July 16 – 24
Queens and Manhattan, NEW YORK
I love New York. Simply put. No gushing profusion of admiration needed, nor lengthy laundry lists of attributes. It has all been said before and there is no way I can spin my love for this city in an original or adequate way. Nothing will suffice save for this blunt, stark-naked, trademarked statement that needs neither flourish nor emphasis: I love New York.
Out of many, one factor in the beauty of the City lies within its subway system. Yes, that subway system. The crowded, stuffy, noisy, grimy, urine-scented subway system. It’s magnanimous. It connects the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side, the townhouses of Harlem to the bright lights of Midtown, all of those neighborhoods in Manhattan to all of the boroughs outside of it. It is all connected. It is all one. It was all mine for the low, low cost of a $29 seven-day, unlimited metro card.
New York thrives on connections, though not just from place to place, but also from people to people. Ian and I had many friends in New York, some I hadn’t seen in months, others I hadn’t seen in years, some from the Bay, others from “da island,” but all of them, fortunately, in New York when we were.
Like stations along the subway lines that connect different parts of the City, these friends are points along time that connect different parts of my life.
It’s about time I write about other people for a change.
The Hawaii Line
Transfers to: Eugene (his friend that lives in Brooklyn), Sara (his girlfriend)
I met Rigo only a few times before the trip, though he has that type of warm personality that makes you feel like old friends. I met him during the free Saturday Morning Beach Bootcamp classes in Hawaii (at least, the ones I could wake up for). It was during one of those classes that I found out he was born and raised in New York. . . and that he’d be moving back this summer. When I told him about this trip, he immediately offered me a place to crash. He hadn’t even moved back yet and he was letting me stay with him!
Obviously, I took him up on his offer and when Ian and I arrived in New York in mid-July, we were staying in a house blocks away from Queens Boulevard! Being huge Entourage fans, we were super psyched about the highly touted location.
Ian and I hit the ground running in New York. Within the first 24 hours, we:
- attended a rooftop barbecue in Queens
- bar-hopped in the Lower East Side
- crashed at Rigo’s friend Eugene’s apartment in Brooklyn
- walked across the Brooklyn Bridge
- explored Chinatown, Little Italy, Washington Square Park, Union Square, the Rockefeller Center, and Grand Central Station
- had our first food experience with Lombardi’s Pizza, cannolis from Little Italy, and Halal Guys.
(For a more detailed, more interesting, and longer account of that first adventure, see the following post.)
Without Rigo as our knowledgeable guide and benevolent host, I don’t know if Ian and I would have covered that much ground in a week, much less in one day. Rigo was busy the next day, but his girlfriend, Sara, was able to escort us to the 7 line that morning to start another full day of Big Apple adventures.
Transfers to: Lindsay (her cousin), Candace (her friend)
Meghan is one of those people who exits your life just as quickly as they entered it, but manages to make an impression on the way through. That tends to happen when you work in a high-turnover establishment like a chain restaurant: awesome people in small doses.
She was born and raised in upstate New York, but decided to do a year of college at UH Manoa. It was then that she became my Bubba Gump’s coworker and new after-work buddy. Though I had left Honolulu before her last day in Hawaii, I was able to rendezvous with her shortly afterwards in Grand Central Station. From there, and for the next two days, she played tourist with us.
That’s right, tourist. Apparently, there are parts of the state that exist outside of the City! Even crazier, some people choose to live in those parts! Having grown up hours from the City, Meghan was less familiar with NYC than I am with SF, so she—along with me and Ian—did the touristy things native city-dwellers avoid: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Museum of Natural History, and more. It was refreshing to explore with another friend, not that I’m sick of Ian—nowhere near it—but different perspectives are enriching. Also, with Meghan I could reminisce about Hawaii and Bubba’s. With Ian, I can’t.
We met up with Meghan’s cousin, Lindsay, and her friend, Candace at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. After devouring one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten (it’s all about the bun!), we wracked our brains trying to find some late-night hangout spot. It doesn’t seem like a difficult task in Manhattan, but Meghan was the only one under the drinking age, so that threw a wrench into our brainstorming. We eventually came across a hookah lounge that turned out to be the laid-back night we all wanted. Nothing is impossible to find in New York.
The Grade School Line
Transfers to: Robert (her boyfriend)
Mary-Grace and I go way back, before I even knew Ian. We went to the same elementary and middle schools and our parents knew each other. The two of us very well might have been the only Filipinos in the school. (Ian expanded our number to three in sixth grade.) We took all the same classes and even played in the school orchestra together. And even though Mary-Grace went to a private high school instead of continuing on to Livermore High like everybody we grew up with did, it didn’t feel like she “left.” But when she did leave, she really left. To New York. To study at the Culinary Institute of America. So baller.
We reunited with Mary-Grace at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Meghan was still with us then, and it was weirdly awesome to see people from completely different times and places of my life meet. It had been maybe eight years since I’d seen Mary-Grace last (damn, I sound old!), and she’d been a true New Yorker for six of those years. When asked if the City has changed her at all, she said her friends and family noticed she was more aggressive and less patient. Not in a bad way, but in a New York way. (See my following post for my explanation of this.) She loves New York, and it’s where she wants to be right now, but she admits that she’d like to move back to California eventually. Don’t we all.
Mary-Grace led us around Central Park for a bit—including to the Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon tribute—through the Rockefeller Center, and eventually ending up at Katz’s Dinner. Two things happened at Katz’s: I said goodbye to Meghan, and I discovered what pastrami should taste like. The sadness of parting with Meghan was pretty much overshadowed but the gustatory party in my mouth.
We ended the night in the Lower East Side where Mary-Grace took us to upscale bar where her boyfriend, Robert, worked. The couple offered to let us crash at their place in Queens. Since we had our first three nights covered by Rigo and our next three covered by Ian’s friends, we denied their offer. However, when we decided to stay just one day longer in New York, we called up Mary-Grace and took them up on that offer. It’s good to have multiple friends in a city you don’t want to leave.
While reminiscing about our elementary school days, Mary-Grace revealed to me and Ian that she ran into our old friend Devin! She had no idea that we was moving to New York; they just happened to be on the same train at the same time, several weeks after he’d moved to New York.
I went to school with Devin from elementary school to high school. We were even in the same Cub Scout group. He was always an eccentric kid, very expressive and a joy to be around. Although we did not hang out much in high school, our social circles often overlapped. I hadn’t seen him since graduation and was not keen on what he’d be doing in California all these years.
Turns out he was living in Sacramento, working random jobs to support his improv acting career. It’s no surprise that Sacramento did not offer enough to rein in this free spirit. One day, he had enough of California’s tame capital and bought a one-way ticket to New York City: a place he’d never been to but always belonged. He crashed with a friend until he found his own place in Brooklyn and a job as a bartender in the Lower East Side.
Imagine that! What kind of crazy person would buy a one-way ticket to another state with nowhere to live and no job prospects. . .
When Ian and I learned of our old friend’s new life, we made plans to meet up with him. We found him at his work, a small and dark yet upscale bar tucked away in the Lower East Side. Devin entertained us with his odyssey tale and we returned the favor with our travel stories. He also kindly had us try various specialty beers. Ever have a watermelon lager? They’re delicious.
I’m glad Devin is doing well. He is definitely in his element in New York. I can’t wait to revisit the City and see his name in lights.
The Cal Spirit Line. Station: Jordan & David and Nikki
Station: Jordan & David
Not everyone we met up with in New York was my friend. Ian had a few of his own. Despite my four years in the University of California Rally Committee (a spirit group), Ian’s position as a Cal Mic Man (a yell leader) meant he had closer contact with members of the other Cal Spirit organizations. His friend and former Drum Major, David, had moved to the City with his girlfriend, Jordan, a former Cal Dance Team member. David had originally offered us a place to crash, but by the time we arrived, he happened to be in between places and was staying with Jordan in Chelsea. Luckily, Jordan was friends with Ian, too, and let us crash in her living room. Even luckily-er, her place was a building away from a subway station, and a block away from the best pizza I had in New York.
While Jordan was attending grad school in Columbia, David was busy applying to med school when he wasn’t at work. In short, we didn’t get to go out with them. They were busy being responsible and whatnot. It was a bummer because they were super-friendly people and I enjoyed hanging out with them and talking about Cal for those few short hours in Jordan’s apartment. And I actually recognized both of them from my college days; we did go to all the same rallies and sporting events, afterall.
We stayed with Jordan and David for three nights and even though we wanted to stay another day, they had other guests coming in. That’s when we called up Mary-Grace.
Transfers to: Elissa (her friend)
Ian and I weren’t the only Cal alumni traveling around the States this summer. Our friend Nikki was on an adventure of her own. Nikki graduated a year before us, but during our three overlapping years, she was a co-member of Rally Comm. We had all taken a sip from the proverbial punchbowl that was Cal Spirit and formed a solidarity that only a borderline cult could provide. Of course, we’ve all since mellowed out on our hoo-rah attitude (but never on our love for Cal!) and Nikki has been spending her post-graduate years working and living in San Francisco whenever she’s not trotting the globe. For shorter, less narcissistic traveling stories, you can read about Nikki’s adventures on her own blog: MyOneNewThingAWeek.com.
As with Devin, we were only able to hang out with Nikki and her friend, Elissa, for one night, but that included essential New York taxi cab rides. Nikki is a very spirited, positive person with a fever for exploration and catching up on each other’s lives was pretty entertaining. Also, her friend Elissa double-majored in Film and something else, so it was refreshing to have conversations about Italian neorealsim and Hitchcock again.
Nikki’s first day in New York coincided with our last one, so even though she was heading down to Washington, D.C., afterwards like us, she missed our stay by a day. I guess we’ll just have to rendezvous in San Francisco!
Although a lot of Ian’s and my positive experiences in New York City were due to our interactions with old friends, the majority of our time spent in the City was just the two of us newbies, taking in all the sights and sounds and smells and energy of the epicenter of Western society. Is it a coincidence that so many people from my past have ended up in this one city? Or is it a sign?
I can’t stay in Hawaii forever.