Over the past several months, I have traveled quite a bit. The journeys often differ in time and in scenery, based on the mode of transportation I choose, but the destination always remains the same. I’ve traveled through snowstorms, rainstorms, and hailstorms”“ sometimes in the darkness of night, other times, when the sun hangs high in the sky.
By car, the road to my destination is often choked with other vehicles, arguing and pushing their way through wide lanes dotted with shallow potholes. The view”“a littered edge of a vast highway flanked with bony trees and the occasional sight of a distant rest stop can become dreadfully monotonous.
By train, the busy towns beyond the tracks whiz by in a blur like the bold, smudged strokes of an abstract painting. The ride is smoother, and I am able to read a book, type the small keys of my Blackberry and daydream about the world afar. Sometimes I can even drape my legs on the seat opposite mine and catch-up on some zzz’s.
By bus, I am often nauseous from the constant jerk of the stop and go motion, and I cannot read or even ponder the world outside. It is either too cold or too hot and I feel claustrophobic in the small seat that I must share with a complete stranger. The bus was my only option of transportation for many months.
It’s explosive really, the vibe of my destination, that is. A strange contrast to the relatively peaceful place I live. I usually depart for the two-hour journey in the evening, so the earlier part of my day is most often spent on my soft beige couch, searching the web for the latest trends in travel, health and lifestyle, or composing query letters to magazine editors. Streams of light pour in from the towering windows of the loft, and the sweet, undulating songs of neighborhood birds keep me focused and relaxed.
When I arrive at my destination, I usually park my car on Leonard Street in Tribeca (it’s a sure bet for free parking), or fight the crowds in Penn Station or the Port Authority. The streets of New York City are filled with the haze of clashing lights, blaring horns, and the dizzying swarms of zigzagging people. It’s alive here, and I can’t help but feel an overwhelming burst of energy. I use my fingers to pat and smooth the back of my hair, creased from the long trip, slide jojoba gloss over my lips and check my phone to be sure that I am on schedule.
Tonight I am attending a reading, which is more or less a networking event for travel writers. I have been to this bar dozens of times, and the same familiar smell of beer and lingering cigarette smoke meets me at the door. I already recognize some faces, but now I am running late, so there is no time to chat with the memoir writer sipping his beer at the bar, nor the girl sitting on the velvet couch whom I befriended at a past reading.
I walk gently down the metal steps”“the small, dark basement is packed with people intently listening to the reader who is illuminated by one dim spotlight. I take my place at the bottom of the stairs and curiously scan the room for my friends. They are here: Matt, Leslie, Jeff, Jeanine”“those are the only faces I can identify from the angle I am sitting. I close my eyes and my mind drifts with the mellow voice of the speaker who has already begun to read his story.
The writing is evocative, so much so that I am visualizing myself in each scene as the author. I can feel my hair being gripped by the breeze, the cold wind on my face, and I can imagine the vista of green hills inhabited only by goats and fields of vibrantly-colored flowers. The clapping snaps me from my muse, but I am left with a feeling of clarity and appreciation.
I have spent so many nights, similar to this one, under the dusky lights of a bar or lounge chatting with good friends over wine and savory food. I have also traversed New York’s cracked, smoggy streets to attend university classes, travel conventions, parties, museum exhibits and street fairs. I am never alone”“maybe at first”“but I always meet someone during the course of my journey.
It’s hard to feel alone in such a vibrant place. You can’t avoid the expression-filled eyes of complete strangers, or sharing personal space on public transportation, often bumping and swinging into other travelers. And I find, more often than not, that New Yorkers are friendly and helpful. Being inept at navigating unknown areas, I need to constantly ask for help with directions, and I am always appeased with a smiling face and a hand pointing me back on track.
The food alone is worth the long trip to New York. Some days I go just to eat at one restaurant, and to visit the open-air markets. I’ve enjoyed golden-crusted samosas at Spice Market, tangy sea urchin at Nobu, creamy cheeses paired with lavender honey at Bar Artisanal, spicy green curry at Kittichai and tiny plates of perfectly plump, garlicky shrimp at El Quinto Pino.
The smells, colors and creativity at the Union Square Market”“especially during the holidays”“ lure me back over and over again. I love feeling the lines and curves of the beautifully designed, handcrafted jewelry and trying on some of the handmade clothing at various booths. The miniature pumpkin cannolis from the Stuffed Artisan Cannolis stand is a snack I can never refuse”“always perfectly dusted with powdered sugar and tucked away in a pink paper bag.
When my feet start to throb from walking, and I am exhausted from hours of carrying bags on each of my shoulders, I set out for the long journey home. My mind begins to comb through the events of the day as I settle into my seat. I am usually pleased with the many unique adventures I was able to take part in, or stumble upon, and I am already looking forward to my next trip.
New York always has something new to explore, someone new to meet, and someplace new to experience. The dynamic cultures that have mixed, meshed, and married here have created a magnetism that attracts people from almost every corner of the globe. I guess that’s why I continuously make the same mundane trip”“ in snowstorms, rainstorms, and hailstorms”“ sometimes in the darkness of night, other times, when the sun hangs high in the sky. I live two hours away from the greatest city on Earth, and like all places worth visiting, the long bumpy road eventually gives way to the heart of something spectacular.