The Sunday of “Big NYC Weekend” was officially a party, with the inclusion of my roommate Güliz. We almost missed the bus, but the driver kindly opened the doors for us at a traffic light, providing a suitably urgent start to the day.
An hour later, we arrived in New York, and headed uptown to Central Park, where we had breakfast at the Central Park Boathouse. After my morning hit of caffeine (and one sticky raspberry Danish pastry later), the girls and I joined the queue outside the boathouse and rented a rowboat. I’m not exactly the world’s best rower (I forayed in kayaking in Puerto Rico earlier this year, and was sufficiently traumatized), so I let Clare and Güliz take the reins on this one. The weather was glorious, and the view of the park from the lake was beautiful. We even saw a family of baby turtles, hanging out on a piece of driftwood. It was perfect, and just like the movies, until I realised that I’d lost my receipt. The staff were jerks, and wouldn’t refund me my $20 security deposit. Twenty fucking dollars! You win some, you lose some.
We left Central Park for the deepest, darkest depths of Brooklyn… Coney Island! Home to the legendary Lunar Park, Coney Island is a beach, located at the southern tip of Brooklyn, a 45-minute subway ride from Manhattan. It was kitschy but charming, with excellent street food, gorgeous ocean views, a boardwalk, and best of all, a crappy theme park circa Adventureland. We took a strip of photos in an old-fashioned photo-booth, rode the Ferris wheel and went on the park’s oldest rollercoaster, The Cyclone. We ate hot dogs from Nathan’s on the boardwalk.
From Coney Island, we took the subway to the edge of Brooklyn, and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at dusk. There’s a reason why the Brooklyn Bridge is a tourist trap; it’s a truly breathtaking experience. The view really is something that I can’t put into words. If you get the chance to visit New York, you really do have to see it for yourself. You won’t regret it. I promise.
I parted ways with Clare and Güliz once we had crossed the bridge; they headed home, but I had other plans. I had managed to get my hands on a ticket to see The Shins play the first of three sold-out shows at Terminal 5, and so I made my way uptown, and lined up with my ticket.
After being ID’d, the attendant emblazoned my hand with a humiliating black “X” to let everybody know that I wasn’t 21 (the legal drinking age in the United States). Extremely aware of the fact that I was alone, at a concert, I wandered the venue to get the feel of the place (and to make it look like I was doing something other than standing there, like a loner), as the opening act, St. Lucia played. The experience would probably have been more enjoyable, had I been able to sit at the bar with a bottle of Brooklyn lager, but alas.
I tried to make conversation with one or two people sitting upstairs, but it was to no avail. Surrounded by couples and people who didn’t want to chat to me, I started to feel disheartened.
Then of course, The Shins came on, and they played Australia, and everything was ok. I moved towards the back of the room, hoping that there would be fewer couples holding hands, and a slightly better view. I took up residence next to “JenJen”, a voluptuous young woman dressed head-to-toe in black, dancing and sweating enthusiastically. She was clearly far more interesting than me, and I figured that if I danced next to her, nobody would notice me (and the fact that I was there alone). As it turns out, she was lovely and exactly the kind of temporary friend I was looking for.
As I relaxed into the evening, I started to make conversation with the people around me. I made a crack about being short to the petite woman standing behind me (at 163cm, it’s not always easy to see at these kind of events). This impromptu ice-breaker turned out to be the catalyst for one of the most awesome New York encounters I’ve had to date.
“Stephanie” and I bonded over the lure of the city; she had migrated to New York six years before, from L.A. She gave me a soul-searching pep-talk about making it in the big city and crystallizing my passion for writing. Director of the FLAG Art Foundation, a contemporary art gallery located in Chelsea, she gave me her e-mail address and told me to get in touch. After the concert, Stephanie and her friends (two charming, art-dealing Upper East Siders) invited me to go for a drink, but not being 21, and aware that I would be stranded in New York on a Sunday night if I missed the last bus home, I had to decline. I was astounded at their kindness though; I had been chatting to these people for no more than the best part of an hour, and they wanted to hang out with me! My trio of guardian angels were just that; they refused to let me take the subway, and generously paid for a cab to Port Authority for me.
Everybody has an opinion about New York. It’s true that it’s exhausting, it’s relentless and it takes no prisoners. It’s true that New Yorkers always have something to do and somewhere to be; it’s a city full of desperately passionate people, all hustling, all trying to be somebody. It’s true that New Yorkers will not let you get in the way of anything. And yet, all of the New Yorkers that I’ve encountered have been incredibly kind and generous-spirited. Everybody I’ve met has been insightful, helpful, and fascinatingly, endlessly interesting. This tiny island is home to the most compelling set of people in the Western world. I’m sure of it.
The memory of that bus ride home, of gazing out at the twinkling lights of Manhattan from across the Hudson River is burned into my memory.
I can’t believe my life. How can one person experience so many overwhelmingly incredible things in one weekend? How is this not a dream? Now do you see why I have to be a part of it?
*Photographs by Clare Anderson.