Monday, June 11, 2007

through fresh eyes









There is nothing like your first trip to New York. Mine was the last week of October in 1999. I was still recovering from a kidney stone that landed me in the emergency room three days earlier. But with a job interview lined up for a long shot chance at an incredible opportunity, the thought never crossed my mind to reschedule. Against my urologist's advice, with the muscles on my left side still aching from the effort of expelling the stone and armed with a purse* full of prescribed narcotics, I boarded a plane for JFK. It was late in the interviewing season and I had grown used to weekly flights to California to interview with firms in L.A., Orange County and even Sacramento where my cab rides, meals and hotels were all reimbursed. But none of that prepared me for the Millenium Hilton in downtown Manhattan. The room was small but felt lavish and luxurious. When I parted the curtains I could see the twin towers of the World Trade Center rising endlessly toward the sky. I could also peer down from the window and see the Krispy Kreme doughnuts store where I would sample my first warm glazed a few months later, the Border's book store where I purchased my first map book of New York City which is nestled in a collected of New York books on a shelf across the room from where I sit now and the plaza where I would that next summer enjoy the sun sitting on a bench eating lunch with friends or where I would conspire to meet out of town visitors. If I leaned to the left I could see the yet-undiscovered Century 21 where I would later buy countless pairs of shoes, sheets, towels, sunglasses, jewelry and other various clothing items. I was over-awed by that first glimpse of the towers, by the energy that I could feel - even from so far above - pulsing on the street. I needed to get out there.
Alone, I ventured out with confidence but the sun was gone and the dark empty streets of Wall Street felt gritty and menacing so I retreated to the hotel restaurant for dinner - disappointed that I was intimidated. The next morning I managed to find my way to my interview without much delay and supressed my giddy excitement in the 53rd floor lobby where, for the first time, I saw the Statue of Liberty stalwartly standing on her island lifting her torch high for me to see. It was there that I learned to squeal and dance with joy in my head upon viewing a famous landmark when I not supposed to be a tourist. Externally, I clutched my leather portfolio in my lap and focused on the upcoming interview. I remember clearly that I was not wearing my tried and true navy suit from Dillard's with the green silk blouse. Instead, I wore my slightly less conventional black pin stripe suit with the crisp white button-up shirt I bought with it in Sydney a few months earlier. The skirt was long and fitted - so fitted I couldn't imagine ever having been able to pull it over my thighs when I finally gave up the hope of ever squeezing back into it last year. I never got over the awe of seeing this icon of liberty out the large south-facing windows of the firm the entire two years I was there. She became a part of my routine when I walked up and down the stairs between my office and the library or cafeteria, but unlike other icons, she always demanded my admiration.
After the interview I checked out of my room and met up with two fellow students who had arrived that day for their interviews the next day. I went to a Ben Folds Five concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom with one that night and he introduced me to cheap pizza and the subway at the Cortlandt Street station. I was able to change my flight without paying a fee and stayed an extra night in the other classmate's room. By sheer luck she had been upgraded to a suite with a pull-out couch so we didn't have to squeeze quite as tightly as we had anticipated. At the time we barely knew each other; now, she is one of the few classmates with whom I exchange regular emails and Christmas cards.
The next morning, before her interview and before my flight, we walked. And walked and walked. But unlike the pioneer children, we walked in sturdy shoes on pavement all along the congested streets of downtown Manhattan, careful not to stray too far off Broadway so we could follow it back to the hotel and not get lost. Most memorable was running into the Federal courthouses, specifically the long stairs and columns of the old federal courthouse made famous by the opening credits of Law & Order. We documented it all with photos - pretending we were high powered attorneys walking down those steps. Alone again, using up the last bit of time before my flight home, I used almost an entire roll of film at the World Trade Center - I took photos from the ground looking up, from my hotel room looking across, and most precious: from the observatory at the top looking every direction. The late-fall lighting was enchanting.
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I did not sit down to write my first impressions of New York, but guiding two visitors through their first weekend in New York, I couldn't help but fall into nostalgic reminiscence. I introduced them to my New York, peppered with a few tourist attractions. My sister-in-law, her mother and her 17-year old sister, Kristen arrived late Friday night, ready for an evening walk after their four-hour drive from Boston. Our initial goal was to walk down Broadway to Dale & Thomas popcorn for a sweet and salty taste introduction to New York. By 53rd Street, I was regretting the decision. It was nearly 11 and the theater crowds were overloading the already jammed sidewalks. By 50th Street, it took every ounce of mental strength I had left late in the waning hours of the long work-week to fight the urge to weave and dodge around the mollasses pace of the crowd. I could feel my control weakening and the stress release of my yoga class earlier in the evening had been hastily cancelled out by the flashing neon and hordes of tourists. As I told myself this was just a one-time sacrifice for my guests I realized we would have to repeat the expedition the next evening if a Broadway show remained on the itinerary. Before we reached 49th Street, I turned to my guests and introduced Plan B: ditch Times Square and head for cheesecake at Carnegie Deli a few short blocks away from the crowd. Thankfully they readily accepted Plan B and we immediately broke free from the crowd and soon found ourselves seated around a table with two giant bowls of uninviting pickles staring up at us as we tried to pick cheesecake flavors. After the waiter ignored my request to remove the pickles which I did not want to linger at our table out of fear they would contaminate the cheesecakes, Nadia moved them to the table behind her. Which is exactly what the waiter would have done had he listened to me. On my first visit to Carnegie Deli - 4th of July 2000, with my brother and sister on their first day in New York City - the waiter swooped up our untouched pickles and plopped them in front of newly seated patrons. We were pretty horrified (or at least I was) since we could have handled the pickles, licked the pickles, spat in the pickles. . . anything (if I actually liked pickles) and now they were sitting "fresh" in front of new guests who may decide to pick them up. Who knew their history? Our bowl could have been moved from table to table all day long, perhaps even left from the day before. Once the pickles were gone and the cheesecakes arrived, everyone was happy and I returned to my pre-Broadway relaxed state.
The next morning we managed to get out of the house early enough to get a table at Alice's Tea Cup without a wait! A remarkable feat I have not managed previously given the fact that I rarely make it to brunch before noon and the hour long wait begins at 11 at Alice's. Above you can see Nadia properly (with pinky extended) enjoying her "mother-t0-be" tea we insisted she order. After brunch we wandered down to see the temple/church (and took a bathroom break there during the stake blood drive) then Lincoln Center and the Met. We then walked through Central Park and emerged at 5th Avenue where we hit F.A.O. Schwartz where I was attacked by a giant squid (see above) and we all found toys we wanted and adorable indulgences with which I would love to spoil my soon-to-be niece. I kept placing little stuffed animals, rattles and beautifully knit-sweaters over Nadia's stomach asking the baby if she wanted it - we decided she would like all of it, especially the unbelievably soft blankets in the newborn section.
After we finally tore ourselves away from FAO, we continued down 5th Avenue to the destination which I believe was Kristen's favorite - Tiffany's. To our surprise (mostly mine), Kristen had very nearly memorized Tiffany's website before coming and could recite prices and describe new designs she loved. She even knew what the cheapest item in the store was and after we patiently waited to be assisted at the silver counter, she tried on her ring. The ring she bought and received in the famous blue box wrapped with a white ribbon inside the beautiful blue bag. The girl beamed. We were all giddy from the excitement. Who doesn't get a little excited by a trip to Tiffany's?
The rest of the afternoon flew by with a stop by my office, Rockefeller Center and a little shopping for maternity clothes for Nadia. Soon we had to jump in another cabin (the second ride of the day) and get to TKTS so we could get tickets for Les Miserables - I didn't want to repeat my faux pas of a couple of months ago when I led Tiffany and her crew astray by going too late (still feel bad about that!). The incredibly long line moved much faster than I anticipated and soon we were on our way to a delicious Thai dinner, home for a brief rest and back in a cab to our show.
Amazed at all we packed in and satisfied with the sights and sounds, but not quite ready to be done with the tastes, we picked up some popcorn and discussed the show as we slowed our pace for the walk home in the cooling night air, looking forward to the caramel chocolate and peanut butter popcorn we would soon be enjoying lounging in more comfortable clothes on my couch with our feet up.
*just gave this a quick re-read this morning and I have to point out that there is no way I carried a purse in 1999 since I did not own one (unless you count the small travel wallet-type canvas "purse" I used in Europe) until I began purchasing them on the streets of New York during the summer of 2000. I probably had my black North Face backpack or some other school bag mainly utilized for carrying books.

4 comments:

tiff said...

Ryan and I were just talking last night about how much we admire you. You were a young kid with a lot of moxy (is that how it's spelled?)! I am in love with your city, and you are an amazing tour guide. Everything you've mentioned, the popcorn, the cheesecake, the walking, makes me want to hop on a plane right now! We had the greatest time, and I'll be a little jealous of you every time I think of my NY memories. :)

lizzie said...

i want to come back...that is so funny about the purse. i didn't read the * until the end but when i read that you had carried a purse back then, i didn't believe it! funny.

autumn said...

You might have me on your doorstep tonight. I haven't been there for so long! I think it's time I scheduled a vacation.

Nadia said...

Yay! So fun! I hope we didn't exhaust you! Thanks so much!!! I am still thinking about how much fun it was!

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