[postcards] A Day in Manhattan


[postcards] A Day in Manhattan

January 2016

One of the strongest temptations is to become a tourist. I check my itinerary for the third time. My flight departs from LAX to La Guardia NY in ten hours.

A fit of unease seizes me as my day alone in the city looms near.

A few days prior I had forgone my smartphone for a basic brick. The feeling was liberating but the thought of being in Manhattan with its peacoats, cigarettes, and neon light boards at every step and corner, made me deeply apprehensive about not having real time global positioning.

After manically trying but failing to switch phones and reactivate my iphone, I rerouted my anxious energy and begin inhaling page after page of the results generated by a query to Google, “Things to do in New York.” 

But after half an hour of this, I became aware that I was unreasonably demanding certainty and attempting to avoid all discomfort and variability . I found myself expecting constant thrill and jingle. I was being a tourist.

I relaxed after having this realization. I would just let the trip happen. I stopped pressing so hard and allowed myself to enjoy the stroll. Like a traveler.

Sure enough, some lovely things crossed my path.

There was a 99 cent pizza store ran by five young men. They were of indian descent and looked to be immigrants. The room was bare except for a yellowing plastic cash register and a large steel oven in the corner. It was the simplest set up possible. They haphazardly threw a stack of generic napkins on the table along with parmesan poured into several makeshift plastic bottles more fitting for some industrial application. They were not interior designers or marketers. They were not customer service professionals or over glorified italian chefs. They just made good pizza. It was the most delicious two slices of pizza that I have ever wandered into. When in Manhattan, be sure to make your way towards their shop on broadway and 49th. It handedly beats the other glitzy ‘authentic’ italian places with their crowded walls mercilessly adorned by signed pictures of famous celebrities 

I walked around and through Central park for an hour or so, admiring the beautiful froze lake and the tall towers basking in the glare of the setting winter sun. The show I had bought a ticket for was beginning soon so I headed back towards 48th street. I played a game with myself. I wanted to identify what it was exactly that gave the avenue the look and feel of New York. 

It was the regal street lights that quietly lined the streets. They were always in the peripheral, content in their duties, not demanding any attention from passerbys. Yet they are so elegant, coal iron black and holding up on high a warm glowing orange ember. The streets pavement was also a defining feature. Octagonal stones set solidly into the wet, cold New England soil. I tried to imagine the streets paved with plain grey cement instead, and it became clear that the stones layed into the street and sidewalks were New York. Only a few minutes into my game, I looked up from the ground and saw a sidewalk bookstore up ahead. A large sign announced the Strand, ‘books for less.’ I found myself so surprised by the quality of titles available. The books were so cheap and it was a wonderful moment standing there under the glow of a streetlamp, scanning titles and stumbling upon the perfect book. I went to the checkout and the man said that he would part with the selection in my hand for four dollars. I paid and walked off briskly trying to reclaim the heat that was lost while standing under the light. I swung a left and broke into yet another grin as I walked into the most sublime, dazzling street illuminated by glittering London plane trees. 

The sidewalk book store and the 99 cent pizza were some of my favorite moments of the day. These  two moments were nowhere to be found in the hundreds of search results I had been frantically compiling the day before my trip. They were stumbled upon. I think traveling is about setting a basic outline or plan, and being content with just that wire frame. The magic seems to happen as you walk freely without demands.