I have been to New York City four times in my life. The most recent will be this weekend to attend the wedding of my friend Joel and his wonderful fiance Aubrae, who I have mentioned on this blog before. In the course of planning this trip, I was eager to use some free time to visit some new places and re-visit some places I have been before, like Central Park. But I also want to share with you a little bit about who I was when I took those trips. It is a necessary context because who I was then and who I am now will affect how I view the City that Never Sleeps.
First Trip to New York City:
My first trip was in the 7th Grade on a school trip. I was incredibly eager because I believed it would offer me a glimpse into the future life I was destined to lead. My family had always known I would leave Tulsa. They said it was in my blood. When my grandmother (my father's mother) had turned 18 she left Yates Center, Kansas and moved to Omaha, Nebraska. Why Omaha? Because she didn't know anyone there. When my father turned 18, he left Nebraska and moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. When I turned 18, everyone assumed I would leave and go to some place where I didn't know anyone. And they were right. I moved to Chicago because it was a big city and I didn't know anyone there.
My visit to the city was organized as any school children's trip would be organized: visits to all the major landmarks and museums, little time for us to get ourselves into trouble (although we managed to do so anyway), and a few brilliant surprises such as chance encounters with movie stars. I'll share with a few of those stories in the coming weeks.
Second Trip to New York City:
My second visit was in high school. My friend Katy had moved to New York City to attend Columbia University. She was living the dream in my mind. With several high school friends, I flew to New York City to party like I believed people partied in the city. We slept on her dorm floor, literally taking up every little bit of floor space that was available. It's funny, but this is the trip I remember the least. There are only three events I remember clearly from this trip: (1) Cutting my finger with a spoon (yes, I really did that), (2) Going to see one of the early off-Broadway performances of "I Am My Own Wife" before it won the Pulitzer Prize, and (3) A friend who was with us getting drunk and speaking only in Spanish for the remainder of the night. Why is this trip the most unclear in my mind? I don't know. Maybe it was because I was being guided by a friend who lived in New York. I was seeing New York as she saw it, not entirely through my own eyes.
Third Trip to New York City:
My second trip was as a sophomore in college. With my friends MirMir and Bess, I went to New York City as cheaply as possible. We flew to Philadelphia and got a ride to Newark, Delaware where we spent a few days with MirMir's family. Then we took a bus to New York City and took a room in a dilapidated YMCA by Central Park. We weren't really interested in seeing the Statute of Liberty, our sightseeing adventures were a little different. We had an Italian dinner in Little Italy and a drink at the White Horse Tavern where Dylan Thomas went gentle into that good night. We spent most of the trip pretending we were in a fake goth rock band called "Meanwhile Back in Communist Russia..." and had very loud conversations about our non-existent drummer we were kicking out of the band and our debut album "The Mexican Icepick" on the subway. (Get it? The Mexican Icepick?)
It was an amazing trip of three girls play-acting at being interesting. I wasn't sure who I really was then, but loved being in a big city where I could try on different identities. A melancholy bassist in a goth rock band, an aspiring writer lingering in the bookstore where Jhumpa Lahiri shops, or a heavy drinker who could keep up with Dylan Thomas if he hadn't already succumb to his eighteenth whiskey. I was all of them and I was none of them. I was everyone I imagined I could be because I had no idea who I really was.
Fourth Trip to New York City:
My fourth trip to New York City is as an adult. This is also my first time traveling to New York City alone, probably because it is the first time I am mature enough to contemplate the difficulties of traveling alone in a big city. I found a nice little hotel on the Upper West Side, near where the ceremony would be. I planned some activities for my free time, mapped out subway routes, and calculated taxi fares. It is a trip I have planned and prepared for, something I haven't done on my previous trips. Most likely because I didn't know how and didn't know what I wanted. But this time, I do. On this time to New York, I am going as a whole person. I am not anticipating a future I still can't see clearly or experimenting with identities. I know who I am this time around. So does that make New York City a different place now? I don't know yet. I'll have to wait and see.