New York is a legend, a dream to those who do not live there, its grittiness and opportunities are the stuff of myth, it is a must see city for a generation of travellers and it’s the city that kicked my ass.
So I have been travelling for several years, everywhere from remote third world countries to huge cities like Tokyo and Cairo. I felt confident I had got the hang of this travel thingy and could now handle most hurdles with a poker face but New York really got in my head.
I am a girl from a small city way down in the southern hemisphere and New York is this great legend and I let it intimidate the hell outta me. I don’t know why New York had this impact and not Tokyo or Sydney or any other big city but it did.
I arrived from upstate New York on a Greyhound, having been out of reception for around a week to discover that my accommodation had fallen through. It was ten at night and I franticly started calling hostels after a scramble to find a currency exchange place and then a retailer willing to let me swap notes for change for the phone, only to discover one after the other was sold out.
I had a moment right there in central station sitting on my pack in the corner sobbing away like it was the end of the world (which if you know me you know is a pretty unusual occurrence). New Yorkers being New Yorkers walked politely around me letting me have my little breakdown in peace. Finally I had to do something constructive so I kept calling hostels. Down to the last of my change I found a hostel with a single bed left $70 US for a bed in a 20 bed dorm ($70 would easily get me three nights in a 6 bed in NZ) but if I didn’t get in the next half an hour they were going to give it away credit card or no credit card.
Dragging all my belongings into the bowels of the station I reached the ticket turnstile to discover I had no American change left and the credit card function was broken. People say that New Yorkers are rude and uncaring but really they are just busy, with that many people packed into a small space you just want to go about your business. One kind lady saw me wrestling with the ticket machine with tears running down my face and asked me what was wrong.
She said she would have loved to take me back to her home but she was recently separated and she and her kids were all living with her mother. As the mother dragged the kids away down the platform. She paid for my ticket and showed me to my platform giving me a big hug and telling me it was going to be ok I wasn’t alone. I never knew her name but I will remember her for the rest of my life, every time someone says “everyone from such and such are rude or mean or bad news”.
I didn’t have to sleep in central park that night or any other night. With the help of the internet I got myself sorted, a friend’s father lent me his spare room for a month and delighted in showing me another side to New York. I learnt where to get mint condition second hand Sinatra records, fancy tea and good eats, I explored the fashion district sourcing material for costumes. I saw shows and took classes from meditation to circus. I wandered for hours stopping to sketch or explore some hidden gem or gallery. I saw the sights and met new friends. Anything I was interested in New York had a community, any time I needed something, somewhere was open. I soaked up the culture learnt the rhythm of the subway and the peculiarities of the locals.
I was never afraid again, not at night, not alone, not when I got hopelessly lost, the legend of New York City lost its power. It stopped being the big bad city of a thousand movies and became where I lived and thrived. I suppose the moral of this story is that often most of your fear is in your head and if you can overcome that fear on purpose or by accident you will be amazed at the doors that open for you. Oh and that New York rocks, yeah New York is definitely somewhere you want to see.