The first time I ever saw New York City was from the bird’s eye view of an airplane. It was September and not a cloud in the sky. I flew over Manhattan on a flight from Boston to Washington, D.C. I never realized how large Central Park really was.
I would later move to NYC for a summer as a flight attendant. That’s another story to tell which I will save for another day.
For now, I would like to tell the story of my most recent trip to New York. I was fortunate enough to trade an existing trip I had for one with a layover there. I would be by myself for 17 hours in a hotel in Lower Manhattan.
I was mentally prepared for this trip. I knew my hotel was in a great location. I also knew that meant small hotel rooms and no coffee maker in the room. I don’t normally drink coffee in the morning; however, I like to be able to boil hot water for the oatmeal I always bring with me on trips.
I suppose I am always apprehensive about trips to New York because I feel out of my comfort zone there. I am from Southern Suburbia. That means I get in a car and drive anywhere I need to go while blasting the A/C during the hot months. The hot months I spent in NYC, I walked everywhere and lived in an apartment with no A/C (except a window unit in the room I slept in).
I prayed about this trip because I felt I needed God’s grace. I was a little nervous about being by myself. I was also nervous because the airport had been renovated since I last flew in there.
After arriving at 6:45pm at the gate, I walked with my co-workers toward the transportation area. As we walked, I was able to look out the windows and see something I don’t see much in my city. I joked to our captain that there was lots of “airplane eye candy” for me to look at. I saw at least two Airbus 380 double-decker airplanes. I also saw plenty of other jumbo jets of many international airlines that don’t fly into my city.
After a very long walk, I was able to make my way out to the transportation area and connect with my ride to the hotel. The driver was young and the van had that new car smell to it. I asked him as we made our way out of the airport terminal how long the ride would be to the hotel. He said it would be about an hour with traffic. I pondered spending that time buried in my cell phone looking at lots of “important” things on the internet.
As I thought about it, I realized that this person does a lot of waiting around all day in between trips and possibly doesn’t get much conversation on those trips as crews are talking to each other or buried in their phones. Small talk does not come naturally to me and I am not bent towards extroversion. Despite my shortcomings, I decided to strike up a conversation.
I asked him if he grew up in NYC and he said he did, in Queens. I told him I had lived in Queens before briefly. He said, “You didn’t like New York, did you?” I confessed it was true. He had been to the South before and he remarked that the people were a little more warm and friendly than in New York.
I related to him the story of when I first moved to NYC and having to walk many blocks to a pharmacy to buy medicine when I got sick with a bad cold. Back home in my city, I would have gotten in my car to drive the two minutes to the closest pharmacy.
As we drove along the highway, I got a glimpse of something I had not yet seen in person: the Freedom Tower. Since my trading on to this trip was at the last minute, I had not had time to think about what I might get to see during my stay.
I had some hardship stories on my mind as we arrived at the hotel. I was quite tired, having flown almost 8 hours that day. I was also hungry. It was around 8pm by the time we got to the hotel and I pondered how I was going to get some food.
When I was based in NYC before, I was single with no kids. I flew trips to many international destinations. I was brave and bold. I had no fear to get out and explore, oftentimes alone.
I lost some of my gumption after having a family. However, as I pondered over these fears, I also remembered that I had prayed for grace, therefore, things were going to work out just fine.
I just didn’t know how yet.
Getting the key to my room was a seamless process. I rode the elevator up 10 floors and after a little bit of confusion, found my hotel room tucked away in a small hallway. I entered the room and found it to be as I expected, old and small. This was a very old hotel but in a great location. There was no central air in the hotel, just a unit by the window. The bathtub was badly in need of a new glaze. The wallpaper was peeling in the bathroom.
As I looked at the disrepair in the bathroom, my mind wandered to a flawless hotel I had stayed at recently in Minnesota. The contrast between the two was stark. However, NYC hotels are all about location, location, location!
As I did not have enough food in my bag, I decided I must venture out to eat. I had one thing on my mind: pizza.
As I walked out the doors of the hotel, all of my apprehensions, fears, and bad memories melted away. All of a sudden, I was back in the most exciting city in the world! All of a sudden, all the good memories were reactivated in my mind and my heart warmed.
I remembered the city that had everything you need within just a few blocks. I remembered a city that had every type of food you could possibly imagine to eat. I remembered a city full of color, culture, and diversity.
As I walked out of the hotel and on to the street, I checked the maps app on my phone to see what there was to eat around there. My phone, however, seemed to think I was driving in a car because it was only giving me options that were a minimum of 3 miles away.
I decided to ditch that idea and go exploring on my own. There was still plenty of daylight out.
At 8pm, there were still lots of people on the streets. I saw many that looked like they were on their way home from work. I saw one woman who wore a skirt and tennis shoes walking briskly towards her destination. I saw men in suits with briefcases and thermoses.
I saw something else I had not seen in a while: trash, lots of it! Many businesses were closing and placing trash out on the sidewalk for pickup. Most places had at least 20 bags of trash piled high.
I made my way one block over from the hotel and saw signs for two pizza places. Then I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.
The Empire State Building off in the distance.
I decided that I should put my feet to the pavement and see as much as I could while there was still sunlight. As I made my way towards the skyscraper, I looked to my left and saw Grand Central Terminal in the distance. I decided to see Empire State first, and then swing around to the station.
One thing I learned from my previous time in NYC is that objects are often farther than they appear. The building that looked so close ended up being a good nine blocks from where I started. I finally made it there and snapped a few photos. I then turned around and headed east to start towards Grand Central. I passed the Public Library and took pictures of it too.
As I got close to Grand Central, my body began failing me. The pain that had been severe in my body last year is less severe now. However, it flairs up when I have had a long working day on the airplane. I could also feel the pain in my left foot that has been aching for a while. I knew that I would need to wrap things up quickly.
After a few pictures inside the historic, elegant station, I headed back to where I had seen the pizza.
One of the places I had seen had closed during my long walk. The other was still open. I was able to get a huge slice of thin cheese pizza, a Vitamin Zero, and a protein bar for breakfast in the morning, all for around $8. I headed back to my hotel.
I admit I was proud of this mama for getting my gumption back and exploring the city that many times intimidates me. I sat and ate my pizza slice while guzzling down my cold drink while watching one of those weight loss programs on TV. Since we don’t have cable at home, I get to see what I’m missing (and not missing) when I go on layovers.
I slept hard that night and woke up feeling rested. I did not have time to do more exploring in the morning. I had a lukewarm shower, which was just another reminder that this hotel was all about location.
My ride got me to the airport with lots of time to spare before my flight home. I looked out the terminal window to see the recently demolished old Pan Am Terminal 3. I know many are nostalgic, but I honestly do not miss it. By the time it closed, it was no longer a pleasant place for passengers anymore.
After taxiing for what seemed like forever out towards the runway at JFK, I was given one final reminder of things I remember about NYC. We would be delayed at least 30 minutes to take off.
Once we were finally taking off and climbing towards cruise altitude, I felt a relaxed sigh. I felt peace knowing that God’s grace had been more than sufficient for me to enjoy New York without being overwhelmed by it. I also felt peace knowing that I was on my way home.