I’ve always wanted to go to New York. It’s basically America’s most famous city and the hub of civilization on the east coast, a place where culture is defined worldwide. Visiting has always felt like an inevitability for me, an obligation even. But for whatever reason by 2013 and the ripe old age of 27, I still hadn’t made it out there. Luckily two British senior citizens made me change my mind.
I’d seen this set of photos floating around the internet and like the rest of the world thought, “That’s so awesome, those guys are great.” But the bowler hats they’re wearing in all of them set off a tiny alarm in the back of my head. I thought, “Huh, that reminds me of Waiting for Godot. That would be so cool if those two did the play,” and went on my merry way. Until the day I die, I’ll never understand how it took me so long to make the connection that Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen had not only done the play before in England, but were doing it again in New York and would be finishing the run in March.
I had been saving to move to Los Angeles for close to two years by then and had an itch to do something semi-reckless with a portion of it. The play was the deal-breaker (or maybe deal-maker). After some deliberation of dates, I bought my ticket that night.
Somehow I didn’t get around to buying plane tickets until weeks later. I think part of me was hoping they would get cheaper but that was stupid. Another part of me thought there was no way this trip was actually going to happen. On the outside I might seem sunshine and optimism, but internally there’s a skeptic deconstructing my dreams bit by bit. I was sure I’d oversleep and never even make it to the airport. Then when I was on the plane I was positive there would be a mechanical issue and we wouldn’t leave the ground. And then during the layover in Boston I was certain something else would happen, maybe I’d lose my wallet or ticket and end up stuck there for a week.
Of course, none of those things happened. I made the flights, I didn’t lose anything, and late Monday afternoon, I touched down for the very first time…. in New Jersey.
Day One: Trial by Fire
I had made arrangements to spend the first two nights in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and Newark International was significantly closer to that part of New York than JFK. I figured any time saved traveling was more time I could spend in the actual city, which turned out to be simultaneously true and false, but more on that later.
There is an incredibly convenient train that runs from Newark International to Penn Station I had scoped out beforehand online, so that’s where I headed. Waiting by the tracks with frigid wind whipping my face was a welcome respite from the stale, processed air on the plane. That was the moment I accepted that my plans had somehow managed to work out and this whole trip was actually happening. Felt good, man.
Of course, that was just the calm before the proverbial storm.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I stepped off the train and into New York, but what I got was one of the main hubs of public transportation in one of the busiest cities in the world. In layman’s terms, it was a f*cking madhouse. There were more people packed into that place than I think I’d even seen in my entire life. Seeing pictures and watching it on tv doesn’t prepare you in the slightest when you’re thrown into the river of bodies rushing in every imaginable direction that is Penn Station. I tightened the strap of my bags, took a deep breath, and plunged in. That was my first mistake.
You see there’s this popular perception that New Yorkers are all rude as hell and don’t give a rat’s ass about you or the horse you rode in on, and that’s not entirely true. The truth is, they’re in a hurry to get somewhere and you — the wide-eyed wandering tourist trying to figure out which way is up — you’re in the way. Finding a quiet corner or a place to sit and get your bearings amidst the chaos is not an easy task. My host had told me to get to the Lower East Side, I would need to take the F train. It seemed simple enough. Problem being the F train doesn’t run from Penn Station to the LES and telling me which one I needed to get on was beyond her abilities. Luckily I had installed a NYC Subway app that gave me an exact route and which trains would take me to which connecting stations to get to where I needed to go. That should’ve made things simple. It didn’t.
As you can see in the picture above, subways can be a bit complicated. You end up on the wrong platform and the train is going to take you the wrong direction, and getting to the other platform isn’t as simple as action rolling across. If you’re lucky you can head back up the stairs and take a left or right to the other stairs that will take you down to the other side. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. The first train I got on was the right one, but it was headed the opposite direction. By the time I realized this mistake, I was several stops away from where I had thought to go, which meant a new route was now the fastest. No big deal, I thought, just go with the flow.
Helpful hint: when you’re getting on the subway and you’re not sure whether the name on the sign is the direction you want to go, just pretend they’re like you’re facing a regular street. The side you’re on is going to take you to the right, the opposite goes left. It took me at least three more trains to figure this out. Thankfully I’d picked up a tidbit to buy an weeklong unlimited rides pass so my many mistakes didn’t cost me money. Just my leg.
When I finally got off the F-ing train, my left knee was killing me. I’d worn comfortable shoes as recommended, but they weren’t enough when it came to the billions of subway stairs I had climbed. I’ve never torn an ACL or MCL or QCL before but I was pretty damn sure I had. Thankfully it was only another few blocks to the apartment I’d be staying in.