There is much to see of New York City outside my single window. The Empire Hotel sits adjacent to Central Park, and from my vantage point I can see part of the legendarily exclusive and difficult school called Julliard. Casting a shadow over the passerby is Dante Alighieri, who stands immortally cast in dark metal, unblinkingly watching this circle of Earth. Further still, a golden saint proclaims for the Church of Latter Day Saints from atop a spire.
A tiger print armchair sits in front of our comfortably firm bed, and it’s there I listen to the sound of the city: the high pitched squeak of car brakes; the low rumble of a garbage truck; horns, some quick and others sustained, assert their insistence of an ever quickening pace. New York is a fast city, with the pulse of a great river funneled by networks of old stone; a far cry from the leisurely nature of Portland. Unlike the Rose city, there don’t seem to be enough hours in a day for this concrete jungle, nor minutes in an hour. There is always movement, always another horn, someone is always awake. From my short time here I’ve experienced three kinds of people. The first are those always in a rush, power walking across streets even as the little red blinking hand demands they halt. I’m reminded of Italy, where in order to avert being struck, you must omit a certain air of confidence as you stride in front of taxi’s traveling at 30+ mph.
The second are those who take a more casual pace; older New Yorkers who’ve seen it all and need not hurry. As I stand at a crosswalk, I witness two old women with an over abundance of make up be shouldered past by a woman in her mid 30’s as she crosses (again, despite that well-meaning blinking red hand). “Did you see that woman?!” They exclaim, appalled by such behavior. She doesn’t look back.
Third are the tourists, who (and I’m guilty of this as well), are easy to spot — we all can’t help but crank our heads as far up as they’ll go, walking with naive unawareness to our surroundings. They stop in the middle of a stream of people moving with the current like salmon up a river to snap photos of the skyscrapers with their iPhones. Everyone is taking selfies. A group of Asians stand in Times Square, hands raised with peace signs fully extended, as if to justify the obstruction they’re causing to everyone around them. I force my neck down to a more reasonable and comfortable position, preferring to blend in than mark myself by sheer posture. But dammit, I’m going to far. Now I’m looking at the ground and can’t help but study it as I walk. Everything is concrete and asphalt, but there’s a skin covering it of grime, discarded trash, pamphlets to D-List comedy shows and strip clubs, and the infinitely varied droppings of people. A still burning cigarette, a well-worn penny, a child’s doll.
This observation is an incomplete one, I admit. I’m only here six days, and have barely covered a small fraction of this great city. Times Square is as bright and overwhelming as they all say; night turns to day as those enormous billboard ad’s, animated and ever changing, flash all the possibilities of the world and hoping to inspire specific thoughts. God I could use a Coke. Huh, I never really liked American Eagle but I like that. Hershey’s World? Yes please, I need chocolate. I enter and spend $20. It’s worth it, I tell myself, for the things I can only get here! Macadamia nut kisses and Reese’s peanut butter spread. Delicious. Screw my diet, I’m on vacation. Then the guilt: I shouldn’t be spending this much money even though I’m here. It’s Josh’s childlike unawareness of what Ray Ban’s are, despite my pointing out the ad which I’m admiring, that inspires hope in me for humanity once more. I’m under constant bombardment, mind, body, and soul. My senses heightened by the adrenaline of new sights and smells, like a cat venturing into an unknown territory, wide eyed and alert. I am also on the hunt, searching for a meal that I won’t soon forget.
One night, I find it.