I can’t believe I haven’t posted since the new year. Life is an all-consuming swamp of a mess sometimes, an obstacle we have no choice but to find a way to get through.
A few weeks ago, Neil informed me that Lonely Planet was calling for submissions for a travel book. I immediately got to plucking at my keys, a sensation I haven’t allowed myself to feel since school started. I was hitting over 2000 words when it donned on me that the contest may have a cap on words. I checked and sure enough, a limit to 3000 words, which I scoffed at and immediately decided I’d just write the piece the anyway and see how far I’d go.
I went over by 1080 words. They are all here and they tell the story of all the things Neil and I did in New York, give or take a few moments that I’m saving just for me.
It’s lengthy, it’s detailed, and pictures are included. Enjoy!
“New York,” he says, “look at dates,” he says. I lift my eyebrows in disbelief – this relationship is so good, I can barely tell what’s real and what’s not most days. It’s no-shit that good and I am so over the moon that he loves to travel. When he said New York, I was apprehensive. Yes, I had previously, thoughtlessly, in passing, stated that I would love to see the city at Christmas time, that I’d never seen real, delicious, veloured snow and that NYC would be a dream during winter; I never expected that I’d actually get to take that trip. For the last decade, traveling has been done in my mind only. I relished the simple idea of getting to frolic around in snow in a big city, though as it turned out, NYC was as warm as New Orleans for our entire stay, not one little flake of snow fell, the entire point of the adventure; I can’t help but laugh at that. Lack of snow did not hinder our adventuring though; we created our own fun, we shaped our own experience.
Neil’s the kind of guy that puts a latte in my hands before I even realize I’ve got a caffeine-withdrawal headache and need a fix, so allowing me to not only entertain the idea of taking a trip to NYC, but plan one was like setting me loose in a Intelligentsia warehouse, blindfolded.
We booked flights, an excitement that I will most certainly never, ever tire from, made AirBnB arrangements and started dreaming about four days in New York. The possibilities were endless, though we just wanted to drink great coffee, eat inspiring food, and soak up the city’s diversity.
I researched, I Googled, I surfed, perusing the web for underground bands and secret eats. It just so happened that one of my favorite bands, Sleater-Kinney, would be performing at King’s Theater in Brooklyn the second night of our stay. My mom obliged tickets as an early birthday present; my head was spinning…this trip was shaping up in the most dream-like of scenarios.
Three weeks passed and it was time to roll out. I stuffed every piece of warm, black clothing I own in to my mom’s tiny little red carry-on, very neatly organized by day and outfit. Then I re-organized it. I panicked for days about having too many little bottles in my purse; I pouted about having to find a smaller bottle of perfume because it wasn’t sensible for me to bring the large bottle. I wanted to be sensible and sensational in New York.
I was too nervous to eat at 4:30a.m. before our flight, go figure. The delicious, greasy, perfect drunk-food omelets at City Diner went uneaten. This was my first major trip out of Louisiana in twelve years, my stomach was in knots.
Our flights were perfect, though it could have crashed and I probably would have died smiling. I was floating in the air with the love of my life and a few perfect strangers, heading towards adventure.
I knew I was in New York when I was nearly run over simultaneously by three giant men, eyes burning in to their giant spaceship phones. Note: Do not stand within fifty-feet of the restroom entrances at LaGuardia. You will be killed.
We grabbed our bags and called our first Uber; we live in the fucking future, people. I get it, this may not be revolutionary to you, but in Small-ish Town, USA, Uber is like having the Secret Service or one of the Jetsons come pick you up. Off to the Bronx! – SoBro to be exact. I didn’t know what to think or expect, I only have small clips in my memory from traveling here as a child. The buildings were so amazing and large; bigger than I remembered, even as a kid. I’d been to NYC before when I was seven. The most I gleaned from that trip was that I wanted Juniors cheesecake for every meal. I didn’t know what to look at first. I close my eyes and think of the moment we passed the bay and can still feel the faintest fluttering in my stomach. The feeling of being somewhere new, somewhere with people, places, and ideas so completely removed from everything you know…that’s humbling. I felt so human in New York, it was wild. Small town life is comparative to being under a looking-glass 24/7 so to be in New York, surrounded by strangers, was relieving.
We came in to our neighborhood and I immediately wanted to start snapping pictures, but I refrained. Yes, I wanted to capture images of every aspect of this trip, but I also wanted to make it a point to be present. We weren’t staying in a part of New York that gets very much attention. Nothing was glamorous about the area (aside from the fact that our AirBnB hosts were fabulous, successful artists of various types.) I took small videos here and there; I knew I’d regret not having more than just a still moment to reflect on. New York has such movement, I wanted to capture just a pinch of that whenever possible.
As we stood on the doorstep, waiting for our host to greet us I took snapshots in my mind of specific things: the tacky Santa, strung up with Christmas lights across the street, the poinsettias on the front steps, the sounds of taxis honking and the peaceful silence that followed. This part of New York had a quietness that I immediately appreciated.
We dropped our bags in our room, which was located inside a three story, eclectic-chic apartment; I feel like I should refer to it as a “flat,” it felt so cool. We were starving at this point. Awake and hungry from 4am-1pm is quite a stretch to go with minimal in-flight snack fair as sustenance. We wanted experience! And boy oh boy, were we ever in the right place.
For the first hour and a half of on our quest for food, we meandered around South Bronx, unable to land on a specific taste bud. Indian cuisine? Greasy Chinese? Pizza pie? We couldn’t choose! Eventually, my magnificent counterpart says, “Let’s go freshen up and get some Italian food. This is ridiculous.” I happily agreed, thrilled that we’d decided on a culinary selection – the battle during this excursion to make food selections was overwhelming. There are far, far too many options. — We made a mad dash back to the apartment, I swapped boots and spritzed while Neil changed shoes and put on his coat. Our second Uber arrived on time and we were off to Little Italy.
Of course, this required more roaming around and more pointed decision making: which street? What pizza? Best sauce? OH GOD! Pizza is already a major food group in my life, how the people of New York make a “best” selection beats the hell out of me. Though now that I think of it, that is a committee I would happily and actively join. We settled on a delicious spot, RubiRosa. House wine and classic sauce for me, beer and vodka sauce for Neil. The slices were bigger than I could have hoped for! I only ate one slice at this particular restaurant, feigning fullness – and I was, but deep down, I wanted an entire pie. (I tallied up my slices, and at the end of the trip I’d done just that. Bravo.)
In Little Italy, we found cannolis that would change my life, that would make all other cannolis seem feeble and bland. We found two speakeasies, gold for those whom have never experienced such. The first, while offering an exclusive atmosphere fell short of my expectations; my writer’s-brain has a way of forcing me to be disappointed in experience sometimes, though thankfully, not often. The second stop – which will remain nameless, as to keep with the tradition – surpassed making up for the lackluster of our first attempt to be hip in New York.
My cousin, sous chef to the fabulous Rocco DiSpirito, recommended this place. She’s been in the city for a stretch and is a whiz on all things cocktail and cuisine, so she’s got the scoop on local gems, the shiny ones. She really knocked it out of the park on her first pitch. This place was everything. Some tall someone came outside to check IDs as space became available. He would come out, look at your license, walk back inside and return a few minutes later to escort you to the table – in our case, the bar. We watched the talented, what I can only call mad-scientists, work their magic. Effortlessly churning out one perfectly handcrafted beverage after the next, I was fascinated. Hand-carved ice, specialty ingredients, perfect glassware; not a detail was missed. There was a tangible energy flowing through this place, one we carried out and took with us as we tipsy ventured into Manhattan.
We emerged from a subway that spat us out at the foot of the Trump Tower, which gave us both a laugh. I spun around a few times, my jaw gaping awkwardly, I know. I felt smaller than microscopic, dwarfed by the size of these buildings, these monstrosities. I subconsciously became concerned for the sake of the architect and engineer’s mind; the amount of math and precision required to design such things completely baffles me.
Our directions were to meet my cousin at the Time Warner Center, a polished and impressive building. The second I laid eyes on her I began chuckling to myself. NYC is massive compared to where we’re from, the chances of seeing someone you know on the street is rare. To be able to see family and friends during our stay was remarkable to me, especially since this place feels so far away. I spent a portion of this trip thinking how interesting it must be to live in a place where it is truly peculiar to see the same person twice. I spent an even larger portion wishing that was so in the case of my hometown; familiarity, to it’s most extreme, makes us complacent, and often, less appreciative.
Jacquie took us to Clarke’s, where I was consumed with the buzz of local New Yorkers enjoying the holiday spirit. I took a survey: servers from other restaurants convened by the entrance to decompress after long shifts, stretches of long tables for large families littered the restaurant, small groups of friends huddled together over appetizers; this kind of life was wonderful to see. I was flushed from the walk, the wind, and my own tipsiness, but that didn’t stop me from giggling at everyone like a schoolgirl.
We ordered a hot, bubbly something for an appetizer and another round of drinks while browsing the detailed menu. I finally decided on the French onion soup, which was absolute perfection (despite my drunk taste-buds) and Neil, in true Bostonian fashion, order a lobster roll (to die for.) We laughed, we talked, we enjoyed. A friend of Jacquie’s joined us later and assisted in directing us back to the Bronx.
Note: Public transportation is totally acceptable. I have no idea what people are afraid of. It’s affordable and reliable (though be prepared for delays) and I am all about anything that keeps me from being behind the wheel.
“You guys came a long way, SoBro is so far!” Yeah, we didn’t quite realize that, but we didn’t care. We were seeing NY as never seen before.
After stumbling into the BnB with a bag of Dunkin’ Donuts for Neil, we passed out with a plan to be up and at it by at least 8a.m. and woke up to a glorious, IDGAF 10:30a.m. So far, so good.
First up on day two? Lunch in Brooklyn! This whole day revolved around our concert later, so we dressed for the day, called our faithful Uber and hit the road. The ride was…colorful. I didn’t expect to find myself feeling sick on the way to a day of adventure awesomeness, but there I was, crossing the bridge to Brooklyn, nearly throwing up in my purse in the Uber. I called to mind Ujiiy breathing and all was well; I suppose it pays to be a crunchy yoga girl every now and then.
Our intentions were to eat at that place that Jay-Z likes to eat at, but the line was completely wrapped around the building, so we opted for the place next door, Roomr. I was not sad or disappointed that I didn’t get to eat Jay-Z’s favorite pizza or drink Bey’s favorite wine. Roomr took forever, but it had killer tomato soup, ice-cold Coca-Cola in a bottle and flare, so we were happy.
This day was so magical. I vividly remember walking through the streets of DUMBO, a suburb of BKLYN, feeling envious of its residents. I was blown away by the view of the Statue of Liberty from where we were standing, somewhere close to Pineapple St.We realized that we’d been in New York for twenty-four hours without so much as one drop of coffee, and that was long enough for me. We’d conceded defeat on the snow, but coffee still needed conquering.
I’d made lists on lists on lists of coffee shops I wanted to try. I spent an hour researching my own Instagram to make notes on all the hot NYC coffee stops I needed to visit…there wasn’t enough time and my bladder wouldn’t have made it. Neil’s buddy Ned came to the rescue and recommended a place off of Pineapple St, Vineapple. I ordered an iced macchiato and thought the barista was going to flip on to his head. I still haven’t figured out if I ordered it wrong or if he’d never made one, life’s mysteries.
We sat and had a long chat with Ned, a theme of the trip I was noticing. Here we were, in the middle of a giant city with a million things to do, and all we wanted was conversations over drinks, the only thing I’m ever really interested in. There was a bit of familiarity in everything we did, despite the larger-than-life surrealness, and everything felt surreal. Traveling gives you that gift and wraps it up in a way nothing else can.
As the sun was setting behind Lady Liberty, we started thinking about supper. Ned suggested a few places, to which we ventured and found hour long waits. We hadn’t planned for this, so instead of getting frustrated, we stopped at a soda shop to regroup. We were taken back in time to cuffed sleeves, brass taps and sundae dishes; Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain wasn’t our final destination, but did not disappoint. We tried calling a few more places, but eventually ended up calling a group-Uber to scoop us up and bring us to Flatbush Avenue for the show. An adorable couple, heading to a holiday party, joined in on our Uber fun. It took everything in me not to rob the woman of the delicious smelling casserole dish she was holding; I was hungry and knew it was filled with baked ziti. Really, the self-control I showed deserved a medal, it was homemade and smelled amazing.
We stepped out of the car and Google-mapped the venue. We were exceptionally far from where we needed to be, which meant we had a hike in front of us. I know it seems like we were unplanned and unorganized, but that was half the fun. This was a semi-whim trip and I ate it up. Vacations for as long as I can remember, traveling with family and the occasional friend, were non-stop scheduled, pages-long itineraries. Going with the NY flow was a dream.
We walked and talked, grabbed a slice at some hole-in-the-wall on Flatbush and walked some more. We walked through parts of NY I never envisioned. We saw the lighting of the Menorah near the Brooklyn library, we stopped for fresh coconut water and cane juice in Little Jamaica; the date-night stroll of our lives. When I thought I could walk no longer, Neil pointed out the gorgeous, sparkling sign of Kings Theater, we’d finally arrived.
I was floored, humbled, amazed. We entered the theater, the Gothic, bright, intricately detailed theater that was a flutter with undercuts, tattoos and a whole lot of riot grrrl energy. I thought to myself, “this is what heaven must be like.” The thought was foolish, I hadn’t stepped inside to the main-stage yet. One half of a toe in and I instantly felt like a speck of stardust, floating among other flecks and constellations. This place boasted a vintage, an age and grace I can barely describe; a space so beautiful I thought my mind was playing tricks on me, my eyes the puppet, my brain the master.
This thought lasted right through the set, which was delivered in a phenomenal, forceful, Sleater-Kinney throat punch. It hurt so good. When the audience was convinced the show really was over, Carrie, Corin and Janet returned to the stage to entertain and entice us once more, with a traditional Hanukkah song followed by one of my favorite SK songs, Modern Girl. The trio bid their audience a final farewell, leaving us to float out on our clouds, into the quiet Brooklyn night with quiet fires burning inside.
I am still on that cloud.
We ventured through Williamsburg, hoping to check out a bit of the scene. Black on black on black: miniskirts, crop tops, leather pants. Lines wrapped around buildings with laserbeams for lights and a thumping bass blasting. I’d clearly packed on point for the trip, I didn’t notice anyone wearing much color…I loved it. “The scene,” however, wasn’t for us, so we opted for taco truck tacos that were legit. Fusion food isn’t a thing we encounter often in our hometown, unless venturing to NOLA or whipping something up, so to be able to find jerk-style tacos, complete with sauteed plantains and avocado-jalapeno cream at 1 in the morning was wild. We meandered through the streets of Williamsburg, stopping for a hot, spiced beverage and a few kisses under the open sky.
Our final day was spent wandering the outskirts of Brooklyn with a childhood friend of mine. We started with a long subway ride to meet her, from South Bronx to Ditmas, another suburb of Brooklyn. Café Madeleine was first on the agenda, and wow, wow, wow! Legit nitro brewed coffee and a menu that would take days to choose from. My friend and her chap selected their usuals while we chose at random, our meals leaving us full to the brim, wanting to sample the entire menu though no room for it. From there, we hiked to and through Prospect Park. I was thrilled to see so many people out and about being active and creative. Running, jogging, walking, ice-skating, painting, posing…you name it, we saw it, with the gorgeous added benefit of a stunning overcast sunset.
The four of us walked back from the park, enjoyed more caffeinated beverages from a shop called Lark, and went our separate ways.
Supper, as recommended from a friend, was at a small Italian pasta artistry, Epistrophy; what a gem. Handmade pastas and bread to die for, tucked in to a neatly wrapped, eclectic and compact restaurant feel. We were basically sitting on the stage, which I didn’t mind a bit, though I did catch myself wishing that there was a violinist playing something soft and sweet, just for us. We shared burrata cheese for our appetizer, which was served with beets and basil, a combination I was apprehensive towards but quickly gobbled up. Our entrees…..just the thought of our entrees has my mouth watering as I type this. I ordered the homemade gnocchi with a medley of mushrooms and white truffle oil. OHHHHHHHHMIgad. Neil went for the roast, which might as well have been butter it was so tender and delicious. I was too consumed wiping the butteriness off of my hands and lips to snap a picture of our dishes. OH FREAKING WELL.
New York is a metropolis for cuisine and fashion, if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re boring.
After, I thanked myself for being bright enough to only wear tights on this trip, as to make plenty of room for all of the deliciousness. We set off for Greenwich Village, in search of late night coffee and bad comedy. We found both and oh how I wished I had a week to stand in line for every comedy show that was hosted. Aptly referred to by locals as, “the Village,” this part of lower-Manhattan emits an addicting spirit of laughter, and definitely, debauchery. Had I known how sucked in I’d get, I’d have started here on night one and never left. I could feel kindred spirits all around me, the freedom in me, freedom that has been on the loose for a year or so now, I could feel that letting go in the company of fellow wild minds. I was blissed out to the max, caring less about the flat latte I was drinking and more about drinking up the experience. Neil and I bummed around the park for a while, watched a show or two, had a few beers and decided to roll out, in search of sights and more people watching.
I had a secret agenda. I pulled up directions to 64 Perry St. and weaved my man through the streets of Manhattan. I felt chic, walking around in my all-black uniform and multi-colored hair. I didn’t feel like I stuck out like a sore-thumb or that anyone was giving a second thought to the blue pieces that framed my face. It didn’t phase the bar keep at The East Village Craft Beer Shop when I ordered a sour – which, I can’t remember – or when I was able to drink most of it (not all, those things fill me up!)
I led us along gorgeous Fifth Avenue and had to pause for a moment. This place seems untouchable, yet there I stood, moments of insecurity and uncertainty fleeing from my mind. I made it to and through New York with nothing but a few dollars in my pocket and my best friend by my side, proving anything in life is possible. After Neil and I stopped at another pizza shop, where we scooped up the last two slices of the night, I finally told him where we were going. He rolled his eyes at me and said, “come on.” More winding, another left, a few rights and whammo….I delivered us right to Carrie Bradshaw’s doorstep. I know, it’s dumb, but I had to see it. I wasn’t a fan of how women were often depicted in Sex & the City but I loved watching, thinking about what it would be like to operate life in a city that full of opportunity, love and surprise.
My phone died as I attempted to snap a few crappy pictures, of course. I laughed it off, wrapped my arm around my love and let him lead me out of Manhattan. – But not before we each had another slice of pizza pie and got lost riding the subway. I took my contacts out of my eyes and stuck them on the windows at one point I think. My eyes didn’t handle the wind between the buildings too well, and though I wanted to see things on the ride home, I also wanted to close my eyes and duplicate these beautiful images over and over and over.
Four days was a tease for two travelers looking to roam from corner to corner of unknown parts of well-known cities. All of the above could be summarized to the naked eye as not much, lackluster, unorganized, a waste of time, etc etc. Nothing I can tell you about this trip could ever adequately paint the colorful picture it was; images that are stamped in my memory forever. I will never forget waking up next to Neil in the late Bronx morning, thinking that I would happily wake up in a different adventure every day as long as he is by my side. I recharged up there, gained perspective that I needed. I will never be able to express how wonderful it was to be away, to feel the euphoria of leaving things behind and look towards something new, even if only for a moment.