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Friday, September 13, 2013

New York, Part One - Arrival

I am not really sure why my first trip to New York City has been on my mind this evening. Perhaps it is because of all of the memories that have been shared nationwide, as well as worldwide, on the recent anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001. Quite often when I think of that September day eleven years ago, I reminisce about the two trips I took to New York. I also have a weird, sad memory of something I said regarding both trips. You see, there is so much to see in NYC that it is impossible to hit all of the highlights in one trip. After both trips, I was asked if I had gone to see various places of interest. When asked whether I had gone to The World Trade Center, I had to admit that, no, I hadn't. "But it isn't going anywhere, I'll go back and see it some day." I felt horrible that my attitude had been so casual. I think sometimes when the pain and shock of an event is too much for our hearts and minds to comprehend, we can internalize it in strange ways. It was not wrong of me to expect the buildings to be there indefinitely. But my broken heart chided me for not being able to imagine the unimaginable. 

But let's return to a more innocent time in the late 1980's. My friend Kris and I, who met through working together as bank tellers, had spoken a few times about wanting to go to New York. One day I said, "Let's do it. Let's go to a travel agent and plan this trip!" And so the planning began. My willingness to take the plunge and plan this huge trip earned me high esteem in Kris' eyes. She once told me that she had friends that she had known for a long time, some that she even grew up with, who had talked about taking trips here or there, but I was the only person she knew who ever did anything about it. I can't remember how much traveling she had done before this trip, but I had only been to the Denver area, which is home, and Chicago. And I was born in Chicago, so it doesn't really count, does it?

When we planned our trip, we took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a package plan. It included our flights, seven nights at a hotel, tickets to a Broadway show (Cats), and some other things like sightseeing tours and a couple of dinners at very nice restaurants. I bought a couple of travel guidebooks, this being my first time anywhere, and Katrina's travel pattern was set for life, it seems. I think I have mentioned before that I am not a regimented traveler but an informed one. I like to know what places and things and experiences are available for me, if I should choose to do them. But barring flights and other things that have to be planned in advance, I am a bit of a fly by the seat of your pants traveler. Yes, I want to know about Lincoln Center and Central Park and all sorts of other possibilities. But I'm not one of those oh-it's-Tuesday-so-we-are-going-to-a-museum kinds of travelers. Heck, I don't even do that in my regular life. Being informed but spontaneous has served me well in my few travels.

In very short order, we were ready for our eight days and seven nights in NYC. I was in my late twenties and hadn't been on a plane since I was twelve, but the flight went well. To save money, we flew in and out of Newark, New Jersey. When we landed in Newark, the fizzy joy of adventure began to evaporate. The pace and behaviors of life are different in the West than they are in the busy area of New York and the surrounding communities. None of my travel planning had prepared me for that. I am not saying that one way is better than the other, they are just different. In Denver, if I walk up to a service counter, I am greeted by someone who asks me if there's anything they can do to help me. Not so in Newark. We walked up to a counter to make arrangements to ride in a van to our hotel in Manhattan. Kris and I were just standing there, waiting for someone to help us. Finally I just told the people at the counter what I needed, and they completed the transaction, minus the pleasantries we had expected. And then we were on our way to the Lincoln Tunnel, a mile and a half long tunnel that goes under the Hudson River and into Manhattan.

There were several people on the van with us, in various states of eagerness and fear over what was ahead in Manhattan. Within a few minutes of leaving the airport, we hit a Saturday-afternoon traffic jam heading into the city. I was stunned at how some of the Jersey drivers reacted to the traffic. Our van driver took it in stride and rolled down his window to enjoy some fresh air. But there were some other drivers who weren't as relaxed. My friend and I looked at each other in shock and disbelief when we saw drivers roll down their windows and start screaming because of the delay. Yes, you read that right. They were screaming. And not curse words, or any words, for that matter. They were just screaming, and doing it every few minutes, too. My buzz was really dying fast, let me tell you.

When we got into the city, the driver would pull the van over and announce the name of the hotel. The surrounding businesses were different with each hotel. Kris and I silently freaked out when the van pulled up to a hotel entrance flanked by two triple-x-rated book stores. I remember thinking that if this was our hotel, I was just going to go home. To heck with the Big Apple. It looked pretty wormy to me. When the name of the hotel was announced, we heard a woman say to her husband, "Oh, my dear Lord, is this really where we're staying?" I was so relieved, but felt really sorry for the couple who had to stay there. When we arrived in front of a gorgeous hotel and found that it was where we were staying, we were thrilled. At least we wouldn't be hanging out in the middle of Porn Central!

After a few glitches checking in to our hotel (for example, a five hundred dollar credit card deposit for a room that was already paid for) I was no longer happy to be in New York. All it took, though, was a visit to The Carnegie Deli for a tasty meal, a little bit of shopping, and a trip to Central Park to switch my attitude back to where it had started that morning. But that will have to wait for another day. I hope you'll come with me as I continue this tale of my first trip to New York. There will be sights and tastes and stories galore!