A suburban tourist's view on a day trip to Manhattan
Gaze of the Suburban Tourist
A descriptive narrative
I’m standing on the platform at the Hicksville station waiting for the train to take me to Manhattan. I don’t go into the city all that often so even though I live close, so I still consider myself a tourist. I still get lost and can’t get myself anywhere in the city without studying the map, but I’m not unaccustomed to the sites, smells and sounds of the city.
While I wait, I take part in my favorite past time people watching. There’s a bunch of skater punks sitting on the boards playing with their cell phones trying to look cool. They can’t be more than 14 or 15 years old. My folks would have had a heart attack if I wanted to take the train alone at that age. Times have changed I guess. Either that or I’m just getting old. God forbid! I notice families waiting on the platform all dressed up. They’re probably heading to a show. I see a group of women probably in the late 30’s early 40’s. They’re all dressed up too, but they’re wearing sneakers. I’m guessing the heels are in the humongous bags they’re all carrying. I suppose at that age they’re confident enough with themselves to dress for comfort instead of looking good. Sorry, I just can’t do that yet. Being a bigger girl I feel I have to try and look my best at all times. I may not be a size six but at least I can look neat and pulled together and hopefully a little trendy. I’m shy, but I still like some positive attention once in a while, you know? So I’m wearing some impractical shoes and my feet are freezing, but I think I look good dammit, and that gives me the kind of confidence you need when going into the city.
The train arrives close to schedule and I’m planning my seating strategy. I’d prefer to sit alone on the train and look out the window. I’ve seen some crazy characters riding the good ole NY transit with me and I’d rather not have to be a seat buddy with them for the next hour. Looks like my plan has been foiled though, because when I get onto the train, it’s already packed with people. I’m stuck standing for the ride. I’m ok with it (the shoes may be impractical for the weather but at least they’re pretty comfy to stand in). I’ve got my I-Pod going and I’m still looking out the window. Two of the women from the group I previously described are standing next to me. They’re chatting with each other like they’re alone. I admit it, I’m nosey. I keep my headphones in but turn down the music so I can listen in on their conversation. It’s pretty comical and I have to hide my smile so they don’t realize I’m listening in. I always find it funny when people are in public places and have really personal conversations thinking that no one else can hear them or are listening. They discuss everything from sex, to health issues to their co-workers and the president. At least it’s something to entertain me.
After what seems like an eternity, the train is going through that dark tunnel that leads into Penn Station. Had I never been to Penn before, I would expect it to be a similar experience as Dorothy leaving her house and visiting Oz, all Techno-Color and dreamy. Anyone who’s made this trip before knows that’s hardly the case. You go through the dark tunnel and your ears start to pop. You can’t really see anything as the train slides by. Finally the light hits you and you look around in wonderment and see…dingy dirtiness. No bright Techno-Color here, only grays and browns and blacks. It’s kind of disappointing, but I’m used to it.
The train stops and people start exiting. This in itself is a horrible experience. You’re pushed and shoved as people try to clamor out. I don’t know what the rush is for. You’re all heading to the same place and it’s not like it’s going to be any faster if you’re pushing people out of the way. We move like sheep to the stairs and trudge up them, mindlessly following the person ahead of you. It’s very much like the scene of the men going to work in the movie Metropolis.
I hate these stairs. I hate having to look at the ass of the person in front of me as I’m going up. I hate the people behind me pushing like it’s going to make me move any faster. What I hate the most is having to touch the handrail. God only knows how many people before have touched it and what kind of germs they had. I’m not a germ phobic by any means, but those are just disgusting. I am naturally a clumsy person so I have no choice but to hold on as I go up. If I were to trip and fall I’d cause a domino effect in either direction. Talk about embarrassing! I only want the positive attention, remember? Let’s keep the negative at bay.
Once I’m at the top of the stairs, I’m a bit disoriented. I’m not used to taking the Hicksville train so I don’t know where it normally lets out. I walk in one direction for a while, again feeling a bit disappointed in the décor. Grand Central Station really is a much “prettier” place.
I can’t figure out where I am. I’m guessing I have to go up so I find the first escalator heading up and hitch a ride on it. Again the handrails on those things disgust me.
Once I reach the top I know exactly where I am. I walk over to the big set of stairs that lead up to Madison Square Garden. I look around for the friend I’m supposed to meet, but it doesn’t seem like she’s arrived yet. Copping a squat on the stairs, I watch the people pass by from behind the safety of my sunglass. I love the clandestine feeling I get from watching people while wearing sunglasses. Sure I’m looking their direction but, they don’t know if I’m looking at them or the person next to them. As I watch them I sometimes make up stories about why they’re there. Even worse I sometimes picture them having sex. I’m sorry to say it but I just can’t picture some of them ever having sex!
I spot an odd looking couple walking together. The girl is stunningly good looking. The guy she’s with? Ehh, not so much so. They’re holding hands and looking happy, but I can’t help but wonder what brought such an odd couple together. To each their own, I suppose.
I still can’t see my friend anywhere. I ring her up on the cell and it turns out she’s waiting elsewhere. Why can we never meet in the right place? I thought EVERYONE who comes into Penn Station knows of the stairs leading to The Garden. She’s all the way on the opposite side. I stand up and brush off (yes those stairs are VERY dirty). People watching is over for the time being as I make my way over to where she’s waiting. We greet each other and set out on our adventure into the big city!
The plan for the day was to visit the Guggenheim Museum and then head over to Kinokuniya Bookstore by Rockefeller Center. I have a little map all printed up and we check it out as we head for the street.
Once at street level we decide to take a cab to the bookstore because my companion recently had surgery on her foot so she didn’t want to do too much walking. This was fine by me. Hailing a cab on the other hand was not so fine.
Firstly, it’s difficult to find a cab that’s not already occupied. Everyone that passed us by had their little yellow light on. I joked that we’d have to flash the cabbies some flesh in order to get one to stop, but we didn’t want to blind them at the same time! Finally my friend waves one down and we think the guy is going to kill himself and a bunch of others as he crosses over 3 lanes of traffic to get to us. I flash my friend a look that said “Are you SURE we want to get in the cab with this guy?!?” She ignores me and gets right in. We give him the address and he steps on the gas. He doesn’t speak with us at all and sings along with what sounds like some Middle Eastern music.
He drops us off at the designated spot and I’m happy to get there alive and in one piece. We look around for the bookstore but can’t find it anywhere. I pull out my trusty little map and realize it’s not so trusty after all. Actually, it’s me who shouldn’t have been trusted. I’ve been known for not reading maps well and yet she let me plan out where we had to go! I had misread the address and we were nowhere near the bookstore. We definitely must have looked like tourists in the area we were at because some nice lady asked if we were lost and pointed us in the right direction. See? Some people in NYC aren’t in such a hurry that they can’t stop and help a person in need! We thanked her profusely and headed off in the direction she pointed. That’s when the derailment began!
As we’re walking along we start to smell some wonderful things. We hear some music playing and a lot of people chattering. All of a sudden a street fair is upon us! There are lots of bright colors and sounds. Merchants of all ethnicities are out selling their wares. We get sucked in and hypnotized by what’s going on around us. Oooh! There’s a stand that’s selling knock off purses! Ooh ooh! There’s a place that’s selling jewelry for cheap. OH! There’s a guy selling zeppole. We have to fight that one off the hardest! God they taste good but my thighs sure won’t thank me for adding some extra fat to them! Must.Resist.Good.Smelling.Food. In order to resist the food we shouldn’t be eating we decided to spend all our money on non-food items that were being sold. We each find some great deals and walk away with our bags heavier but our pockets a lot lighter. The city sure does seem to drain the pocketbook, doesn’t it?
As we’re trying to drag ourselves away from the fair that seems never ending we see some totally outrageous people. There was a man who was wearing several brightly colored turbans on his head and quite a few robes of blindingly bright color also. To top it all off he had a parrot on his shoulder! I wish I could have gotten a picture of him but I was in such shock and awe of him by the time I gathered my senses he had already walked pass me. A photo from the back just wouldn’t have done him justice. We also saw some people wearing next to nothing and others dressed in the goth style, black clothing, crazy colored hair, piercings and all. Those people don’t shock me as much as the brightly colored turban man but it’s still interesting to see.
We make our way out of the street fair and I realize how late it is. We spent so much time in the fair that it makes no sense to go to the museum now. We a bit disappointed with ourselves until we check our bags and see the great buys we made. Whoever said everything is expensive in the city obviously never got to one of these fairs!