Posted November 12, 2012
By BOLTON LANCASTER
NEW YORK — If you visit the city so nice they named it twice, there are three bits of information that you should know before you start your travels.
First, just because the city doesn’t sleep doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit. Second, do not be afraid to be a tourist. And third, do not attempt to get from Point A to Point B without knowing where those places are, especially if you are planning to drink.
Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, marked an important date in my life: my first day ever spent in New York City.
Being from Seattle, I have explored all up and down the West Coast, but have not had much experience on the East Coast. I was excited to learn that I would have the opportunity to travel through the University of Miami’s School of Communication to learn from M. Shanken Communications, a publishing company based in New York.
The school selected 10 students to go learn from the different departments of the company that was started and is still run by a UM alumnus. While being given the chance to learn from employees my field of study would prove to be invaluable, I was equally excited about visiting the city of more than eight million people.
As Tuesday drew near, the sense of excitement quickly turned into one of panic as deadlines for school projects came up. As a result of the trip being planned in the middle of the week, there were a lot of classes and assignment due dates being missed. The night before the group took off, I was up until 3 a.m. finishing assignments. When the alarm clock started buzzing at 6 a.m. and it was still dark outside, I started learning the value of the first rule: even though it’s called the city that doesn’t sleep, you need to be well rested to experience everything that it has to offer.
After a groggy trip to the airport, we boarded our plane and took off from Miami International Airport. As we started to descend into LaGuardia Airport, I anxiously looked out the windows to catch that first glimpse of the city.
Sitting in an aisle seat, I looked over at the woman sitting in the window seat near me, but she had her window shutter closed since she had been attempting to nap earlier. After staring in her direction for an extended period of time in hopes that she would raise her shutter, it became apparent that she either did not notice my gaze or that she simply did not care that a first time New York visitor was on board.
I was forced to push up off the ground and crane my neck to look out the window across the aisle, but I got it: that first glimpse of the city. I do not know what buildings I saw or even what part of the city it was, but it was that sight of the skyscrapers on a cloudy day that will forever be instilled in my memory as my first sighting of New York.
The 10 students and Luis Herrera, assistant dean of the School of Communication, piled into the two black Suburbans waiting to drive us to our hotel.
“So, have you all been to New York before?” asked the driver.
One by one, the other students in my car replied yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Finally, it got to me.
“No, actually I haven’t,” I said.
It broke that I was the only one in the car who had never been there before. I had a lot of catching up to do and I was determined not to play the role of an annoying tourist.
As the taxi drive went on, we hit the Queens Midtown Tunnel and I was making an effort to get to know the people I hoped would serve as my personal guides of the city. I met the girl sitting next to me, whose name was Natasha, and asked her how many times she had been here.
“I come here almost every other weekend,” Natasha said. “My sister lives up here, so I’m always coming up to visit.”
I immediately felt the need to show that even though I had not been to the city, I at least knew a little bit about it.
“Where does she live?” I asked.
“In Union Square.”
“That’s just a little south from where we’re staying in Gramercy Park, right?”
“Yeah, actually it is. I thought you said you’d never been to the city before?”
“I may have researched the different neighborhoods of the city before coming here.”
The knowledge that I looked to show off may have been judged just as cute, but at least it helped me shed the tourist image of which I so desperately wanted to rid.
As the taxi pulled up to the Park South Hotel, I stepped out onto the sidewalk and all my senses heightened as I took my first step in Manhattan.
The roads were busy, sprinkles of water falling down from the cloudy sky above lightly grazed my face, tall buildings surrounded me on all sides, the air was brisk and smelled like a mixture of hot dogs and wet cement, and it seemed to be a never ending metropolis in all directions.
Business people and vendors filled the sidewalks as taxis zipped through the streets. Within seconds I spotted people of almost every race and heard at least three different languages being spoken. I was in the middle of the melting pot.
After checking into the hotel and spending some time at the M. Shanken Communications offices, staff members as well as students went out to eat at Blue Smoke, a barbeque restaurant and bar. It was a good way to be introduced to a New York “hole in the wall” restaurant, as the dim lighting, wood paneling, and country music helped give it a unique ambiance. After the dinner, all the students and Luis gathered outside.
“Alright, your time is your own now,” Luis said. “Just be ready to go back to the offices by 8:50 tomorrow morning.”
A group of eight of the students gathered together and decided to go to Times Square. While I obviously wanted to go there, I was still very wary about coming off as an annoying tourist to native New Yorkers and even to the other people in my group.
The one and a half mile trek north gave me my first look of the city at night. It became apparent as to why it never sleeps: it is very bright and it is incredibly noisy, even at night. Perhaps the biggest culprit of the nighttime racket are the garbage trucks, who drive the streets when it is dark and pick up the piles of garbage bags that are left on the edge of the sidewalk. This was a foreign idea to me, as I was always used to putting trash in a trashcan, not simply throwing it where people would be walking. Despite this odd policy, the streets were surprisingly clean.
About halfway to Times Square, I looked to my left and saw a skyscraper that seemed to stand out from the other metal behemoths surrounding it. The tip of the building was being illuminated by green lights that shone through the swirls of mist surrounding the top. Something about the structure looked familiar. I knew that I had seen it before, but could not figure out where.
“Hey guys look, it’s the Empire State Building!” said Carlos, another student on the trip.
Unbeknownst to me, I had just looked upon one of the most famous buildings in the world and the tallest completed building in the city, all 102 stories and 1,454 feet of it.
As we continued on, we eventually made it to Times Square. The lights illuminated from the big vertical screens made it difficult to believe that it was nighttime and the number of people milling about helped the city live up to its nickname. The fictional characters were out in full, with Batman spreading his cape and encouraging people to take pictures with him while SpongeBob SquarePants strutted down Broadway.
There were so many people being such blatant tourists that I constantly had to watch where I was walking in fear of ending up in front of someone getting their picture taken. But as I surveyed my surroundings and saw the hordes of people armed with cameras and sheepishly smiling as their pictures were taken time and time again, I came to a realization: maybe being a tourist is not so bad. Even though visiting stereotypical tourist spots might be cliché, they are tourist spots for reason: they are some of the most amazing places in the city.
This is when I learned my second lesson of the city. The entire time I was worried about coming off as lacking knowledge and culture. I was concerned that I would appear naïve and seem like I did not belong. But just letting loose and enjoying the incredible sites that the city has to offer allowed me to gain a lot more from the experience.
After taking pictures in Times Square, the group moved on to an Irish pub called O’Lunney’s. After enjoying a few drinks and talking for more than an hour, we decided to head back to the hotel since we had an early start the next morning. Thus began our adventures with the New York City subway.
As we searched for the nearest subway entrance and submerged ourselves in the concrete world of tunnels and rail cars, we closely looked at the giant map of the different routes to determine which subway would get us back to Park South the quickest. After a great deal of debate, we eventually decided to take the N line.
After riding the subway for a number of stops, we determined that we were at a stop close to the hotel. As we exited the warmth of the subway station and re-emerged into the chilled night air, it was assumed that we were close to our hotel.
But we were wrong. After checking a smart phone, we found that the hotel was still a mile away. Rather than risk getting back on the subway, we decided to walk it.
As we worked our way down the streets of New York at 3 a.m., my head was pounding from a lack of sleep and my stomach was growling from a lack of food. My legs were tired from all the walking that we had done throughout the day. I craved nothing more than a warm shower and soft pillow. It was in this moment of want that the third lesson dawned on me: in a city this big, you have to know where you’re going if you hope to get back.
That being said, some of the best memories I have of the city involve just wandering around the streets since there is so much to see. But when it comes to getting back to a place to stay for the night, it is very important tot be able to know where that is. On top of that, this also ties into the first problem: I did not end up going to sleep until 4 a.m. and ended up with only fours hours of sleep that night.
While I was in the city for another two days, that first day is the one where I learned the most. In what was hopefully my first of many visits, New York taught me three lessons. And it still has a lot more to teach any other person who is bold enough to visit and simply be a tourist in the city that never sleeps.
IF YOU GO
- The Park South Hotel is located at 125 E 28th St., New York. Rooms begin at approximately $200 per night.
- Blue Smoke is located at 116 E 27th St., New York. It is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations can be made for parties of six to eight people by calling 212-447-7733.
- Times Square is located at the intersection of W 46th Street and Broadway Avenue.
- O’Lunney’s Times Square Pub is located at 145 W 45th St., New York. It is open from 11 a.m. for 4 a.m. seven days a week.