January 2008

In Case You Were Wondering...But Were too Afraid to Ask!

Author: Lindsey Hawkins

New York City

I left Grand Central Station at 9:07 p.m. and arrived at my Connecticut destination at 3:30 a.m., freezing, broke and throwing a pity party.

Whoever said “a first impression is a lasting one” had validity in his own right. However those who say “don’t judge a book by its cover” and “judge and be judged” also make a good point. These clichés are where my first impression of my first visit to New York City becomes a draw between the good, the bad and the ugly, very ugly.

I would love to say “I Love New York” in its entirety. Fellow islanders, I am here to say that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be when you consider transportation in and out of the city. I never considered it, but I will from now on.

Incase you were wondering…

New York City has done what many celebrities of our day do to stay famous; it has changed its image from century to decade to year to today. It is an ever morphing atmosphere that really is quite surreal if you’ve never been there before.

What was first inhabited by Native Americans, since American history has been recorded, quickly became an invasion of European settlement shortly after. Not a century later, the true natives of land had all but disappeared, and New York City really started to transform under British rule as a major trading port in the mid-1700s. By the late 1700s the American Revolutionary War made way for the thirteen colonies to unite under the United States’ first president, George Washington, with New York City as the capital of our small nation.

The 19th century brought about mass immigration and the American Civil War. By the 20th century New York City was the safe haven of many African Americans fleeing the south. The first subway system was constructed in the early 1900s, and for a moment, New York City became the most populated city in the world as an international center of industry and commerce.

With a few setbacks in the mid 1900s, NYC is now recognized for construction, media, financial success, art, history and tourism—not to mention a city where the train and subway rule, but I will get to that later.

More importantly, New York City has become a symbolic vision of courage and unity under fire. With the most recent tragedy of the destruction of the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001, loss of life and the need to come together as a historical and international community has changed the nation we live in.

If you have never been to New York City, lets just say it is like walking onto a movie set, in my opinion. I took a train from Danbury, Connecticut to Grand Central Station on Black Friday, this past Thanksgiving, to meet my sister for a day of exploration.

The view from the train window is enough to let you know you’re not on Hilton Head Island or anywhere else for that matter. I grew up in Tampa, but the outer cities of Manhattan don’t even compare.

The leaves are magenta, yellow and fiery orange this time of year; the buildings are tall, dim and look like they house thousands because they all run into each other. Most all flat surfaces of walls are covered in graffiti, some beautiful, some evil. But something about the obvious juxtaposition makes the cities seem like they are breathing. A town of cement looks like a painting from a small train window, and it all goes by in a blur to a stranger like me.

Seeing the city for the first time is completely opposite of its surroundings. Grand Central Station pales in comparison to the Sistine Chapel, I’m sure, but something about it is that grandiose. It’s an entry to a world that almost prepared me to feel very small and overwhelmed.

Before I even exited the station I was bound to have seen someone from every nationality and heard a few different languages, and by the time I found my way out, the same people were coming from every direction. I felt like I was caught in a current and burning a lot of calories at the New Yorker pace. It’s when I finally quit saying wow and looked around that I became silent.

My sister thought something was wrong, probably because she hadn’t realized I had stopped to look around and was a block ahead of me when she realized I wasn’t the one pounding the pavement next to her. It’s dumbfounding.

The buildings are taller than any I’ve seen; the noises blended into a humming sound with a frequent car beep in between, and it smelled like churro and pretzel mixed with a hotdog. So, I bought a hotdog from the vendor while my sister fought the current back to rescue me.

New York City is everything you see on television, dramatized by one hundred. It’s loud, fast, big, beautiful and surprisingly cleaner than I thought it would be. I didn’t see everything in one day, obviously, and I didn’t go back on that Saturday for reasons you will learn. But if you go, make sure you eat a hotdog, slice of pizza and sushi at Morimoto on 88 10th Avenue. Also don’t neglect having a glass of champagne at Tavern on the Green by Central Park and a beer in Time Square at night.

I did more than eat, if you were wondering. I spent time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the Ancient Egyptians and Medieval folk. I saw Rockefeller Center and its giant tree. I walked Fifth Avenue and window shopped and went into a stunning cathedral. But of all that I saw, the skyline view and Central Park were my favorites. The park is the citiy’s escape and the trees and the color are indescribable.
Think twice about riding the subway and trains at night in the freezing cold, all alone. Take it from me, they are unpredictable.

Here’s what you were afraid to ask

I left Grand Central Station at 9:07 p.m. on Black Friday, said goodbye to my sister as she boarded her 10-minute train to Brooklyn, and looked for a seat amidst the crowd of tired shoppers and workers. I plopped down, exhausted from my 12-hour walk, and said hello to a very nice hooker who was on her way to her new home in Connecticut to start a new life. To be frank, this was not a bad part of my trip. She was intelligent, friendly and I felt as if she really needed someone to talk to, which is probably why I was the one to sit next to her. She sipped Budweiser when no one was looking and told me how to connect to my next train to Danbury. She let me in on a few secrets of madam-hood that I didn’t ask for, and made sure the train conductor told me where I should be and when the train would come. I wished her luck and got off the train before noticing I was the only person at the South Norwalk train station.

At this point it was 10:30 p.m. and 24 degrees outside, but I knew my train would be there in 30 minutes. So I thought. When 12:30 a.m. rolled around, I was so frozen my face was peeling,and I couldn’t get a hold of my boyfriend who would have picked me up two hours away if I could reach him. At least at this point, more people had arrived and I wasn’t freezing alone. Then, as if an angel from heaven, a train station worker came out of nowhere to open part of the indoor station for us to stand in. He said he didn’t know why the train to Danbury never came but another was scheduled 15 minutes from that point.

Even though frostbite felt like it was taking over my body, I figured the worst was over. That is, until the homeless lady decided to verbally attack me for 30 minutes. I was called everything in the book from M.F. to honky, and was told to call the cops and go back to Westport. I still don’t even know where that is, but I’m pretty sure this lady was possessed by the devil. The worst part is that no one would look at me because they didn’t want to suffer the verbal abuse.

Finally, I heard the train. I was so cold I couldn’t really run to it, but everyone was hustling like they weren’t going to make it. When I arrived on the train, it was empty, and the conductor said someone had jumped in front of the train that never showed. He said it had been the third jumper this week, and that we would have to wait for the last train to come so they could board this train, as well. At that point, I cried. I think I was just stressed and tired, or maybe upset by the fact that someone had jumped.

I feel like the drama should have ended there, but when I got to Danbury Train Station at 3 a.m., the cab to the hotel cost $65, and to make matters worse, the cabby, in the beat-up car with “cab” painted on it, got lost for 30 minutes. I only got it because I was in a desperate frame of mind, and I thought I could take her.

I did make it back safely and kind of in one piece. I slept until 3 p.m. the next day and woke up sick. All in all, I do love New York City, and don’t want to judge it based on this trip. I will go back, but probably in the summer and with a friend glued to my side. Oh yeah, I will be staying in a hotel in the city, if anyone is interested.

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