NYC, 2003

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.

42nd Street near Bryant Park, looking East.

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.

Facing South on West Broadway at Prince Street, Soho.

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.

Facing South on Mulberry Street at Prince.

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.

Greenpoint, Brooklyn: Facing North on Manhattan Ave. at Greenpoint Ave.

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.

Unique New York

I’ve been to New York City at least a dozen times in the past two decades. Since another visit right now is out of the question, here are a few favorite pics from those trips. Above is a view of West 23rd Street taken from the High Line in 2013.

Given how massive (and ubiquitous) NYC is, I’m eschewing landmarks for selected obscurities teeming within this metropolis. This tunnel, one of many in Central Park, may be my most recognizable image from here on out.

Manhattan architecture is a caustic mixture of old and new (and Duane Reade stores.)

A typical block in the East Fifties that could be just about anywhere in Manhattan.

This block’s much more distinct: MacDougal Alley in Greenwich Village, not too far from Washington Square Park.

Even less fancy corners, such as Avenue A and East Third Street in the East Village are marked with such oddities as this zigzag-bricked building.

Despite all-encompassing gentrification, remnants of old New York hang on, like this ancient supermarket on the Upper West Side…

…or this established-in-1950-and-miraculously-still-looks-it steak joint on the Upper East Side.

Took this in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in 2006. The business has since closed but the sign remains, sort of.

21st Century signage in NYC doesn’t have to be dull or uniform, as seen at the Soho outpost of this five-store chain.

However, clever can only take you so far: my gut reaction at first seeing this in 2015 was, “OH NO THEY DIDN’T.”

This cleverness I can appreciate, given my folks were Des Moines-ers for twenty years.

This sign is still my favorite ever spotted in NYC: April 2006, on Broadway in Soho.

Over to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, six months later. There’s something funny about a “Teabag Variety Hour” that I’m guessing the proprietors of this establishment never intended.

Over to the Bowery and Spanjer Signs on Chrystie Street (enhanced by some whimsical graffiti) in February 2012.

In terms of attitude, this pic from the West Village circa 2007 might be the New York-iest of them all.

Well, this jalopy found a parking spot; god knows how long it’s been left there.

My last couple of trips to NYC have included dinner at Lilli and Loo, a cozy, bi-level pan-Asian restaurant in Lenox Hill.

Around the corner from Lilli and Loo, May 2014. I just love the exaggerated, lackadaisical posture of the guy in the middle: Candid New York, if you will.

In my opinion, one of the city’s most beguiling oddities, spotted at the John Derian Dry Goods store on East Second Street in 2017. Half Carol Channing, half Buster Brown?

Thankful I thought to take a pic of Gonzalez Y Gonzalez restaurant and its gaudy, giant sombrero back in 2009 because this location is long since gone (though relocated sans hat on the exterior.)

El Quijote, a venerable Spanish restaurant next to the Chelsea Hotel, is also now gone (and sadly has not relocated.) Took this pic of one of their typically ancient menus on my last visit there in 2015.

I was last in New York about three years ago for the funeral of my closest friend who lived there. After the service, my husband and I took a restorative walk around Stuyvesant Square Park where I spotted this tableau: like a mighty stone fortress emerging from the flora, providing hope that through all the inevitable changes in a city like New York, some things remain and appear indestructible.

I leave you this pic from Greenpoint, October 2006: Endless Brooklyn. I hope someday to return to this maddening, magnificent metropolis.