Bright lights, biiiig city/ That's where we gotta go!/ Where the food is great and the bugs are so pretty...
James and the Giant Peach, anyone? No? Well, never mind.
Unfortunately, my first trip to New York City wasn't via anything nearly as wondrous as gigantic fruit. No, I traveled by good ol' bus. And by that I mean horribly unpleasant nightmare bus.
Not that anything catastrophic went down; buses just happen to be my least favorite mode of transportation (and it didn't help that I was still working my way through what in retrospect was obviously the flu). I find that buses have this astounding ability to thwart any normally proportioned human being's attempts at sleeping. There is no way to position yourself comfortably for any length of time, and there is no way to tune out the movie running, the motor running, the people's mouths running, and your brain running away screaming from the abomination that is bus. If, for some reason, you are a god from on high and manage to rise above these obstacles, there is still the jerking of the moving vehicle to contend with and the enthusiastic couple providing an unwanted soundtrack from the next seat over and the smell of the bathroom seeping out from whatever level of hell it came from and the passed-out neighbor drooling on your shoulder and oh my goodness so many things to loathe about buses.
Ahem. Excuse me while I regain my composure.
At any rate, after spending nine hours in one of these torture chambers on wheels, my brain was so close to catatonic that the sight of New York was probably much more overwhelming than it should have been. There was a skyline. I am not familiar with skylines. And then there were lights and sounds and enormous buildings and so many people. Please excuse a simple small-town girl's excessive use of awed italics.
I gawked for a good two minutes before I decided that it would not do to seem too bumpkin-like, and spent the rest of the night pretending I had blinders on. Surprisingly, this turned out to be an effective strategy for ignoring extraneous sensory input. Thus, my friend Alex, who was traveling with me to spend the holiday at my neighbor Will's house, got me to Grand Central Station. Following considerable confusion concerning which train to get on, we hunkered down outside of the appropriate platform to wait. I recognized a classmate who was also waiting for a train and struck up a conversation to pass the time. It went something like this:
Me: Oh hey! Do you live around New York?
Griff: Not really, I'm just taking the train out of Grand Central. I'll be home in two hours or so. Do you live here?
Me: Nah, I'm visiting a friend who lives someplace called (anonymous town).
Griff: Oh, I know someone who lives in (anonymous town)! There's an awesome abandoned (anonymous thing) around there that he talks about sometimes.
Me: No way, my friend lives right by that (anonymous thing)! What a coincidence.
Then the conversation spun off into other things and, some time later, ended up finding its way to the recent student production of "Scapin!"
Me: Oh yeah, my friend I'm staying with played Scapin in "Scapin!" His name is Will.
Griff: That... is the person I was talking about too.
-General pause as we realize that we're very, very silly-
Alex: Usually I'm the one who's slow on the uptake. What a nice change of pace.
At that point, we had to leave Griff behind to complete the last leg of our journey to (anonymous town). It was mercifully uneventful; we arrived unscathed at Will's house very late at night and didn't go to bed until much, much later.
The next day, we were properly introduced to all the members of Will's family, including their dog and various relatives who convened in the afternoon to show off their babies, dote on Will the College Kid, and eat delicious food. I should mention here that his mother is a wonderful and generous woman who exudes kindness and baked goods (I am a fiend for her pumpkin pie).
We spent the next few days in their excellent company. It was lovely. We walked along a beach, explored the perimeter of said abandoned (anonymous thing), watched Aristocats and Slumdog Millionaire, and stayed up much too late every night taking silly pictures and having limerick battles. Oh yes, and we went into the city for a full day, too.
Yes, Times Square happened. Yes, my eyeballs left my head to go make love to the blinking, flashing mania that is advertising gone mad. Yes, my brain overheated and crept off into a corner of my skull to nurse itself back to health. Yes, I used the 'imaginary blinders' strategy again - I attribute my surviving the crush of media and human bodies solely to this fact. And I didn't even get pickpocketed.
Yes, the MoMA happened too. It was sleek and sexy and I wanted to love its contents as much as I loved its structure, but, truthfully, some modern art just goes over my head. (Really, it feels like it zooms around my head five times, passes through my ears - stopping only for a brief comment about the weather - and then whooshes on in search of a more visionary mind. But that's too long a description to be an idiom.) I'm sure I would have found more things to love if we'd had more time to explore the exhibits. The homemade helicopter was awesome, though.
So was the pretzel I got off a street vendor afterwards, and the show we got student rush tickets to, and the "best Halal in New York," according to both the sign by the cart and a fellow traveling Obie. Will had never heard of it before, but the sizeable, permanent line in front of the cart gave these reviews a certain credibility. We felt bad for the businessless hot dog cart next to them, honestly.
In sum, I don't know that I would want to live in the polluted air, wind that comes out of nowhere and never leaves, huge crowds of starstruck tourists and cranky natives, flocks of honking taxis, etc., etc., etc., but visiting was very fun. It didn't hurt that I went with some excellent fellow Obies who, like me, mostly just goofed around the whole time. My favorite part? It may seem banal, but speaking as someone who has backpacked through cities in Europe that evolved organically from circa feudal system times and thus have either no street signs or no clear layout or both, the solid grid that is New York City makes me very, very happy. Getting lost seems like such an impossibility (although Will's mother did tell me about an occasion on which her other son got turned around and ran twelve blocks in exactly the wrong direction).
Come Sunday morning, there was only one thing standing between us and our return to our beloved Oberlin: another nine-hour bus ride. Alex and I were dropped off at the (anonymous town) train station by Will's superb mother, where we waited until the first train going in the right direction pulled in. It was a little early and strangely shiny and multi-storied, but arrived at about the right time for our train back to Grand Central, so we got on. Only at the next stop did I overhear the conductor announcing that it was, in fact, a train going to New Jersey. I turned to Alex.
Me: This isn't our train.
Alex: -leaps out of his seat and is off the train before I can even get my backpack on-
We were lucky enough to be able to get on the correct train a few minutes later, and the rest of the trip proceeded as planned. When we told Will about this afterwards, he looked very confused and said that we must have gotten on "the Flying Dutchman of trains," because he had never seen anything but the standard Metro North trains pull through (anonymous town). Alex and I high-fived.
Much as I enjoyed my few days off the Oberlin campus, I'm glad to be back. I want to spend as much time with my friends as possible before we all disperse for Christmas and Winter Term, and I want to get my finals over with. I also like being in a place blissfully lacking in billboards and flashy advertising lights, but that's secondary. For the next three weeks, I'll just concentrate on friends and finals. Probably mostly finals. Cringe.
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February 16, 2021