Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Country Mouse Goes to the City

I'm back! Well, actually, I think I died of utter and total exhaustion about 4 days ago, so I'm actually a zombie version of myself. I haven't had more than about 5-6 hours of sleep each day for a week now. A few nights, I was lucky to get 4. So "tired" doesn't really begin to describe it. At lunch today, I tried to heat up my hot pocket in my pantry cabinet, if that gives you any indication of what I'm like today.

Luckily, my good friend and traveling companion MJ has posted day #1 of our trip over on her blog. She did a very good job at summarizing it. So head on over there to see how the first day went. I'll wait.

Done? Ok, good. The only thing I would like to add is this: OMG I LOVE NYC!!!!

I seriously considered not coming home. (I am not kidding or exaggerating. I might really do it!) Now I understand how my Eccentric Aunt felt when she went abroad her junior year of college. She went to the UK and never came back. That was in about 1969.

Speaking of Europe, NYC reminds me a lot of Rome: old, crowded, dirty, full of amazing architecture and incredibly charming. It was love at first sight for me.

Today, I'm going to give you my general impressions of NYC. Then later this week, I'll get into the details of our trip.

I know it's Wednesday, but I'm going to do a Thursday 13 today. I am so exhausted from this trip that counting to 13 is about all I can do right now. New Yorkers who read this are going to get a kick out of this list, because the oddest, most mundane things were really interesting to me. Here goes:

Thirteen Things I Love/Hate About NYC

1. Magic Garbage -- At the end of the day, you can see all the garbage piling up outside of all the buildings. Some of the piles get really big and/or stinky (especially if you're in Chinatown -- I guess they sell a lot of fish down there??) . So when you're walking around at night, it can be kind of gross. At first, I asked, "How do they prevent raccoons from getting into the garbage?" And everyone snickered. "Um, this is New York. Raccoons are not native. There aren't any animals to get into the garbage," MJ explained. "Oh. Right," I mumbled. Duh, VB!! Ugh, I am such a country bumpkin. But the cool thing is, somehow, in a matter of only a few hours, ALL the garbage is GONE. It's like magic. And everything in NYC is cleared out, washed off and ready for a new day. I think that is so cool. NYC must have very hard-working garbage men. Or a very efficient system for dealing with all that garbage.

2. The Subway -- Everyone on the trip thought I was loony for liking the subway. But really, it was my ABSOLUTE favorite thing EVER. I could ride it all. day. long. Like a homeless person. (I guess that's what bums do -- they ride the subway all day.) Not only is it loud and fast (which reminds me of a rollercoaster, and makes me feel important and busy), it's also reasonably priced. I love the efficiency of it all. No matter where you need to go, there's a subway station only a few blocks away. You wait for the next train (which maybe takes 2 minutes), and you hop on and -- VOILA -- 5 minutes later, you're on the other side of town. It's like magic.

And the whole time, you are traveling with total strangers from any walk of life. For those brief moments, you are sharing an experience with them. An experience which you'll probably never talk to them about. This is so odd to me. (I know you can say the same thing about flying on an airplane, but somehow, this was different. Maybe because you never know where the other people will get on/off?) With every person I saw on the subway, I thought, "I will never see their face ever again. Even if I moved here, the chances of riding the subway with this person again are one in a zillion. Who are they? Where are they from? Where are they going today? Are they happy? Stressed? Homesick? Foreign? Broke? In love?" I would try not to stare as I studied them, trying to learn about them through their clothes, body language or the magazine they were reading. Yes, I know they are just normal people. But unlike Columbia, SC, where everyone is pretty much exactly the same, I could practically SMELL the variety of NYC every time I got onto the subway. (I'm sure New Yorkers who've ridden the subway with a stinky homeless person can say they have smelled it too -- har har.)

3. NYC Women -- I knew that as a world center for the fashion industry that I'd probably see a lot of killer clothes and outfits. And I did. They were just different from what I expected. NY women have an uncanny ability to throw together extremely stylish outfits. It would never occur to me to wear leggings with a sundress, long beaded necklace and a headband. Or a strapless green terrycloth dress with silver Birkenstocks. And to hear me describe these outfits, you might think, "Ew. That would look stupid." When in reality, they looked SO COOL. I could never master this technique of looking so casually put-together and fashionable, yet totally unique at the same time. It was hard not to take notes: "Flip-flops out, cheongsam in. Khakis out, skinny jeans in. Vests and cowgirl boots also in." I analyzed these women, almost like Jane Goodall studied chimps, trying to break down their outfits into their components or to try and define them. And you know what? I couldn't. They weren't preppy or trendy or bohemian or tailored or whimsical. Their outfits are totally undefinable. The best way I can describe it to you is that a lot of the women my age dressed like the Olsen Twins. (Then again, we spent a lot of our time in Greenwich Village, right near all the college girls at NYU, so this makes sense.) Lots of big sunglasses and gigantic leather purses--I really liked that those are in style right now. Lots of black leggings and those high-waisted "pregnancy" dresses. Headbands everywhere. Yet for each girl dressed like that, there were 15 who weren't. And those 15? Each was wholly unique. But everyone looked fabulous. I just wish I could imitate them somehow. I just can't figure out how!

In my fitted t-shirts and baggy jeans, I felt like a total dork. I kept getting my shirts dirty, and it's not like it's easy to run home and change your top. So I had to wear my lunch. And my jeans are baggy from losing weight, so they were not doing much for my figure. I must have looked like a total slob. Now that I'm back home, I'm convinced that Columbia is the black hole of fashion. *sigh*

Oh well. The good news is, when we got dressed up and went out to some bars, I got compliments on my favorite red dress and my silver clutch. At least I'm doing something right.

4. Speaking of going out in NYC, it's not very smoker-friendly up there. No smoking in bars or restaurants. No smoking near the entrances to bars or restaurants. No smoking in apartments, taxis or the subway. So if you want to smoke, you've got to be in motion, walking somewhere.

5. To further inhibit your nicotine addiction, cigarettes cost a whopping $7.50 per pack. Sometimes more than that. Now I know why my college friend would buy cartons before she got on the plane to go home to NJ for the holidays. It's double what smokes cost here.

6. But not everything is expensive. Across the street from where we stayed, there was a bodega (I LOVE that word) which sold coffee and bagels in the mornings. If you don't know what a bodega is, think of a quickie mart, only more cramped and part grocery store/liquor store/diner. They had sandwiches and regular "quickie mart" sort of items, too, but we LOVED that we could get good, hot coffee and a toasted bagel with cream cheese for about $3. The interesting thing to me was that they will put the sugar and creamer in your coffee for you. I guess this is to save time for busy New Yorkers on their way to work. I really appreciated it, especially since my hands were always full. "Why doesn't every place do this?" I thought.

7. I had a love/hate relationship with all of the walking. Imagine walking all. day. long. Then, walk some more. Just a few more miles to go! Ok, now do it with a big purse full of stuff and carrying lots of shopping bags. Do you see why everyone always carries a water bottle with them? And why they wear flat shoes? Yeah. It gets hot. And tiring. I think I saw maybe two overweight people while I was there. I honestly have no idea how anyone could ever get fat in that city with all the walking you do. I mean, yes, riding the subway can cut out a lot of it, but sometimes, you have to walk 10 blocks to get to the subway. And of course, a cab can take you anywhere you want to go. But it will cost you.

So, if you're broke like me, you do a lot of walking. I credit the walking with the fact that I didn't gain any weight while we were there. And I have to say, there's no better way to get a feel for the city than walking its streets. You can take the time to window shop, study the architecture, people watch and think. It's probably the most entertaining walking I've ever done. There is no shortage of things to see, smell or hear. "Sensory overload" doesn't begin to describe it. If I ever move there, I'm going to walk every single street in Manhattan, just like Caleb and Thomas did. It would be my new hobby. (Notice how Caleb is a librarian? I thought that was pretty cool.)

8. I also spent a lot of time waiting in lines. There were lines for taxis at the airport, the Empire State Building, in the clothing stores and for some of the bathrooms. There are just....a TON of people. People people people as far as the eye can see. Manhattan alone has about 8 million people on the little island. That is almost 3 times the entire population of Ireland. There's over 26,800 people per square mile. Think about how many freaking people that is. There are about 25,000 students at Indiana University, where I went to college. In NYC, that entire, huge campus would have to fit into ONE mile. Wowza.

We noticed how, even at 1am on a Sunday night, Grand Central Station was still full of people. The good news is, you're never alone. The bad news is, sometimes you want to be alone. And unless you make big bucks, you're going to have roommates. So I'm curious to know how/when New Yorkers can be alone. Or is being an anonymous face on the street enough for them? Do they just find a quiet spot in Central Park? I get stressed when I cannot be alone ever. This would be an issue for me if I lived in NYC.

9. I was amazed at how many people had dogs. And I saw people with big dogs, multiple dogs and old dogs. And it wasn't just a few dogs I saw. I saw LOT AND LOTS of dogs. French bulldogs were especially popular. As a dog owner, I can tell you, owning a dog requires a certain amount of personal sacrifice -- you have to drop what you're doing and go home to let the dog out. And in the city, you have to pick up the dog poop, too. Ick. Not my favorite job. So it's amazing to me how many NYers are willing to do this. Perhaps they live near where they work? I know they have dog walkers sometimes, but that is expensive. They can't all have dog walkers. But it's good to know there are lots of animal lovers in "The City" and that it wouldn't be out of the question to take Sammy & Toby with me if I went.

10. My other favorite thing about NYC was the architecture. I think this trip has actually given me the building bug-- I want to learn so much more about architecture now. It plays such a role in the history of an area. The "City that is so cool, they named it twice" had a huge population boom in the 19th century, so you can see a ton of buildings from that era everywhere you go. They generally look like this building--red brick, 5 stories, fire escapes, long narrow windows. But NYC has its fair share of new buildings, too, especially in lower Manhattan. I was surprised at the amount of new construction going on throughout the city. Imagine buildings as far as they eye can see, the vast majority of them being absolutely beautiful. Being the complete nerd that I am, I completely geeked out before going--watching a documentary history of the city, reading my travel guide cover to cover-- so that I'd know what I was looking at when we were walking around the city. As we walked around, every so often, I'd interject, "Hey, guys, did you know that's the such-and-such building? And that so-and-so built it because of blah blah? Yeah, it's the something-est building in the whole city!" and everyone would turn and look at me, with facial expressions that could only be saying, "Um. Ok, VB. Whatever."

Sometimes I'm amazed I have friends.

11. One of my least favorite things about the city was how dirty it was. I had no idea it would smell so bad or be quite so dirty. The airport (JFK) was filthy. The streets, like I said, were really gross at night. The stairwells were musty and dirty. The subway wasn't too bad, but it did make you want to bust out the hand sanitizer when you got off. I do think this is something I'd get used to. And having lots of little parks scattered all throughout the city really helps to break up the seemingly endless dirty, concrete blocks.

12. While New Yorkers are very nice, can be chatty and even helpful, they are the kind of people who you'd have to ask in order to get some assistance. You won't see people holding doors open for you. You won't see anyone giving up their subway seat for a pregnant woman. And if you're carrying something heavy, you won't get any help lugging it up or down stairs. This was kind of weird to me, as I don't think I've touched a doorknob in public in about 3 years. Ok, I'm exaggerating. But you know what I mean. I almost began to look around for the Southern Gentleman to fall from the sky and save the day.

Although I didn't much like it, I didn't take it personally. First of all, everyone is in a hurry. As a fast-paced walker myself, I can understand this. Secondly, there is an incredible amount of independence in New Yorkers, so they are the kind of people who expect you to carry your own weight. Third, in a city where you're surrounded by total strangers day in and day out, it can be dangerous to have interactions all the time. It's a good way to get mugged or duped by a con artist. It's safer to just mind your own business. So this is another thing that would take getting used to on my part.

13. Probably the most amazing thing about NYC is that it has everything. There is no shortage of cultures, activities, restaurants, neighborhoods, stores, events, interesting museums, crazy homeless people or delivery options. You want it? You got it. You could spend the rest of your life, just in Manhattan, experiencing something new every single day.

I never thought a city could ever possibly top Rome, Italy. But I think New York may have just reached the top of my list of Most Favorite Places.

Except for the whole no smoking thing. THAT got old.


Phantom Hater said...

The Olsen Twins always look like little girls playing dress-up in their mother's way-too-big clothes. The fact that they weigh 83 pounds collectively probably adds to that effect.

Raccoons in NYC are called rats. They could probably eat a SC raccoon.

In my opinion, NYC tops my list of places that are fantastic to visit, but I could never live there.

I saw some of the pics. You look great!

Anonymous said...

It is so fun to read your first impressions of NYC :) Glad you guys had fun and sorry that we didn't get to meet up! I'm glad that someone likes the subway...

Alison said...

I've never been but it sure sounds like fun! Some day....

M said...

Glad you are back!

I don't understand big cities that ban smoking. The pollution from the cars and from industry damages lungs more than cigarettes.

Scotty said...

Having visited New York, I still have to say that Sandy Eggo is better :) The weather is always perfect. However, we are probably even moreso non-smoker friendly on this side of the coast. No smoking indoors, or anywhere inside. I can literally say that out of the 100 people in my department where I work, maybe 5 smoke.

Meghan (The Declaration of MY Independence) said...

OK, I have waaaaay too much to say here. We need to catch up...STAT!

Call me biatch! I'm sick of your excuses...haha!

lenfercestlesautres said...

It just shocked me how terribly different life must be in SC. Because you were shocked by a number of things that would never shock me ;)

kimmykins13 said...

I just knew your were going to love NYC. I know how you feel about the garbage. The first time I went to Chinatown I wretched looking at the garbage on the side of the streets and it stunk to high heaven! I'm not there with ya on the subway thing though. I've ridden it a few times and I find it terrifying and terribly dirty. When I go to NYC we usually walk everywhere and cab.

Sounds like you got a good taste of it. I hope next time you go back you can stay a little longer though!

kimmykins13 said...

I just knew your were going to love NYC. I know how you feel about the garbage. The first time I went to Chinatown I wretched looking at the garbage on the side of the streets and it stunk to high heaven! I'm not there with ya on the subway thing though. I've ridden it a few times and I find it terrifying and terribly dirty. When I go to NYC we usually walk everywhere and cab.

Sounds like you got a good taste of it. I hope next time you go back you can stay a little longer though!

Matilda Jane said...

Oh darlin, you're lucky... we didn't even get into the NASTY parts of chinatown...

Virginia Belle said...

PH-- aw, thanks!!! i have to agree w/you about the Olsen Twins. and the rat comment made me laugh. :)

one girl -- yes, we will have to meet up next time!! it's so hard to do stuff when you've only got one day and haven't had any sleep!

alison -- drop what you're doing and GET ON A PLANE!!! and take me with you...

m-- that's what I'M saying!!!

scotty -- i would be cranky in Sandy Eggo (unless this quitting attempt works! no smokes in 48 hours....)

meghan -- yes, i suck. i know. but i have SO much to do. it's thursday afternoon, and i still haven't unpacked!!!! i still haven't caught up on my sleep....wah! but i will talk to you SOON, promise.

len -- yes, unfortunately, it's pretty rural around here. not very glamorous, living in SC. i want to go back to NYC. *sobs*

kimmykins -- me too! next time, i want at least 5 days to run around NYC. and i want to ride the subway AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN!!!!

MJ -- ew. we didn't? *gags*

teahouse said...

I LOVE this post!!

You pretty much encapsulated all of the things I love about living here. I do love that the people in bodegas put your stuff in your coffee for you. Every morning I say, "small coffee, 2 sugars, extra skim milk" to my coffee guy.

And I also love the subway. It ain't pretty, but it gets you where you need to go.

Next time, stay longer and let me know! We'll meet up and I'll show you around the Upper West Side. And the secret places in Central Park where you can curl up with a book, soak up the sun and be alone.

Becky said...

it sounds like os much! i wanna go so bad! and that whole sundress leggings bff down here dresses like that all the time..including the headband and necklace. i envy her style!

RWA said...

That is quite a review. I have never been to New York City myself, but I have wanted to visit.

* meish * said...

your post reminded me of how much i fell in love with NYC the first and only time i went there! it also makes me SO curious about what life in SC is like...

high-waisted pregnancy dresses? um, i think you mean "babydolls."

i'm surprised how dirty you think NYC is. i actually thought it was fairly clean for a big city. before giuliani came along, NYC was seriously dirty.

and as a california girl, i am grateful for any place that bans indoor smoking. my biggest peeve is spending the night in some bar or club or restaurant, inhaling secondhand all night, and then going home smelling like cigarettes. yuck!!