Dear New York City,
I first encountered you when I was a wee child, on my way to JFK to pick up my big brother from his endless stint in Ghana, Africa. It was only six weeks that he had been gone, but to my mind it may as well have been years. There was perhaps a fleeting and distant glimpse of Lady Liberty as we passed by, but my most vivid memory is sitting in the airport terminal, watching a girl carve an old lady’s face out of an apple. Fitting, that it should be art that stuck in my mind.
When I was in my early twenties, I finally remade your acquaintance. I came to Flushing and stayed a week in an apartment filled with the sweet smell of the hay used to feed the pet rabbits. I explored you with my sister when we had free time, falling in love first with all the normal tourist traps. Your average pickup lines worked on me, the average, dreamy, twenty-something kid.
I was mesmerized by the stars on the ceiling of Grand Central Station. Times Square enchanted me. Riding the subway was an exciting adventure. Brooklyn Bridge left my feet nearly blistered, but I couldn’t bring myself to care much. The New York Library was grand beyond belief, and even your little touches, such as waffles and ice cream from a street cart, were a delight. You were the perfect romancer, and I couldn’t get you out of my head after I left.
Twenty-sixteen, and I finally got the chance to go back. It was summer this time. Your streets were hot and sweaty, and we fortified ourselves with massive water bottles from Duane Reade and bubble tea as often as we could. I found out the hard way to not take the empty subway car, as I sat through sweltering mile after mile with no AC. We walked the Highline, and delighted in the baby nephew’s joy in splashing his plump little feet in the splash pad. Chelsea Market filled my eyes with stars, and I could have wandered forever among the spicy scents and string lights. A girl from New Zealand asked me for directions, which made me think I must not look too much like a tourist- oh delight. But since I actually was a newbie too, we wandered the streets together, looking for the Met and exchanging stories. I loved the feeling of being a minority as a white girl, and of traveling the world without leaving the city.
Winter came again, and I got the sudden chance to go in February. I packed my boots and leggings, and hoped I took enough warm clothes, being a naive southerner. I wrapped up in scarves and gloves, and wandered the streets mostly alone. You were more charming than ever, if possible, with nobody else along to distract me from just seeing you. Miles of books at The Strand, the perfect bagel from the little Italian bagel shop with the proprietor crooning songs behind the counter, watching a concert through the slats of Brooklyn Bridge, losing my way, and finding it again multiple times, miles of trudging from spot to spot. This time I was falling for a different side of you, beyond just the tourist ridden spots. I loved the grimy little corners of Williamsburg I happened upon, and the unremarkable houses flanking Prospect Park. I talked with your residents, and smiled at the kids playing in the park. An Italian man asked me out for wine, and although I declined, I went to bed that night feeling like anything truly could happen here.
Back home in redneck country, I couldn’t get you out of my head. I listened to music telling the wonders of your streets, and built lofty daydreams about life in one of your little shoebox apartments. Oh, the things I would see if I could only go back! On a whim one day, my girls and I decided, “You know what? It’s time to see New York City over Christmas.” So we dreamed and we planned, buying plane tickets and Broadway tickets and filling our heads with thoughts of snow and lights and fur-lined leggings. Finally the day came and we crammed into the back row of an airplane and headed off to see what you had to offer.
Wow New York, you really pulled out all the stops this time. You greeted us with an extravagance of crowds and Christmas music and twinkling lights- a larger-than-life dose of magic. We wandered the streets in a happy haze the day it began to snow, and pinched ourselves to make sure this was actually happening! Tucked into the window corner of the little Italian restaurant, we basked in the warmth and the pasta as the flakes tumbled down outside. We traversed the swirling mass of humanity on Fifth Avenue, tightly clutching each other’s shoulders to not get hopelessly lost. Our faces turned toward the sky, we drank in the magic of Sak’s Fifth Avenue like little children. This was better than anything we could have hoped for!
Once we were chilled to the core and our feet were about to drop off with walking, we squirreled ourselves away in a little Irish joint, warming ourselves with hot soup and the proprietor’s jokes, told in a thick Irish brogue which naturally charmed us. And one night to top it all off, we sat in a darkened theater for several hours as some of your finest voices swirled around our seats, singing of intrigue and phantoms and breaking hearts. Unbelievably amazing. We came home in a haze, wondering if the magic we had experienced could even be true, our eyes shining with the memories.
You are a wonder, New York City. You have spun me away on one intoxicating adventure after another, filled my head with dreams and my eyes with stars, and I have to admit, you’ve completely stolen my heart. I can’t wait to see what happens when our paths cross again.
You can read more NYC adventures here: