Begin your foray into New York City when you hop off the bus at Port Authority with “Empire State of Mind” blasting through your earphones while simultaneously dodging 15 different tour guides soliciting their services. Take in the relentless tourists crowding 42nd Street, even at 8 a.m. in the morning. Walk the six not-so-short blocks from Times Square to Grand Central Station to drop off your bags, and be on your merry way.
Stroll up through Fifth Avenue, passing a certain modernist skyscraper that a single protester is camped outside of and wander into Central Park. Appreciate the wonders contained within the boundaries of Central Park as you pass sea lions, an ice rink and a breathtaking skyline view all in the same 20 strides. Buy a pretzel from one of the many vendors scattered throughout the park, and be crushed by disappointment when it’s hard and chewy instead of warm and soft.
Exit the park on the Upper West Side, and stop to grab a rainbow bagel loaded with fresh cream cheese. Get yelled at by an angry businessman when you accidentally walk into him while trying to take an artsy photo of your rainbow bagel. Stride down Broadway Avenue, and feel a rush of excitement as you look up and realize that Chuck Bass’s infamous Empire Hotel is right in front of you.
Continue down Broadway until you make it back to Times Square, all while weaving in an out of eye-catching stores and double-checking your pockets to make sure your phone, AirPods case and hotel room key have not been swiped. Resolutely wait in line for an hour and a half at the same-day Broadway tickets box office, and be glad you did when you score a discounted orchestra section seat for later that night. After spending 20 minutes trying, realize that you’re never going to get a shot of Times Square that some small child isn’t aggressively photobombing.
Enter the flagship Macy’s store, one of the largest department stores in the world and go into sensory overload from the glittering grandeur of 21st century materialism. Exit the Macy’s store, take note of the homeless individuals watching patrons exit with designer handbags. As you wander through Midtown, think about all of the ways that you’ve participated in perpetuating the system of consumerism that produced this inequality.
Glance up, and realize you’re standing right underneath the Chrysler Building. Almost get hit by a taxi as you struggle to find the perfect angle for your Snapchat of the Chrysler Building. Walk a few blocks south, glance up and realize you’re standing underneath the Empire State Building.
Join the pack of tourists who are confused about where the main entrance is, and after finding it, walk back out when you learn that a ticket to the observation deck is $38. Instead, go on a shopping spree and buy new pens from Muji, new socks from Zumiez and the tackiest “I <3 New York” shot glass you can find. Pass through the New York Public Library and admire the quotes from famous novelists engraved into the sidewalk.
Sit down at the bar for a drink before your show, and after asking the bartender for her cocktail recommendations, ignore all of them and order the fruity rum concoction you had your eye on from the beginning. People watch in the darkened bar as families, young couples, bachelorette parties and senior citizens alike sip on cocktails and snack on flatbread. Go back and forth between giggling and sobbing as you watch “Waitress” from your orchestra seat. Join the audience in a standing ovation before dragging your tired body into bed for the night.
Wake up after a restful 12 hours of sleep, and bundle up in a coat, scarf, beanie and gloves. Stroll 2 1/2 miles down to Greenwich Village to get brunch at a local joint famous for its vanilla bean French toast. Order a white peach Bellini to go with the French toast, and channel your inner Blair Waldorf as you sip and observe your fellow diners.
After paying the check, wrap yourself back up in your many layers to brave the cold, and head south through Washington Square Park. Visit the 9/11 memorial to pay respects, and get chills as the noise of the city is drowned out by the gushing water of the pool. Say a silent thank you to the names of the thousands of heroic first responders etched into the marble.
Continue south toward Trinity Church, and spend 15 minutes walking around inside looking for the grave of Alexander Hamilton as you listen to the Broadway cast recording of “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” Head down Wall Street and wonder where all the white collars are before remembering it’s a Sunday. Keep heading south until you make it to Battery Park at the very tip of the island. When someone stops to tell you that you need a ticket to see the Statue of Liberty, explain that you get seasick on ferries and just want to look at it from the park.
Snap a panorama of New York Harbor and get annoyed at how overcast it is before heading back up north to the nearest subway station. Stop for a moment to observe a street performance involving several men performing elaborate tumbling routines, and fish a few one-dollar bills out of your wallet to drop in their collection bag.
Conquer your fears of the monster that is the New York subway and ride the escalator down to catch the A train at Bowling Green. Ride the red line all the way up to Columbia University, and emerge from the subway into what feels like a different world. Pass through the tree-lined streets bustling with dog walkers and harried students, and finally feel like you’re in a familiar place.
Catch a glimpse of the sun setting over Harlem as you walk through Morningside Park as you carefully avoid any slippery remnants of the winter freeze. Stumble across Levain Bakery, an institution of New York City known for their decadent chocolate chip cookies, and order one of the warm confections to nibble on as you head south toward Central Park.
Hop back on the subway and transfer your way back Downtown, getting off at the Bowery station so you can explore the niche neighborhoods of Little Italy and Chinatown. Regret not carrying cash with you as you catch a whiff of the steamed dumplings served up in shops that evidently do not take credit cards. Apologize for accidentally photobombing a man taking a photo of a cool graffiti mural, and after he’s done taking his, snap a photo of your own. Find a hole-in-the-wall Chinese food place that looks crowded with locals, and order your favorite combination of noodles, vegetables and dumplings to-go to eat in your room as you watch “Gossip Girl” and reflect on the many things you’ve taken in today.
Catch a cab to take you back to the airport, and wait in line for security at Newark Liberty International Airport for almost an hour. As your plane takes off, round out your trip by blasting “Empire State of Mind” and look out the window for one last glimpse of the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of.”
Contact Hannah Nguyen at [email protected].