Empire State of Mind

lower east side

So. New York.

I’ve gotta say, I was a bit of a skeptic going in. Which is to say, I arrived with sky-high expectations and anticipating disappointment. When you’ve been hearing about how a-MAZ-ing a place is for 33 years, it’s hard to imagine that it could possibly live up to the hype.

Greatest city on earth? We’ll see.

Plus, when I travel I’m not particularly drawn to big, congested cities. I like mountains and farms. Cities can be overwhelming – so I suspected that New York would be…too much.  

I arrived at Newark after midnight, took an Uber to my Williamsburg Airbnb (spent the ride listening to my driver chatting casually with his mum back home in India, with no idea what they were actually saying. Bless.), and went to bed.

The next morning, like every morning, coffee was my #1 priority. I dressed quickly and wandered to the nearest high street (Manhattan Ave) and into the first coffee shop that looked half-decent (Upright Coffee). I sat at the window bar and watched what Saturday morning looks like in Brooklyn.

It took me about five minutes of people-watching at that window bar to know that there was something special happening on this street. After wandering back out onto Manhattan Ave, and down to the water, and along Franklin Street back to Williamsburg, I was smitten.

A friend texted asking how my first morning in New York was going.

I responded: What. Is. This. Magic?

She replied: I know.

I actually don’t know. I can’t point to any one thing that was specifically impressive about that first morning. I was walking around pretty unremarkable streets, except they were very remarkable.

It was the energy, I guess. Or that’s the closest I’ve come to zeroing in on it.

I hate to compare, but it’s difficult not to. NYC made something very clear to me: Vancouver is not a cool city. It is a beautiful city. A geographically blessed city. But not cool. New York is all kinds of cool.

(Does anyone actually use ‘cool’ anymore? Am I proving myself patently uncool by using it?)

Also, Vancouver, I realized within about five minutes in New York, has about six types of people. New York? I lost count around 342.

And the thing about being in this very, very cool city is that it made me feel incredibly uncool. In a strangely great, laugh-at-myself kind of way. I was the loser someone had to show how to use a Metrocard. Gruffly. I got on the subway going the wrong direction at least three times, because there are barely any maps anywhere. They don’t make it easy for us outsiders. And I love that about them. By the end of my three and a half days there, I more or less had the hang of it, with plenty of help from Google, and that made me pretty happy.

I was in the city on business, with a weekend tacked on, so I didn’t actually do much. I didn’t do any of the things that you’re ‘supposed’ to do in New York. I mostly wandered, which is my favourite way to experience big cities. I ate a delicious lobster roll at Smorgasburg. I strolled along the Highline. I went to a friend’s barbecue in Hoboken. Yeah, that’s right. I spent several hours of my first day in New York in…New Jersey.

As for being overwhelmed? Not at all. It’s interesting to me how calm I felt there. On the Tuesday, after my meetings were done, I wandered over to the park in front of City Hall and just sat there smiling. For almost two hours. No joke. I didn’t look at my phone, I didn’t have a book. I just sat there and watched office workers eating their lunches and chatting, and I smiled like a loser.

Seriously. What is this magic?

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