Sunday, July 23, 2006

New York Minute

Most of the very tiny readership of this blog already knows the highlights of my trip to New York, in which I saw just enough to discover that I definitely need to go back again and again. So I'll just do a few headlines--the ones that won't spoil the update for certain humans who don't answer their phones.

Central Park Really Quite Large
I'm sure this surprises no one, and believe me, I was prepared. But I was really, really sure that I was cutting straight through it, you see, to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My Plan was to hit the Met, and then if I hadn't succumbed to the overwhelming nature of New York, I'd hit the Natural History Museum on the way back to my hotel. I freely admit that this was folly of a type that only overtakes tourists, because clearly it would take many moons to see either museum and doing both in one day is obviously insane, but I'm just lettin' ya know, that was the Plan.

Sadly, the Plan sort of fell apart when, an hour or so after entering the park, I became a little tired of being lost. I knew I was lost roughly five minutes into my excursion, but I had been ambling around in a "this is a pleasant, green place" sort of way, and I hadn't been too put out about it. But at some point I found a map that showed just how hell and gone I was from the Met, and I started to enjoy my vacation a wee bit less. I got my bearings and tried to strike out in a goal-oriented way, but alas, the park is not congenial to the goal-oriented, and after a while I was just tired and sweaty. It was at this point that I passed a bench where there were three separate groups of people with open guidebooks, and so I ambled over and said, "This must be where they put the lost people. Mind if I join you?" A man gestured to me that I should have a seat.

He and I looked idly at the runners, bikers, rollerbladers and speedwalkers coursing past for a while, and eventually we struck up a conversation. It turned out that he was here on business from Germany, where he worked at a software company. (I asked, but it wasn't SAP. It was another company whose products I'm familiar with, but the name of the company meant nothing whatsoever to me.) We talked about sports, about our favorite leisure activities, about the absurd American system of vacation time (giving our employees what Europeans believe to be an unbelievably puny amount of vacation time, which the employees then leave on the table, arguing that they can't afford to do anything spectacular anyway or that it would be too painful to catch up when they get back to work), and about New York.

Then we spent about an hour talking about nothing in particular, but trying to shore up my companion's stock of idiomatic English. Sadly for him, a lot of my idiom is stuck circa 1950, but hey, dated American idiom with a German accent is pretty damn charming, so I think he'll do okay. His favorite phrase, in case you're interested, was that someone had "bigger fish to fry." I'm sure that when he gets home he'll be talking about fatter clams to roast or something like that, but again, he can always fall back on that beery German charm.

Oh, and then I turned around and practically ran smack into the Met. Victory!

New York Cab Drivers Fail to Dish Out the Crazy
Don't get me wrong, I'm immensely grateful. I was all set for a crazy motherfucker of a cab driver, and Sanjeev was sweet, sane, and personable. I would never, ever assume that he was a representational sample, but he was damn nice. He got me to my date on time, he was immensely indulgent of my first-date-in-way-too-long jitters ("You look very nice"), and he gave me bonus tour guide information ("This is the West Village. All these men are gay."), and the best ever thumbnail review of the city ("I came here eighteen years ago from India. I've been driving a cab all that time. This is a wonderful city--you'll see everything. I really love it here. This is a good time to be here because during the summer, everybody leaves on the weekend. Now it's just you"). I tipped him an obscene amount and told him it was partly for getting me to my date on time and partly for not being crazy. We were old friends by that time, and I guarantee you absolutely that he did not take it the wrong way.

Thanks, Sanjeev. And don't worry, your daughter will love MIT.

I Was Scared of the Subway for Nothing
Well, not for nothing. I mean, it is public transportation. If you ride public transportation enough, you will see and experience some things you wish you hadn't. But on top of my totally reasonable fear of running into someone who wanted to masturbate next to me or steal my handbag, I had a paranoia that I wouldn't be able to navigate the subway. I'm not sure why I thought this. I've figured out the BART and the London Underground. And compared to the arcane zone system of the London Underground, where you have to stand there and figure out how many times you want to go outside of Zones 1 and 2 on your trip to London, and then do a quickie financial analysis in your head to tell you whether you should just buy the travelcard that covers additional zones or whether you should buy your restricted zone travelcard and then supplement it with one-time tube tickets for those trips outside your Zone, the MTA's "don't think, just pay me $2" system is pretty easy on the tourist brain.

I did have the pleasure of riding in a car with no air conditioning during a heat wave. I could have moved, and I know it. And my guidebook said I'd be safer in a full car. But to be perfectly honest, that car was like an oven, and no one was moving, except to mop sweat off their brow--they didn't look especially threatening. And the neighboring cars were crammed with people who were only marginally less sweaty, and there I would have been pressed right up against a stranger's armpit. So I rode with my little band of sweaty companions, and if I'm honest, they're the real reason I stayed. It was like a psychology experiment--what kind of people stay in the hot car, and what is their reward? I'm not sure what kind of people we were (although we certainly shared a warped and heat-addled sense of humor by the end of my journey), but our reward was a total suspension of the suspicious and guarded behavior typical of public transport.

We had lots of space to stretch out. And we were really entertained by the people who took one step onto the car and then turned around and left. (The expressions on their faces were priceless, and also, if they stepped in far enough, cold air from outside got carried in with them. It was good.) There was a little group of spirited women with projection that would be the envy of Aretha Franklin. They'd shout, "It's a HOT CAR!" every time someone thought about coming onto the car. There was a guy across from me wearing a haircut that will NEVER be out of place at my college, no matter how long it exists, accessorized with Chuck Taylors, jeans, and a dress shirt (instant endearment alert) who I thought might pass out. But he didn't. There was a woman wearing a Sari who said she'd rather have space than air conditioning, and there was a man sitting near her who couldn't believe we weren't getting off the car, but who never switched cars himself. I liked them. We had a good time in our hot car.

I Have Kick-Ass Airport Karma
The day I left is the day La Guardia had power outages, causing tons of flights to be canceled and, as my friend who flew out of JFK later in the day found out, massive overflow of air traffic in and out of JFK. But I left early in the day and got to watch the miserable airport people on the news as my plane took me home, happy but exhausted.

When my friend Holly and I used to visit London, we would gird our loins for a couple of days of nonstop entertainment and tourism. And every time we got back on the train to Colchester, we would look at each other and know, without a doubt, that London had kicked our asses. New York didn't really kick my ass, but then, I'm not twenty any more, either, so it didn't have quite the opportunity that London had. I didn't make a list of 30 things to do every single day, and the mishap in Central Park pretty much put an end to my overambitious tourist schedule. But I definitely didn't get enough of it, and I really did love it.

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