In September 2003, my roommate Frank and I decided to go spur-of-the-moment to New York City for a weekend—Greyhound bus tickets were pretty cheap, and he found a reasonably priced hotel room online. It was my first trip there.
I’d been yearning to visit the Big Apple ever since moving to Boston six years before, but never made it, not even when another former roommate relocated there in 2000 (she’d leave for San Diego shortly after 9/11.)
Upon arriving at Port Authority on Friday evening, we proceeded directly to Times Square, where Frank took this pic of me—I was only partially aware of the photobombing ladies on the left. Although I was too late to experience the seedy glory of pre-Giuliani era Times Square, at least the Howard Johnson’s was still in business, albeit looking most anachronistic amongst all this 21st Century neon.
We stayed at a boutique hotel on 41st and 7th, next door to the Nederlander Theatre (then home to Rent)—yes, my very first night in NYC was right in the heart of the city’s tourism Valhalla most real New Yorkers would rather avoid. Our accommodations barely left enough room for a queen-sized bed, but they were modern and clean.
Anyway, we only needed the room for sleeping. That first night, we stayed out until 5:00 AM club-hopping around Chelsea and the West Village, ending up at a place called Hell in the Meatpacking District that played cool alternative ’80s and ‘90s rock (as opposed to the generic dance music most gay bars specialized in.) We slept past noon and went out exploring. Back then, one had a nifty view of the Chrysler Building from this vantage point; now, it’s blocked by the monstrosity that is One Vanderbilt.
From there, we walked South towards the Village, and then through SoHo. I immediately felt more at home in leafier, funkier lower Manhattan than in touristy Times Square.
At this time, Little Italy still extended further North; today, the green-white-and-red banners seen here are long gone, the neighborhood technically called “Nolita” (but really just another part of SoHo.)
Heading further South through Chinatown (where I’m certain we stopped for dim sum at some point), we eventually reached the mighty Brooklyn Bridge.
A perfect, beautiful, late Summer Saturday to walk all the way across it.
The world teems with many great urban bridges, but few match the classicism and elegance of this one.
Frank and I and Manhattan, with the Empire State Building central in the background.
We later met up with a local friend of Frank’s and spent some time at South Street Seaport, which has undergone a massive re-haul in the past 18 years. This was our Financial District view from the deck we sat on. Although 9/11 was relatively fresh in everyone’s minds, the city felt like it was pushing forward, a celebratory air of the new New York, a Manhattan that had yet to become entirely a haven for wealthy foreign tax dodgers.
On Sunday, we ventured out to Brooklyn. Hipster Williamsburg was in its ascendancy; we walked through it over to a mostly pre-gentrified Greenpoint where we lunched at a place now known as Karczma but at the time was simply a bare-bones joint called “Polish Restaurant”. The massive combination platter, which included stuffed cabbage, pierogi, potato pancakes, kielbasa and Hunter’s Stew made me proud to be of Polish descent.
Before heading back on the Greyhound to Boston, we visited Central Park where an idyllic Sunday afternoon at the Great Lawn was in full swing. I recall walking past an affected young woman who seemed to think she was Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, but I didn’t get a pic of her.
Also, I can’t leave out that before boarding the bus, Frank and I stopped at a midtown Krispy Kreme and picked up two dozen donuts (including a dozen freshly glazed and hot!) to bring back with us. As our bus made its way up through Harlem and the Bronx, we lounged in our seats, donut boxes on our laps, blissfully induced into Krispy Kreme Komas. Although I’d never seriously consider moving to NYC, I knew I’d be back to visit again—particularly after I made a good friend there who came to personify the city for me.