A Day In New York City
By Jasreen Gupta
I registered for a summit at Yale University through an organization called Global Zero and it turns out they ended up providing fee airfare to New York. From there I was to take the metro to New Haven but I decided to go a few days early and explore New York City on my own. We can save the Yale story for another time. For now, follow me through 20 hours in the Big Apple.
The alarm rang on my iPhone at 10 a.m. except this time I wasn’t waking up in my cozy bed in Vista del Campo at UC Irvine. I rubbed my eyes groggily and walked to the kitchen of the apartment of three Columbia University Law Students. I crossed my arms together as a breeze rushed through the open windows of the kitchen. The sound of chattering people, sirens, and honking drew me in as I walked towards the windows. Staring outside, I was struck with the surreal realization that I was in Manhattan, New York—The Big Apple. Exhaustion turned into excitement as I thought to myself, I’m in New York City…I literally just booked my tickets two weeks ago. Wow. Let’s just say, when life throws you curveballs, you hop onto to them and let them take you wherever they want to go.
I got dressed and walked down the stairs of the antiquely structured apartment, opening the main doors to the numerous adventures that awaited me in the city. Except there was one problem: It was raining. Without hesitation and without an umbrella, I continued across the streets and through Columbia University, walking down the stairs towards the Subway to purchase my Metrocard. I swiped the card on the machine to enter the station, first too fast, then too slow, allowing the people around me to recognize that I’m not from the East Coast. Apparently there’s a speed that’s “just right” for swiping the card.
Once I finally entered the Subway platform, I hastened to board Train 1 as it speedily approached. A few stops later, a group of three Hispanic men danced onto the Subway, one playing the guitar, the other playing an accordion, and the third singing. I took my headphones out of my ears and listened to them in amazement—Subway music—something I’d only ever seen in movies and was actually witnessing in real life now. One of the men took his fedora off and walked across with it in representation of asking for money. I shuffled through my bag to find a couple of dollars as he walked past me, and I finally dropped it into his hat right before the three of them exited the train. “Muchas gracias!” he thanked me in his thick Spanish accent.
My eyes continued to wander around the Subway, admiring the diverse group of people I was sitting near, many of whom were reading thick novels for pleasure. My stop had finally come, and as I exited I looked at the different directing arrows, freely picking which direction I wanted to go toward—living the non-linear life and enjoying each moment as it presented itself to me. One sign read “E Path WTC 9/11 Memorial.” I followed it, walking up the stairs out of the Subway station, and back into the pouring rain. The lens of my camera started fogging up and I didn’t want it to get ruined so I decided to purchase a cheap umbrella from one of the street vendors. Of course, it being a cheap umbrella didn’t help since it continuously inverted and flew out of my hands because of the gushing wind.
I found myself near a construction site with arrows pointing towards the 9/11 Memorial, and I followed them. Once indoors and at the front gate, I emptied my belongings, shoes, and jacket into boxes to go through security check as if I were at an airport. And then I walked into what seemed a haven.
The trees were lined up so perfectly and symmetrically with their auburn colored leaves quivering. They created a sort of path that led me towards the World Trade Center memorial waterfalls. The raindrops serenely pounded against the metal plates with the names of the September 11th survivors on it, sliding down into the largest manmade waterfalls in North America. I stood there in silence for a while, mesmerized by the beauty and serenity around me. I encountered a moment of self-atonement, again realizing how one simple spontaneous decision was the reason why I was in the presence of such beauty.
I saw a couple across from me with a professional camera similar to mine and asked them to take a photo of me. “Of course we can! Are you here by yourself?” they asked me. “Yes, I am! It’s pretty awesome except I don’t have anyone to take pictures of me!” I responded. And they said, “Well that’s great because it’s a good excuse to meet new people, like us!” So we continued our conversation and took pictures of each other, and it was indeed the perfect excuse.
Puddles began to form around my feet, creating a glimmering reflection of my face as I stared into them. I decided to leave the memorial and continue to spontaneously explore. Right outside the memorial on 123 Washington Street was the W hotel and residency. Again, I had only ever seen photos or videos of the hotel, so I decided to walk in. The receptionist directed me towards the fifth floor where the lobby was, so I took the elevator up and stepped outside into the most beautiful and well-decorated lobby I’d ever seen. After I walked around, socialized with the receptionist upstairs, and stared outside the balcony overlooking the city, I decided to go through floors 4, 3, 2, & 1 to see what was going on there. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to be there as I was informed, “This is a private event, but you can hang out on the fifth floor where the lobby is.”
I decided to leave since I’d completed my rebellious duties, and asked a police officer for directions to Wall Street. However, on the way I encountered many detours at Starbucks (which by the way is $0.75 more expensive on the East Coast), at the inspiring Trinity Church and simply taking pictures of the beautiful architecture on Broadway Street. I found myself a little lost so I asked another traffic patrol officer for directions, and once he’d told me where to go he asked, “Are you engaged?!” as he stared at the ring on my ring finger. “Oh, you know… No haha. I’m totally single.” I responded, walking away. “What?! Why are you single?” he yelled as I continued to walk away, both of us laughing.
I finally arrived at Wall Street, took some pictures of The Trump Building and the American Stock Exchange Building, and somehow managed to visit a museum that had a statue of George Washington outside of it.
It was early evening by this time and I decided to walk back to the Subway, taking it to Times Square on 42nd Street. I stood on a street corner, overwhelmed by the beauty of Times Square and how accurately it is depicted in films. Not knowing where to go first, I continued to walk and take pictures of everything that fascinated me.
As I was crossing the street a young African-American man held a sign that read “Free Hugs.” I made eye-contact with him and laughed, only to find myself receiving a ridiculously long and tight hug from him. “Okayyy okay, that’s a little too much,” I confessed as he continued to hug me. “I’m a bit of a germaphobe,” I told him as he confusedly looked at me. “What is that?” he asked. “It means I hate germs, and I don’t know how many people you’ve hugged, but you’re transferring their germs to me!” I said as kindly as possible. “Well, I can take off my jacket,” he tried again. But I just smiled and walked away. I wondered why people had such a false perception that New Yorkers are rude and unsocial. I found them quite welcoming and free-spirited.
After shopping around for a bit, I walked up the stairs towards the center of Times Square, admiring the beauty of my surroundings. I turned around only to find a middle-aged man looking at me with a huge smile on his face. He walked up the stairs and handed me his camera without saying anything. Confused, I impulsively handed him my camera and we both took pictures of each other. He then introduced himself as a visitor from Egypt, and wanted to take a picture with me. I thought it was a bit weird, but proceeded to do so nonetheless.
He then asked me, “You are alone? We should go together!” I responded, “I actually really should get going, I have dinner plans, but it was nice meeting you!”
And of course, as I continued to explore and shop around the M&M’s and Hershey’s store, and buy souvenirs, dinner plans had changed and night had fallen. I walked back to the same stairs a couple of hours later, only to be even more mesmerized by Times Square at night, and to find the same Egyptian man there. “So you are still here, I thought you had to go to dinner?” he asked me as I stood in awkwardness, reflecting upon the variety of people I’d met throughout the day.
After getting lost on the Subway for about half an hour, I finally made it back to the apartment, changed into some fancy clothes, and walked back to the Subway with my cousin, Ritu. We headed towards West Village, one of the liveliest places and NYC, and ate at a small Restaurant and Bar called Tortilla Flats. We met up with ten of her friends, all about six years older than me. At fist I felt a little out of place and not my same outgoing self. It was probably because they were all socializing about their successful careers and there I was, an undergraduate student, still unsure of what I want to pursue in life. We ordered margaritas and food, and as the night continued I began to feel more comfortable. I was in awe as I realized that I was in the presence of such a diverse group of people; writers for fashion magazines such as Nylon and Vogue, future lawyers and doctors, a swimsuit model.
One day. I met more people in simply one day around New York City than I ever have in my past five quarters at UCI. These people inspired me, just through one day of my knowing them. By freely roaming around the streets of New York City, without a map or a specific destination, I learned more about myself in one day than I would in a whole quarter.
We walked outside Tortilla Flats, realizing that it was too late to take the Subway. I waved my left arm up and down, feeling a sense of joy and satisfaction as I hollered for a taxi. “419 West 115th,” Ritu told the driver. I stared outside the window across the New Jersey harbor as we drove back, admiring the beauty of the lit up city. We arrived back at Columbia and my cousins swiped her credit card on the machine inside the taxi. “Madam, you have cash, you give me cash please, no?” the taxi driver pleaded in an accent that was foreign to me. She shrugged and we exited, walking back upstairs and into bed as I curiously awaited my next day full of adventures.