Part 1- solo
Before heading out on my own for the day (Brent had a whole day of business meetings) I had to look over my maps because they were printed with the old hotel address (for some reason we had switched to a different one). I grabbed some coffee from the Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner and headed out to find Broadway, which would take me in a diagonal all the way to the southernmost end of Manhattan, where I was spending the day. After about 20 minutes of walking I saw a subway station that said Times Square- that was not right. I stopped and asked a tour guide which way was north and which way south. Turns out I had been going the wrong way this whole time, so much for having looked over my maps earlier. I turned full circle and retreated. I stopped in at Macy’s to cheer myself up; alas I did not find anything. It was not a total loss however because they have an old wooden escalator! It was so cool! But it was also mildly scary.
The plan was to just keep walking south along Broadway, which I finally managed to find and was now safely on. My first stop along the way was the Flatiron Building. Earlier when I was going the wrong way, I had been keeping a lookout for the Flatiron and I saw a building that kind of looked like it, so I photographed it and kept walking. Now that I was headed in the right direction I was worried I was going to somehow miss it, so I took to following two tourists with a map. I did not want to bring out my map; I did not want to look like a tourist. Especially after some girls had asked me for directions, thinking I was a local. I got tired of how slow the two were walking so I set out in front of them and just hoped for the best. I felt kind of stupid when I finally did see the Flatiron Building, it was so blatantly obvious which one it was. And then just like that I was lost again. You see, because Broadway is a diagonal street, it cuts through a lot of little parks and sometimes you end up at an intersection with four other streets and it is not clearly marked which way to go. I stopped in at Forever 21 and at Nordstrom Rack, wherein I ducked into the fitting room and finally had a chance to look over my map and figure out where I was going.
The first stop on my Google Maps itinerary (yes I plotted out a map complete with walking directions, so much for not getting lost) was Katz’s Deli for some “I’ll have what she’s having” pastrami and corned beef on rye. I got to whereabouts the address said it should be and it was a giant Whole Foods. I was so mad, I was so hungry and my breakfast plans ceased to exist. At this point I feel I should clarify: my maps were printed last minute and I did not have time to cross-reference all my points and write in what was what (my day was just full or surprises!). I was too hangry to go stop number two, which from my memory I thought was a Chinese restaurant where the guys from Freakonomics ate chicken feet. I was in no mood for chicken feet; they were supposed to be a light after-breakfast snack, not the main course. So I skipped on going to stop number two and instead made a beeline for a hotdog vendor (another item crossed off my list, eat NYC street meat). The hotdog vendor scammed me. He asked after ihad ordered, if it was ok if it was a hot sausage, I said sure assuming it would be the same price, it was not. Rather than then backtracking to that restaurant (I was using it as an anchor point to get me to Chinatown, stop number three) I used my handy tourist map, abandoning my Google Map (remember this for later). I got there alright, did not get lost given I only had to go about two blocks south and two east. There was no question of missing Chinatown, it was hard to miss. It was so insanely busy and crowded, which is weird for a place at 11am on a Thursday. The streets were crammed with tourists and vendors hawking I Heart NYC merchandise. I decided to check out one of these shops to get my sisters tees. The shopkeeper was not having my haggling and would not go down to my desired price. When I declined and started walking away, he yelled after me to not bother shopkeepers if I am not going to purchase anything.
I turned up a random street (partly to get away from the crowds) and found myself in Little Italy. It is amazing how quiet it was up there. Except of course for the maitre d’s from each and every restaurant beckoning people to come in and eat. I did not want to sit on a patio, I just wanted to run, in grab some cannoli or tiramisu and keep walking. Alas I could not find such a place so I went back to Chinatown. I wandered deep into Chinatown, wandering down little alleyways, all the while munching on strawberry Pocky. In this alleyway there were no tourists at all. I bought the Pocky in a store that smelled to high heaven of fish, up at the counter I realized why: all around me there were dried fish and other ocean creatures. It was a bulk dried fish store of sorts.
At the other end of the alley I found myself at a five street intersection. I stood there, munching on Pocky just staring. I had no clue which way to go. I had taken to wandering Chinatown and was now trying to get back on my Google Maps itinerary. I stood there, holding my map, turning it each way, trying to match up the streets. Unfortunately the street I was on was not marked. I walked up to a cop and in between Pocky bites asked him where my desired street was, he looked at me mildly amused and pointed to the left. It was part of that damn intersection but not marked (a common occurrence as I would soon enough learn). Map in hand I decided to embrace the tourist look. After all they were the main focus of my art (or “art” if you prefer) I may as well go under cover and blend in with them (it made photographing them that much easier).
Looking at my map, right there in front of everyone, I realized: the chicken feet restaurant was my next stop. Either stop or stop two some still unidentified location (note: it was location two, the one I skipped that was Katz’s Deli). I turned on my heels and headed right back to that confusing intersection, only this time I knew which way I was going. I was heading to the World’s Fanciest McDonald’s to see if indeed there was a piano player and a doorman. However, en route I decided to take a quick detour (I had not gotten lost enough times yet) to check out the Brooklyn Bridge. The Bridge had a tiny walkway, half for pedestrians half for bikers. However because it is such a tourist draw and tourists walk at a zombies pace… I quickly grew infuriated. It was a long narrow walk before you could actually see any of the bridge itself. I took to looking onto the bike bath, looking ahead into the crowd and then running for it to the next empty little space. And it went like this both ways, risking getting run over by bikers just to move faster than a snail. The bridge was nothing special, it was just a bridge. I guess it looks cooler from afar, rather than when you are standing on it.
At this point I was terribly dehydrated, my legs hurt and it was hot as hell out. All I could think of was a frozen strawberry lemonade from McDonalds, conveniently my next stop given I was back on track now. I walked in and I could hear the piano player but he was hidden away somewhere. Someone held the door open but I cannot ascertain if this was a doorman or a hobo. Inside it was packed, the line for the bathroom was to the door, and by the time I got up to the counter I was so tired, all I could think of was frozen lemonade. Imagine the heartbreak when she told me they were all out. I walked right out in a huff. The New York Stock Exchange was my next destination, it was around the corner. It was really cool to see it because there were some hot young traders across the street smoking, the place was gated away from tourists and there were security guards everywhere. Across from it there were hordes of tourists all gawking at it.
I followed my Google Maps itinerary to the 9/11 Memorial. However the street I was supposed to be on according to my Google Map did not even exist. I whipped out my alternate map and then I found myself staring at a construction site with no mention of any memorial. I stumbled upon the statue of the man opening a briefcase. I found a pharmacy for a lunch break: a blue slushee. I circled back trying to follow my Google Maps instructions again but overheard a cop giving directions to a group of tourists, I followed them instead and lo and behold: that construction site was indeed the 9/11 Memorial, as in it will be. The construction site was open to visitors who had gotten a pass in advance, not knowing this; all I could was look at plywood boards, not terribly interesting I must say.
Battery Park was a nice refresher, walking along the river. There was less people and less noise. I could see the Statue of Liberty and New Jersey across the river. Unfortunately for me, that was the closest I was going to get to the Statue of Liberty, just a blip on the horizon. I kept walking along the water front to the ferry port in hopes of getting closer the Statue but to no avail. The Statue barely got any closer and the ferry to go to Liberty Island was a whopping $17 and from the looks of things, there was construction on the island. The ticket office was located inside of what used to be a fort out in the river before they filled it in with landfill expanding Manhattan. Exhausted and with aching feet I decided to start heading back, I only had two hours to get back to the hotel to meet Brent. Two hours might sound like a lot of time, but I still had points on my map to get to on my way back north. I stared at my map for a bit trying to figure out what else I had left and it dawned on me: Brent had not taken out the points that we were going do to together later that evening! All of a sudden I was done my map, so I headed north on Broadway. I walked and walked and walked. I was so tired, my legs were killing me. I had been walking for what felt like forever and then it sunk in: I was only halfway there.
I took a deep breath and went underground; I was going to attempt the NYC subway. Alone. Without a transit map. I asked the ticket booth guy which side to go to, he said left, I complied, however when I reached the platform things fell apart. It turns out there were four different subway cars running north along that one platform! I had no idea which one to take. I wandered up and down the platform looking for a map and when I could not find one I asked someone. Turns out I could have taken any one of the trains, they were all going to the station I needed, and they branched off in different directions later on. I did not even attempt to transfer between subway lines to get closer to the hotel. I figured I could walk the extra few blocks. It was so nice to finally sit down, even though they were hard plastic seats. And getting to the hotel, at the last block, I turned the wrong way, just as I had started when I set out that morning.