I was on the street by nine forty five, which was a surprise. I walked towards Grand Central station not knowing exactly where it was. I arrived at to what I assumed it was, an ice rink out side filled with kids.
How nice, I thought, that the Grand Central station would have an ice rink. Very Normal Rockwell. I walked around the corner, an old asian man was playing the violin across the street. The lions were commanding and, in my opinion, gave the Grand Central a regal aesthetic.
I walked in, was greeted by an elderly guard, and started looking for the subway. I thought about asking the guard but wanted to do my best to look like a local. Huh, I thought. Why are there so many books in Grand Central?
I’m an idiot. I was in the New York Public Library. I sat at a table, read a page of a book, checked my phone as if I had just received an urgent message, and hurried out.
They elderly guard was still at the front, where I was to exit. His job was to check patron’s bags for stolen library books. The woman in front of me, while opening her bag, dropped everything. “I Heart New York” mugs and buttons spilled out over the floor and she scrambled to stuff them back into her purse. As the guard looked through my bag I shrugged and said “tourist, huh?”
“That’s a fact, boss.”
I walked a few streets up and over and, very obviously, there was Grand Central Station. I walked into the main hall and looked around a bit. I was sure that I could figure out wehre to go without grabbing a map or asking anyone. I was completely wrong, on both thoughts, and even doubly so. After fifteen minutes of aimless walking, I finally walked up to the tiny tourist desk.
The lady behind the counter was very nice, she gave me a map and marked where I needed to go and even gave me some good notes. “The Staten Island Fairy is your best bet, and it’s free.”
I took the 4 downtown to Bowling Green. Battery Park was smaller than I thought it would be, or I was only seeing a small part of it. I found a few men selling stolen (or fake) purses and bought my mom a Prada hand bag. I paid $20, which I think is a good deal, even if it is fake (I gave it to her, she loved it). I walked around for a bit waiting for the Staten Island Fairy to dock. It was huge, this great big orange boat, and hundreds of people were walking up the boarding ramp.
A man tapped me on the shoulder and, in a very thick Scottish accent, asked “Is this thing free brotha?”
“Oh yeah man, you don’t need a metro card or anything, they just let you on board. I do this all the time.”
The inside of the Fairy reminded me of being in Seattle and taking a similar ship up to Victoria, Canada. It was a rush of good memories I hadn’t expected. I crowded near a window and waited, a long with a bunch of other tourist. Slowly but surely, we floated by an abandoned Ellis Island, with a decent view of The Statue of Liberty.
Now, I’m a pretty cynical guy, in fact I’d say I am so to a fault. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t choked up at the sight. It’s hard not to be proud of something that welcomes so many.
I got of the boat on Statten Island, walked across the station, and instantly boarded another fairy that would take me back to Bowling Green. I rode the subway to the 14th street exited and emerged into Union Square.
Now, if you know my cousin, you know that he loves food. He suggested I try out Num Pang. It’s a street facing sandwich shop with almost no sitting room offered and they only accept cash. I ordered the Five-Spice Glazed Pork Belly. I ordered the right thing.
JESUS CHRIST you guys, this sandwich was the BEST THING I have ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a lot [see: my belly]). It was amazing, I ate it so quickly, I felt things, I experience new colors and sounds and emotions. It was like seeing the sky for the first time, or at the very least a shade bluer. It changed me.
I spent the rest of the day wandering, walking from store to store. I even ran into Sacks Fifth Avenue, tried on a suit and, after seeing the price tage, quickly removed it and ran away. I went into Midtown Comics, a famous shop that every nerd knows about, and I visited Rockefeller Plaza. Despite it being the most crowded place I’d been all day, I couldn’t help but enjoy it.
I eventually met up with my Uncle at the hotel. We ate Thai food and New York Cheese cake. I was exhausted, but it was that valid exhaustion that you feel when you’ve done something that’s earned it. As we walked back to our hotel, we passed the Time Square Church. Huddled against the door were several sleeping homeless men.
“The pastor of that church keeps fighting the city.”
“To stop cops from chasing off those sleeping homeless guys. The pastor says he want’s them to be safe, and to be safe here.”
Yes, I had an amazing day exploring New York by myself, but the trip itself was even grander. My uncle took me up to be a part of a diaster relief project. Here’s a bit that the local news did on our progress:
Honestly, everything we did, handing out blankets and clorox, felt like very little. So much so that it was discouraging, if I may be candid. But I’m reminded of the final passage from David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I think doing good, or the closest to good that we can conceive, is the only thing that matters.
I hear my father-in-law’s response…”Naïve, dreaming Adam. He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!” Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?