New York City
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
If you’ve never been to New York City, I can assure you you’ve never been to New York City. New York is one of those places that’s incomparable to any place else. It’s the kind of place you might use to compare other cities to, but that’s about it.
My first “New York experience” came in the way of a nauseating, thrilling, and extremely reckless shuttle ride into the city from the Newark airport. After counting my non-religious blessings and holding on for dear life, my best friend and I arrived along the Hudson at our Airbnb.
We got out, unloaded our suitcases, and paid for what was actually a roller coaster ride. Immediately, our driver flashed us a smile like he didn’t just endanger our lives and casually asked, “what about a tip?”
The worst part? I gave him one. Oh Jeffrey.
I quickly realized A.) that was a dumb move, and B.) New York and its antics were far from finished with me.
Right away, a chilly spring breeze from the Hudson jolted me awake and snickered, “you’ve arrived.”
We were quick to set out and conquer the city. Within 20 minutes of arriving we were clacking our boots down West 86th Street acting like we owned the place. 20 minutes later we aimlessly wandered through Central Park, where New York was quick to put us back in our place.
Manhattan is one island, but it's separate from the rest of the world—as if a group of people got together and said “hey, let’s put everything and anything you could possibly imagine on one island and see what happens.” New York City is like an experiment in human endurance. How long can you last?
Some people last a lifetime, never leaving the universe that is the Big Apple. Then there are the people like me who pass right through, visiting for just a few days, never making the slightest dent in the city.
But even so, the people are what make up the city—the tourists, the artists, and the businessmen and businesswomen who power through the crowds without pausing to take a breath.
Outside of Times Square, it was hard for me to tell the difference between real New Yorkers and people like me. That’s probably because just like the number of things to do, every kind of person can be found on the streets of New York City.
This small thought put me at ease, though, because my friend and I made no efforts to blend into the bustle. We took full advantage of being tourists by snapping pictures at places like Top of the Rock and the steps of Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment. We found ourselves crying laughing at “Times Square Man,” aka a very drunk (and possibly drugged?) businessman stumbling through Times Square looking very discombobulated. "Drinking Cosmopolitans in the Metropolitan" became our joke of the week. We took in all the art we could with shows from New York City Ballet, to Broadway, and a trip to MoMA.
But through it all, nothing stuck with me the way the people did. Everyone we encountered became a character in my personal narrative of the city—the shuttle driver who almost killed us, our thriving Italian Airbnb host, “MoMA Manz” (if you know you know), our amusing servers at Eataly, the list could go on. There’s a reason why Humans of New York exists...
Elizabeth Gilbert once wrote that each destination has its own word, something that describes the energy and ideals that pulse through the veins of a place. According to her, New York’s word is “achieve,” and I couldn’t find that to be more true.
I’ve traveled to a number of touristy destinations around the globe, but none make you feel as vulnerable and simultaneously empowered as New York does.
At every twist and turn, voices and commotion remind you you’re not alone. But because the echoes are constant, the only place you can be alone is in your own head, which makes one of the most populated cities in the world feel isolated all the same.
Traveling with my best friend was quite the perk, though. Among 8.6 million people, we traveled along in our own bubble, taking it all in from an outsider’s perspective.
In nearly every place I’ve ever traveled, I’ve made a conscious effort to blend in and look at things from a local perspective—one that isn’t touristy and ignorant. But New York City is different. Its inhabitants are part of a secret club that lets very few in, which I suppose is the city’s charm. So even if you’ve been to New York City, it’s nearly impossible to have really been to New York City.