A New Year in New York

Unemployed, uninsured and homeless. Unattached. Unburdened. I walked into a future of complete and utterly unknown possibility as 2015 surrendered to 2016.

I’ve never been a big city girl but the Big Apple seemed to be a good place to ring in the new year. In my five years in the USA, all of which were spent on the east coast, New York City had never enticed my attention. The closest I had come to the city were the hours I spent in transit at JFK starting with my momentous first entry on US soil back in 2010.

If there is one thing that the city attracts, it’s people. People from anywhere and everywhere. And in that midst of humans, it is easy enough to find acquantainces, friends and people within two degrees of separation. A quick search on social media revealed a motely of people associated with different parts of my life living in and around the city. On top of that, the holiday season had attracted so many others like myself from around the USA.

I was lucky to have one of my best friends from high school, Sneh, call New Jersey home. Amongst pouring rain and rapidly falling temperatures, I arrived at her home in Eatontown, a small town on the coast of south Jersey. I’d already had a long day starting around noon from Arlington, VA with a long stopover in Baltimore, MD. Despite my fatigue, I enjoyed the charm of Chistmas decorations and lights strewn throughout the Jersey neighborhoods.

It was a relief to reach Sneh’s home and we ended staying up and chatting, just as old friends are wont to do when they meet after a long time. After a midnight snack of chapathi and the first of a full week of epicurean delights featuring Kerala cuisine, I fell into a deep sleep.

Sneh and I spent the last morning of the year along the Jersey shore at Long Branch sipping a steaming cup of hot chocolate from a local cafe. Sneh described how the beach used to have a long boardwalk that was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and how a lot of the area around the promenade was developed using eminent domain. There were hardly any people on the beach and I was grateful for the relative solitude that afforded a peaceful morning walk.

Washing away 2015 on the Jersey Shore

I had already decided to do the uber-touristy trek to NYC for New Year’s Eve night celebrations. NJ Transit provides decent, if infrequent and slow, connections for most parts of the state to NYC. As I made my way to the city, 2015 did not want to give in without a fight. It threw in a couple of minor debacles involving a mid-motion shoe donation from Sneh to me as she was driving and loss of two train tickets between me and my friend, Ashish.

I wasn’t ready to shell out atrocious (to me) amounts of money to gain entry into a bar or club, so my idea was to make my way to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park or Coney Island to watch the fireworks. I felt a quick thrill to step out of NY Penn station from under Madison Square Garden smack into the glittering sights and sounds of NYC. People were bustling all around in a celebratory mood. The crowd really was not as stifling and crazy as it has a reputation for; growing up in India certainly conditioned me for huge masses of people. Law enforcement and security measures were prominent throughout the streets and train stations.

Ashish and I met up with my friends from NC State and we decided to walk to the Brooklyn Bride along Broadway. It was 3-mile walk and we ambled along, stopping often to take pictures of the glowing Empire State building, window displays and street art.

The Empire State building’s new year party outfit.

We passed many streets with hardly any people, further making us question the whole reputation that NYE in NYC has as a hot, crowded mess. Perhaps we were away from major party points. As we hit Chinatown near Canal street, I suggested walking through it. This wasn’t a great idea because most shops had obviously closed and the deserted atmosphere emanated the instantly-recognizable unsafe atmosphere. Before we backtracked, I’m happy to report that I was accosted by a Chinese faux bag lady. Score one for authentic New York experiences!

When we finally made it to the Brooklyn Bridge, the wind chill factor had kicked up and our feet were hurting. We decided to walk across the bridge into Brooklyn. The skyline views were spectacular and the civil engineer in me reveled at walking across a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Through the cable stays: my first view of the Manhattan skyline.
The mandatory pedestrian walkway Patel shot on the Brooklyn Bridge.

We walked past a multitude of people waiting all across the span in a patient and expectant atmosphere. We still had a couple of hours to kill before midnight and we were too tuckered out to go any further. So, we rested and warmed up in a cafe close to the bridge. As another of New York’s big-city experiences, the doors of the restrooms are locked and management provides the key to customers. The continuous queue ensured that the key didn’t make it back to management and this new year passing-the-baton kept up until closing time.

We walked back onto the bridge to ring in 2016. The experience was… underwhelming, to say the least. While I knew beforehand that there were no fireworks in Brooklyn bridge park during new year, I thought, given the number of people who had flocked on the bridge, that there would some sight to behold. As the crowd counted down the seconds, reality didn’t quite match up to expectation. While the view of the Manhattan skyline at night, and of course, the bridge itself was amazing, the fireworks were too far away. We could see multiple firework shows across the city, all of them quite microscopic.

Heh.

So that was my new year: a bunch of friends, a bridge, breezy and beautiful, and just a tad sheepish to keep me grounded while suspended a hundred feet in the air.

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