67 Hours In New York

The second your plane touches down in New York City you feel like anything is possible. Later you’ll realize this is just gas and that New York is just like any other American city, except way bigger, and with more people, and with infinitely more things to do. Actually, that feeling of possibility being just around the corner — that never really goes away. The second your plane touches down in New York you feel like you need to live up to the potential of the city. Like you must take up your weapon — a camera, in my case — and rise to its challenges.

ORD > LGA

I should have probably had an exact address ready to give our cabbie when we slid into the back seat of his livelihood, but I had only a vague idea of where our Airbnb rental was located. Nevertheless, I threw him some house numbers, a street and its cross street — plus, our host told me the apartment “is in the middle of the block and has a white door.” I’m sure some of this vagueness is what provoked our cab driver, after arriving at our general destination in a matter of minutes, to begin driving away with our luggage only partially extracted from his open trunk.

Our apartment host gave us a much warmer welcome, which included a festive balloon and a vase full of flowers in honor of my birthday, of which I had informed her was the catalyst for our trip. She waved goodbye, we dropped our luggage, grabbed our new keys and, with the help of our host’s written directions, began exploring Astoria, Queens a quarter before midnight. Our hungry bellies drew us almost immediately into a small pizzeria where we grabbed a slice — thin and glistening — and a glass of wine. Satiated and heads floating, we walked several more blocks, getting a feel for the neighborhood.

I feel like I could definitely live here.

It’s kind of like Chicago except everything looks different.

How much do you think an apartment around here costs?

Satisfied our first few hours in the city had not been wasted, we made our way back to the apartment. As my head sunk into the pillow, I was barely able to contain my excitement for whatever lay ahead for us tomorrow.

Times Square, or, Central Park’s Creepy Uncle

The next morning greeted us warmly, with clear blue skies and 90 degrees of east coast warmth. Excited, We made our way to the N train. Mere blocks away, it was a convenient through-line to everything we wanted to do and see our first day — a tourist’s delight on Manhattan Island. We ride seven or so stops to 49th St., ascend the stairs to ground level and finally see it: Times Square in all of its horrifying glory.

Our threshold for gigantic advertising screens and people holding selfie sticks was quickly met, and, after snapping a few selfies of our own (when in Rome!), elbowing our way through 4 Iron Mans, 2 Hello Kitties, 3 Statues of Liberty, buying a shitty pair of sunglasses from a street vendor, and eating at a mediocre Irish restaurant, we finally made our way into the oasis that is the Museum of Modern Art.

The big attraction at the museum was a Yoko Ono exhibit, which we stumbled onto last. Upon entering we were met with a video projected onto one wall featuring a bunch of 1970s asses, among other things. Other highlights include a Communist video game, a Kara Walker silhouette scene, and an extremely charming Basquiat painting.

A scheduled journey to the top of the Rockefeller building (the “Top of the Rock” as it’s called) drew us, tired and reluctant, away from this lovely retreat and into a cramped elevator with ~13 other humans. Together, we rose 67 stories and were greeted with a spectacular view of the city-it’s vast, dense sprawl choking out any emotion other than awe (and, um, Charlies fear of heights)

The whole time I’m thinking: how can one city contain so much?

The rest of the day existed in a blur. Post-Rock Top, we rested briefly within the southern edge of Central park, where everything and everyone was at peace and beautiful. Charlie and I watched as a woman in a bikini top and a sarong ran, Baywatch style, 100 feet with kite reel on hand and luxurious curls waving in the wind, to have a friendly chat with an older man. Their kite strings, it seems, had crossed and gotten twisted.

Soon thereafter I remembered the Strand was a thing we might want to see, so we took our friend the N and then transferred, in a suffocating mess of filthy underground tunnels, to the 6. Resurfacing at the entrance of Union park (how dare this city have so many lovely parks), we made our way to the Strand Bookstore. I found myself thoroughly entranced here, in that way bookstores often grip me, and failed to take even one photo. I explored each floor, as if in a dream, romantically thumbing through so many books, finally settling on one large, brightly covered anthology of short stories by an author I’ve never heard of. It was perfect, of course.

Our hunger finally pushed us out of the store and back onto the train. Resurfacing at the entrance to Chinatown, the sky was dark as we we decided on Italian with the idea that we’d come back to Chinatown for karaoke or something later.

Turning the corner into Little Italy, we walked down a wide street lined with restaurants. At each one, people sat at tables that spilled out into the street. The air was relaxed but loud with voices; booming dance music from a nearby store interrupted the instrumental music of the restaurants. Incidentally, the restaurant we chose, the name of which I never caught, gave us terrible service. Luckily, they brought us our wine first so the neglectful nature of our waiter was a blow softened by the lightness of our heads.

It was here, on a dark street surrounded by hundreds of other people laughing and talking, that I decided that some conversations are infinitely better when had by candlelight, outdoors on a warm night, with wine, bread, and pasta. That is, at least, how I would like my nights to be spent. And so it was that night, until it inevitably came to an end. Our contented silence on the long train ride back punctuating the end of a pleasant, exhausting day in New York.

Hipsters in a Cyclone Will Sleep No More

The next day we woke up with Brooklyn on the brain. Williamsburg, to be specific, though I wish I could say our interests lay in a less calculatedly hip area of the burrough. But I was drawn in by multi-bulleted lists found online.

Visit this quirky museum!

Don’t miss the Brooklyn Flea Market!

Plus, isn’t there that bridge everyone talks about?

Once again, proving my tendency for vague directions, I led us not to market, or even to that famous bridge. Instead we stepped off of the Marcy St, N train stop in some seemingly nondescript area of Williamsburg that was far from anything we had planned to see that day. Or so we thought.

Intrigued by the pleasant grittiness of the neighborhood (so distinct from the kind we see in Chicago), we walked aimlessly , with the idea that we would stop at any restaurant that looked like a promising brunch spot. Funnily enough, it took us approximately 36 hours in New York to finally pick a good place to eat. Zizi Limona gets all of my Midwestern love. The food was great, the waiters were cute, and the little outdoor sidewalk area we sat in was on uneven ground, which I found charming. I enjoyed a cup of Turkish coffee and had my first pair of poached eggs, while Charles downed some sort of tomato salad. On a scale of Nah to Have My Babies, this place was P Good.

Full of happiness we walked some more, hoping for some kind of visual nugget that hinted at what makes this neighborhood tick. As we turned onto Metropolitan Ave., I saw a sign that seemed familiar. Through some amazingly dumb luck, we had stumbled upon one of the recommended Williamsburg “Must-Sees,” (as noted by the aforementioned multi-bulleted online lists): The City Reliquary. We stepped inside to find a small room containing tons of NYC-related souvenirs (things you might find in a trendy handmade Etsy shop) on one side, and a young woman behind a counter on the other.

Hi. Welcome to the City Reliquary. Have you been here before?

We told her we had not and she explained what it was and why it was, all in a very succinct and pleasant manner — the details of which I don’t remember. I do remember, however, that all of this seemed good and well to us, and we paid the $5 entry fee and made our way inside (through what looked like an old MTA gate).

The museum is very small and has an extremely pleasant atmosphere, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s full of old relics of Brooklyn/NYC past and they all seem to give off a sense of time richly spent. Like the old soda cans and yellowed photos and outdated electronics were wishing you good luck, and telling you to Make the Best of the Time You Have Here.

Or maybe that was just me.

Either way, a visitor to this museum (and I do very much recommend visiting), will surely appreciate what’s inside — as well as what’s outside in the patio area, which includes some sort of treehouse contraption.

Exiting the museum, I spotted a vintage clothing store across the street called Horizons. Inside, I tried on a large but comfortable pair of pants while “Time Out of Mind” played on the radio. It was around this time that we realized we needed to leave ye olde Williamsburg and take the N train to its end, like the Warriors did before us, all the way to Coney Island.

It is relevant to mention that we had tickets to see Sleep No More at 6:30 that night, which is on the opposite end of the N, back in Manhattan. This gave us around 28 minutes to spend in Coney Island.

What To Do If You Only Have 28 Minutes to Spend At Coney Island:

  1. Ride the Cyclone
  2. Take as many pictures as it takes to convince you that later you will not feel as though you made a Big Mistake only giving yourself 28 minutes to spend at Coney Island.

I can’t speak for the other rides here, but the Cyclone is one very excellent wooden roller coaster. If you’ve never ridden it, or hate having too much fun, you should just listen to episode #36 of Reply All, “Today’s The Day.” Post-Cyclone, we had around 15 minutes left, and, as if to spite us, the sky clouded over and began to spit rain. Not deterred so easily, we quickly switched to fresh film rolls and snapped some photos. (Check out our analog NYC photos) If there’s one thing I regret about our trip to Coney Island, it’s neglecting to ingest some sort of heinously unhealthy carnival snack. Then again, regrets are no fun, and Sleep No More — with it’s air of mystery and promise of nudity — beckoned.

[Insert long train ride here.]

It seems to me, among all of the online tips and hints for #winning @ Sleep No More, the only one you really need is Wear Comfortable Shoes. With approximately 2.75 hours of running around, your nose smashed under a mask, and perhaps a little wine in your belly, your feet NOT being crammed into those new heels is the least you can do to ensure yourself a good time. Make no mistake: you definitely want to dress like the hot yet classy individual that you are, with a drink in your hand and something to prove. Just do that with shoes you can truly move around in. <Read more about Sleep No More.> Really, to explain the Sleep No More experience is a waste of time (though some have done it well); it’s really something you just need to see for yourself if you haven’t already. We were far from disappointed, and, as we walked outside several hours later (there’s a dope aftershow you should definitely stay for), it felt like we had been in a completely different world.

Nevertheless, it was late and we hadn’t eaten; so we began our final night out in NYC on the hunt for food. Passing over a super cool looking bar/restaurant/lounge at which we definitely could only afford appetizers, Charlie suggested we head in the direction of Times Square, nearby.

Big Mistake.

If Times Square in the AM is a reasonably hot mess, Times Square at night is a hellhole to which I would not send even my worst enemies (not that I have any). I’m sorry, but why are these lights on? And the people? They’re out in droves; hungry, but not for food. It’s like a deeper hunger, fed only by the oversaturated air of resource consumption — and it was not appealing.

All of this to say: we were capital ‘T’ Tourists™ in this city and we too were drawn in, like moths, to the lights and energy of Times Square at midnight.

But that doesn’t mean we (I) can’t complain about it afterwards.

Just writing the sentence “We had dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.” fills me with a deep despair, so I must move on quickly in my recounting. After dinner, we were invited to a comedy club, congratulated on being an interracial couple, and offered cocaine — all from the same bleary-eyed kid. Needless to say, we politely joked around with him for a few minutes before promptly looking for the nearest train station home.

I could say the fact that two subsequent northbound train stations being inexplicably closed, forcing us to walk an extra 20 minutes, was moldy icing on an already rotting cake, but that wouldn’t be completely true. What is true is that that extra 20 minutes of walking happened to lead us by a giant office building (closed, of course) through whose glass doors I got to see a humongous Lichtenstein painting!!!! It was seriously like a billion feet tall (or 67 ft as Wikipedia tells me)!! My heart melted and my brain farted (I didn’t take a picture), but I will Never Forget.

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

Even though, coincidentally, I woke up with “California Love” in my head every single day we spent in New York, the final morning of our trip had me feeling some type of way. We packed our bags early for quick retrieval later and headed out, daypacks heavy with too many cameras.

Where are we going?

I don’t know. I looked up some places in Harlem we can go, maybe.

We had around 4 hours in Harlem and the “few places” I looked up (another multi-bulleted list online) turned out to be comically far apart from one another, so we both quickly agreed it would be more relaxing to just walk around. And so we walked, eventually landing at the Northern end of Central Park. Seeing a completely different side of this beautiful park prompted me to consider once again the vastness that is New York City — and how much of it (pretty much everything) we had yet to explore.

New York is wonderful and I’d love to live here one day.

Yeah, but all of this makes me want to get to know Chicago really well first.

Agreed. We should explore Chicago and everywhere else, and then write about it!

This is not really how the idea for our travel blog was born, but I’d like to think that in between bites of falafel, we solidified the idea in our heads.This is where we fell in love; not with a city, but with the exploration and appreciation of a place.

This piece was originally published on Distances Mag.

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