Thursday, October 13, 2011

NYC, Part II: Lens Caps, Landmarks, Parks and Protests

{Click here to read Part I}

First of all, I have to say that I expected to pack long-sleeved shirts, boots and scarves for my October trip to NYC. I'm glad I checked the weather beforehand, though, because it still felt like summer there! I ended up wandering the city while wearing dresses, shorts, tank tops and sandals.

Let's just say I didn't hate it.

Secondly, I'm really glad that I stayed at my friend Jacob's place in Queens rather than at a hotel in Manhattan. Aside from the fact that I saved a ton of money — we're talking at least $1,000, people — I had a blast riding the subway and learning how to navigate my way into and around the city.

I feel like I got more of a real New York experience, you know?

The R train was my main ride, but I also rode the M and the E. Oooh, don't I sound like I know what I'm talking about?

Many people asked me about the plans I had for this trip. They'd ask if I was planning to see a Broadway show, do lots of shopping or hit some famous restaurants. And surely I'd visit a few museums, right?

My answer was always that I had no plans, aside from running in Central Park, and that was just the way I wanted it. I didn't want to pack my schedule full of activities just for the sake of having things to do. I just felt like exploring the city at my own pace, wandering around to see the things I wanted to see and skipping the things I didn't.

On Sunday, that's exactly what I did.

My first stop was the B&H Photo & Video superstore. I had to buy a new lens cap since mine fell between the slats of Nick Reese's rooftop deck the previous night. Oh man, am I glad I went to B&H!

I'm aware that this photo is beyond boring, but this place was crazy. The two-level store was absolutely massive, packed with people and full of all the photo, video and audio equipment you could ever dream of. I figured I'd find the lens caps and just pick out the size I needed... right?

But at B&H, it turns out that you wait in line to talk with an agent, who finds out what you need and types it into a computer. After a few minutes of small talk, that thing — my lens cap, in this case — magically appears behind the counter, and the agent shows it to you to confirm it's correct. He then sends it on a conveyor belt to the checkout area and hands you a slip of paper with a barcode. You take the slip to the payment counter to pay, and then you pick up your merchandise at a separate pickup counter — already bagged and ready to go.

All that for a lens cap. It was pretty awesome.

Then I grabbed an easy lunch and ate at Bryant Park, that place that hosts tents for New York Fashion Week. File under "Things I've Seen on Project Runway..."

The afternoon sunlight was so beautiful streaming through the trees. My photo doesn't nearly do it justice.

I followed up this peaceful scene with a visit to the most unapologetically commercial, touristy area of New York City — Times Square.

I felt like a deer caught in headlights. So many bright, flashing things. So many people. So little clothing.

You may notice that this is not the original Naked Cowboy, but rather a franchisee of Naked Cowboy Enterprises. The original guy is busy running for president... as a member of the Tea Party movement.

We all just learned something right there, now didn't we?

Since I don't buy souvenirs, eat at Hard Rock Cafes or otherwise waste my money, I moved on pretty quickly from Times Square. It was fun to see it, though!

I happened upon other familiar landmarks, like Radio City Music Hall...

...and Rockefeller Plaza. I was more interested in the massive J. Crew (my employer during college) than the 30 Rock building, but I saw that, too.

I decided to walk uptown on 5th Avenue to check out all the fancy shops on my way to Central Park, but I got turned around and realized after several blocks that I was actually heading downtown. Instead of correcting my error, I just found the nearest subway station and decided to visit the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan instead.

This is why I loved exploring by myself — I just got to do whatever I wanted!

When I exited the subway at Cortlandt Street, I whipped out my phone and tried to figure out which direction to go to find the 9/11 Memorial. (I'm terrible with directions.) As I waited for a map to load, I realized that people on the sidewalk were standing still — which is highly unusual in NYC — and looking up.

I followed their gaze, then immediately began to cry.

I didn't expect to be hit with such a wave of emotion when I saw where the Twin Towers once stood. I remember vividly the day they fell, and I've seen the footage repeatedly over the past 10 years.

But it's something else entirely to stand in this place and think about what happened here. About who lost their lives here. About how the violent shift in this landscape has forever changed the world.

The flags adorn the base of One World Trade Center, a skyscraper that will reach 105 stories when it's completed in 2012, making it the tallest building in the U.S. Check out this rendering this see what it'll look like.

I didn't make it into the actual 9/11 Memorial since visitor passes weren't available while I was there. (In hindsight, I think this might have been issue with viewing the availability calendar on my phone. I could swear it said that passes were all gone until November, but now the calendar looks pretty open. Huh.)

Instead, I spent time observing the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park, just a few blocks away from the memorial.

A few people played instruments or danced, but most just sat or stood with their signs and stared. Many engaged passersby in earnest conversation. Tons of NYPD officers lined the edges of the crowd, looking at once bored and wary.

But there was nothing to be wary of, at least while I was there. The occupiers were peaceful and organized... and yes, a bit smelly.

I took the subway back uptown, grabbed some food and ate on a bench in Central Park as dusk fell. I took no photos — just enjoyed being right where I was.

I love capturing some moments with my camera, but others need no assistance in being committed to my memory. Those moments are for me. Those moments are why I went on this trip.

A last look at Columbus Circle before I headed back to Queens for the night.


I didn't realize this post would get so long, so there'll be a Part III to cover the last day of my trip!

Sheesh, a three-part recap of a four-day trip? That's New York, baby.


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