by people much better than me. So I won’t spell out all my feelings on the city, and I’m going to combine all the days into one entry, mostly because I have cool titles for them.

            Day 4: Escape to New York

            So we left Boston on a train pointed directly into the heart of New York’s rail system, Penn Station. Then, we proceeded to keep going. It turns out that, in addition to literally everything else, hotels in New York are extremely expensive. So, instead of putting off the trip for another year to store up the necessary funds to get a hotel, my girlfriend contacted her great uncle who lives in New Jersey that she hasn’t seen in 7 years to ask if we could stay with them. Graciously, they accepted, and made plans to pick us up from a station in Newark.
            Quick sidenote: There’s no way that they didn’t name Newark so close to New York to try and confuse people. Newark is like the New York that your grandmother buys for your birthday from a bargain bin and you have to smile and thank her anyway.
            Anyway, we start down the escalator that will take us to the people picking us up, and only then do I think to ask my GF if she remembers what our hosts look like. “Well, kinda, I think,” she replies, and a piece of me dies. But it worked out, because a woman did one of those “Are you waving at me or the person behind me?” waves, and when we replied, it all worked out.
            We piled into their car and taken through what they described as a “twenty-five cent” tour of the city, which meant driving on major roads, pointing out but not stopping at things we may have heard of. We did get dropped off half an hour in so we could buy hotdogs while Uncle drove around the block. So, less than 45 minutes into my trip, I’d already had quality organic ingredients. MSG is organic, right? I’m not complaining, by that time in the day, I was starving.
            We weren’t very talkative to these two people that had the thickest accent I’d ever heard, mostly because our jaws were too far open to communicate effectively. Tall buildings, you guys. I don’t know what it is about tall buildings, but they’re a crowd pleaser.
            After the tour, we were taken to their house, a beautiful place in Glen Rock, NJ. Three of their grandchildren came over for dinner and somehow had thicker accents than their grandparents- “Can I getchya sumthin’ to duh-rink or will you just have wuhtah?” The kids were all our age, and after a trip to Wikipedia, we learned the difference between second cousins and cousins once removed and all that. They are second cousins, and it works like this. If you share a relative one generation up, parents, you’re siblings. Two generations up, grandparents, you’re cousins. Three generations up, great-grandparents, then you’re second cousins. Easy!
            Later, the three “cousins” and the two of us went to a trivia night in a nearby suburb. We did not go to New York that day, and I’m pretty okay with it, because the cousins were all boss as hell.

Day 5 and 6: I Would Walk 500 Miles

            So, now that we were settled in to New Jersey, we figured it was time to get to the heart of the matter and see some Big Apple, nah mean? So, rising early, we caught trains into the city. It’s amazing to think that you can see the New York skyline from the suburb we were staying at, but the time it takes to get into the city is the time it takes me to get from Cedar Falls to Ames. Big city livin’, folks.
            I don’t know how acquainted ya’ll are with NY geography, because I wasn’t at all. So I’m posting this map of Manhattan so you have an idea of what I’m talking about. I’m not trying to be “Oh, you poor uncultured swine have never been to the city,” I’m just trying to help. Just love me.

            So, we got into Penn Station, and decided that the first day, we’d go north, because that way lies Central Park, The Natural History Museum, and madness. I don’t know if you know this about maps, but everything is drawn very small. I don’t know why, they should just draw things life size so you know what you’re getting into, because it was a 40 minute walk to Central Park. Luckily, my GF had thrown fashion under the bus and wore running shoes, or I’d have carried her home.
            Central Park is pretty, the history museum is awesome. You should go there. I don’t have much to say, again, that hasn’t already been said by poets and whatever the world over. So I’ll skip that stuff.
            From the museum, we stopped in the Park again to do the rowboats because we were total tourists. Then, off to the U.N. building, also known as another hour of walking. The U.N. building wasn’t very exciting, because it’s just a building with flags outside of it. I don’t know what I expected, I’ll admit.
            You may be noticing that we aren’t taking New York’s famed subway in these stories. It’s because we have more time than money, and figured that subway tunnels are the same all over. In Boston, the trip was a much more obvious distance, because the city wasn’t so damn uniform. In NY, blocks on a map meld together to the point where they’re more suggestions than distance. So we walked.
            From the U.N. building, we decided to try to get to the top of the Empire State building. It was a three hour wait. We decided to go home.
            Waiting for us back at Glen Rock was a barbeque of my GF’s very-extended family. It sounds awful, but was actually very fun, because east coasters are amazing at keeping a conversation going. Like, a Midwestern gathering would lapse into awkward silence every once and awhile, but these east coasters always had a relevant comment or were able to twist the subject to one they did.
            After dinner, we went drinking with the cousins again. They know how to treat guests.
            The next day, we did the same train thing, and we should be commended for our expertise when we had to do it hungover. This time, from Penn Station, we went south to Freedom Tower and the 9/11 memorials. It was an hour and a half walk down. I’m not going to say much about the memorials, other than to say they were very beautiful and somber. Though I’m not much of a sacred subject kind of guy, I was still pretty mad at people taking pictures of themselves at the memorial. Whatever. On to Battery Park.
            Oh, first, on our way down south, we passed through NYU and saw the Washington Square Arch. It’s a really pretty park, arch, and fountain. Lots of people, as always. One person was playing the saxophone somewhere, and the music drifted everywhere. I felt like I was smack dab in When Harry Met Sally.
            Battery Park, the southern tip of Manhattan, gives you a small but still clear view of the Statue of Liberty. It’s about a twenty minute walk from the memorial. Needless to say, we went through a lot of America feelings pretty fast.
            At this point, we decided we’d seen enough of New York’s neighborhood system, having walked through midtown, the Villiage, Noho, Soho, Flatiron, a touch of Little Italy, Tribeca, and now the financial district in that day alone. So, we descended into that marvel of stinky engineering, the NY subway system.
            On the subway, we traveled to a neat little idea called the High Line, which is an old elevated rail track that the city has turned into a park. When the foliage is mature and casts shade, it’ll be great, but we’ll settle for good right now. The skinny, long park turned mostly into a single path so it felt like you were walking down any sidewalk in the city, but with plants next to you.
            We were exhausted by this point, naturally, but had made dinner plans with an acquaintance that had moved to the city earlier in the summer. So out to Brooklyn we went, to Park Slope, which I wanted to see when we were planning the trip, but had cooled on as I realized how friggin’ tired I was. We managed to stay awake until she arrived, when we had two drinks, then went back into Manhattan to head home. I can at least say I didn’t spend the entire time in one borough.
            The day was 14 hours long, most of it walking. There was no time spent with the cousins that night.

Day 7: It’s What’s Happening Now

            So, we’re up to date. I usually wait until the day is over to post about it, so as to get the full course of events under my belt and set in my head, but I’m doing this now, on the train back to Boston. Why? Because when we get to Boston, we’re buying the cheapest fast food we can find, and not doing anything.
            Look, I love travelling, I love seeing new people (seriously, the cousins were awesome) and places (Washington Square Park was beautiful). But holy crap I am ready to stop moving. I’m training for a marathon, as I am fond of saying, and my feet were sorer over the last two days than the last three months, combined. So, nothing will be happening after I get off of this train.
            In fact, this is the last part of the last entry. Tomorrow starts at 4:15am. We have to get a taxi to the airport because the public transit system doesn’t start that early. Then it’s the three hour flight back to Chicago, then the five hour drive home, and then it’s a year and a half of getting my bank account back into shape. So, needless to say, I’ll be crashing a little bit.
            So in that spirit, I’m going to try and add a conclusion to this rambling. When I went to Seattle and Portland, I compared the two cities, and even then it wasn’t exactly fair. Now, it would be downright insane to directly compare Boston and New York, but here I go.
            I think it’s great that both Boston and New York know exactly what they want to be. Boston clings to history as much as it can: the buildings are made of brick, historical sites are preserved as much as possible to the point that they are rented out in order to keep the exteriors, and one of their most major tourism attractions is dedicated to their city’s role in the revolution. It’s not annoying, it’s endearing, and I love it. The city also prioritizes green space to an almost obscene degree. Just about every block had one kind of park or another. It was beautiful.
            New York is also beautiful in a different way. Soaring glass and steel skyscrapers made the kid from Iowa gawk with his mouth open. The amount of different types of people coexisting is simply inspiring. One thing I noticed was the amount of people just chillin’, talking to some dude from their neighborhood. I thought that was really cool, that in such an unfathomably large place, people can still be friends. While Boston went for historical, NY put all its chips firmly into modernity, which is an equally valid track. Construction crews were omnipresent, constantly updating or repairing infrastructure. In our first trip to Central Park, half of one intersection was coned off for these repairs, and on our visit the next day, everything was completed. I was impressed.
            In closing, we all learned a lot from this trip. #1: Simply existing on vacation is super expensive. Bottles of water are key. #2: Public bathrooms need to be planned around. #3: A hotel next to public transit is worth the extra money. #4: Take a little time, if travelling with another person, to not be with that person. Stuff gets a little too close. #5: Oh my god guys everything is so pretty and awesome in planes, even if it’s going to be 6:30am. #5a: Coffee.

            I can’t thank my hosts in NY enough, they were amazing in helping feed us and pat us on the butt while we figured out train schedules, not to mention letting us sleep for free. Thank you for reading all of this, and if I can leave you with one thought, it’s that honking doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Thank you.

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