Week One: NYE in NYC
I have not eased gently into my “52 New Things” journey. Rather, I spent a whirlwind 36 hours in New York City ushering in the year 2013. Let me apologize in advance for the length of this post; I doubt that many of my New Things will deserve such a wordy epistle. However, I feel the need to give due justice to New York City and what turned out to be my best New Year’s Eve ever.
First off, I was too keyed up about my upcoming trip to get the appropriate amount of rest. My eyes were burning with exhaustion by 11:00 pm on Sunday night. However, somehow I awoke at 1:00 am. In a fit of late-night productiveness, I planned for future New Things by scheduling a LivingSocial cooking class and studying a Tough Mudder event map. An hour later, I drifted off and slept fitfully – waking again just before dawn. As a result, I was tired and fuzzy-headed when I showed up for my 7:30 am bus to Manhattan. Unable to sleep in a rocky bus with my head against a freezing window pane, I spent half of the four-hour ride dutifully writing a memo for work. The other half was spent writing a short story (See New Thing # 11).
I arrived at noon in front of Madison Square Garden with my friend and fellow Washingtonian, Sam. The initial plan was to spend the afternoon at the Empire State Building. Considering how exhausted I was, however, the hour-long wait to the top seemed overly ambitious. I reasoned with myself that I’ll be back in the city on business in a few weeks. Although we walked around a bit and took a peek at the ever growing crowd in Times Square, Sam and I eschewed the tourist attractions in favor of a much needed nap.
During the walk, I told Sam the story of my first – and only until now – night in New York City. In the summer of 2006, I visited several college friends who were vacationing/interning in Martha’s Vineyard and in Connecticut. During the latter part of the trip, a friend and I took the train into Manhattan to celebrate July 4th. After a dizzying ride in a taxi, we arrived at a posh rooftop bar on Fifth Avenue; the line wrapped around the block. I was 19 years old – how was I supposed to get in? Unperturbed by my youth, my friend grabbed my hand and walked confidently to the front of the line. With a haughty look, she told the bouncer “She’s with me.” The boulder-like man looked nonplussed for a moment, then shrugged and said “Uh, okay.” This was my first lesson in the value of Standing Tall and Acting Like You Belong. It probably did not hurt that my friend was 5’11”, blonde and beautiful – but the lesson is there regardless. In the elevator to the rooftop, we met a 30-something man whose little sister had been our same sorority at our college; he invited us to join their table. I spent the evening watching seemingly-glamorous people clutching martinis and mingling under the stars while sipping my first-ever glass of champagne from a bottle of Crystal.
I finished my story as Sam and I strolled down Park Avenue. An idea struck – I decided that this week’s New Thing would revolve around quintessential “New York” stories as told by New Yorkers. After all, aren’t the people of this town supposed to be its life-blood, the source of its fame? Coincidentally, it isn’t exactly out of character for me to strike up a conversation with a stranger.
After my much-needed nap, I donned a frilly dress and gold sparkled tights (what is New Year’s Eve without a little sparkle?). In the cab, Sam and I weaved around the barricades blocking off traffic in preparation for the ball drop. We arrived in time for the beginning of our party – a no-frills gathering of about 125 people in Hells Kitchen. I gave the highlights of my mission to umpteen attendees. I told them that I was an attorney in Washington, DC who had resolved to do (at least) 52 New Things in one year. I further explained that, to keep myself accountable, I had created a blog dedicated to documenting my experiences. Surprisingly, many people responded to my introduction with “Oh. So you’re a writer!” Somehow, I don’t think that my fellow Washingtonians would call my brand-new foray into the blogosphere “being a writer.” When I said as much to one partygoer, he responded, “It’s New York. You are who you want to be.”
As the year 2012 faded away, I circled the bar collecting stories. Some were touching, many were funny, and a few made me cringe (I’ve spared you most of the “on the subway” stories). By midnight, my collection had an impressive range. So here you have it, eleven quintessential “New York” as told by New Yorkers:
- A young couple are married in Union Square; they seek refuge from the stress of the long day. The newlyweds escape the crowded reception onto the streets of New York. The bride and groom sit on the concrete sidewalk in a tuxedo and a wedding dress, each smoking a cigarette while accepting congratulatory handshakes from strangers. They sip champagne as they listen to jubilant honks from passing cars.
- A 19-year-old “new” New Yorker from a small town learns from an unknown source about a bouncer (aptly named Big Joe) who loves “Staaaah-bucks.” The young barista proceeds toexchange Starbucks coffee and day-old pastries for entry into an upscale gentleman’s club. He halts his visits after a night during which Big Joe opens a cardboard box in the entryway to reveal an assortment of weapons.
- Two girlfriends meet Maksim Chmerkovskiy (a professional dancer featured on Dancing with the Stars) in a nightclub.They spend the evening literally Dancing with a Star.One girl comments that that Maksim was shorter than she expected. She sighs, “but then, aren’t ALL celebrities?”
- A man casually scans the subway car and discovers another passenger in flagrante delicto. (When I blushed at this story, a partygoer suggested that I say he was “self-servicing”). An adolescent on the train also notices; he turns to an elderly lady and asks “Do you SEE what that guy is doing?” The old woman gives the youth an incredulous look and says, “Haven’t you seen anything like that before? You must not be from New York!”
- An off-duty bartender stumbles on the sidewalk. Drunk and daunted by the 10 blocks he has left in the walk home, he decides to take a nap in the backseat of an unlocked parked car. Hours later, when his late-night hideaway begins to move, he wakes up to the realization that he is trapped in the back of a police vehicle. After recovering from their initial surprise, the two NYPD officers laugh and simply take the (very fortunate) bartender home.
- Michael Bolton sings the national anthem at a New York Yankees game. In an effort to reach his car and avoid the crowds, one New Yorker hops a fence in Yankee Stadium. The man accidentally bumps into the famous singer as he exits the players’ locker room. Bolton, mistaking him for a crazed fan, roughly shoves the man into the mud.
- A girl spends several hours trapped in a Very Bad Date. They leave the restaurant and enter a world of white. Apparently, while she was feigning interest in her date’s long-winded diatribe,the city became covered in several inches of glistening, untouched snow. Mesmerized by the “heart-stopping” view, she seriously considers kissing her Bad Date out of respect for the romantic setting. Forgoing the ill-advised kiss, she makes her way to a friend’s nearby apartment. The two friends spend the night cuddling under the covers.
- A woman explains that “I’ve lived here for six years, but I am not a New Yorker. I am French.” Instead of regaling me with a New York story, she waxes philosophical on the city and the country in general. She says “Perhaps I’m being too French, but New York is the only great city you have.” She further notes that she respects the fierce pride we have in being American – “France is too old. America is young enough for its people to remember what makes them American. That is culture.”
- A young man takes an early-morning jog in the city. As he crosses the Williamsburg Bridge, he glances at a jogger who has sidled up alongside him. He does a double-take –the fellow jogger is a Hasidic Jew wearing a button down, neatly pressed slacks, and dress shoes. The look is finished off with the traditional beard, sidelocks and spiral curls and is framed by a top hat. (Authors Note: Apparently the unusual haircut stems from Vatikra (Levitius) 19:27 – “Do not cut the hair on the side of your head …”).
- A college student is invited to an aged professor’s second wedding. By her own admission, “he was kind of a hippy.” Every attendee at the wedding is given a job to do; she is slated to serve as the bartender. Leaning against the bar with a drink in hand, the wizened groom tells his pupil “Whatever you do, don’t live to work. Work to live.”When I asked her whether she lived to work or worked to live, she shrugged and said “I’m in the music industry. My work is my love and my life.”
- With budgets too tight to flock to the coast, a group of friends spend a boiling summer in the city. Describing one night in particular, a woman recalls “we were unemployed, enjoying cheap drinks in a Cuban bar just to keep cool.” Despite their empty pockets, the friends end up dancing on the rooftop framed by the New York City skyline.
Midnight came, the ball dropped. Sam shrugged on his coat and said “You’ve gotten your New York stories. Now it is time to make your OWN story.” I’ll admit – I resisted at first. New York and I are not on the same clock. It is not unusual for me to wake before dawn; but when out with friends I often joke that I “turn into a pumpkin at midnight.” I told him that I was tired and that my Florida-girl blood was frozen. Unfazed by my protestations, Sam hauled me into the street.
We wondered aimlessly, shaking the hands of strangers and shouting “Happy New Year!” Sam told me to pick a place. Rubbing my cold hands, I ran into the first restaurant in view. The venue was packed with Russians. I cannot seem recall how I knew this; perhaps there was a sign. I shook the hand of a 6’4” tall drag queen in a blue tutu. Within thirty seconds we are told “private party, please leave.” A bit warmer and more awake (largely thanks to the sight of the man in the tutu), we wandered into a Cuban bar. No one was speaking English, so we sipped sangria in silence while watching an old man serenade a woman that he just met.
Eager to see the aftermath of the ball drop, we made our way to Times Square. Streamers and trash covered the ground and barricades blocked the empty streets. The multicolored glow from the giant advertisements somehow made the scene beautiful. With two dead smart phones, I begged a stranger to take a picture and e-mail it to me. We walked some more. A young man walked by carrying a small disco ball. When I stopped to admire it, he graciously handed over the bejeweled ball - explaining that it was a table centerpiece nicked from his posh New Year’s Eve event.
Finally, Sam and I arrive at the last venue of the night – an Irish bar. I conversed with three men about my age, only to belatedly realize that they are visiting from France and don’t understand a word that I am saying. After gathering one last story from the bartender, Sam and I hopped into a pedi-cab. During the ride, Sam comments that – as a former New Yorker – he feels a bit ridiculous travelling this way. We arrived home – at 4:51am. My inner pumpkin is proud.
*** I never received the photo of Times Square at 3:00 am. However, one of the three French guys e-mailed the above picture. Despite his poor English, he managed the following note: “Hi lacey happy new year by French guy :) have a good day ;) Do you have a twitter, instagram, or facebook? It was hard this morning. Bye, – Envoye de mon iPhone.”
UPDATE: Chance from Alberta, Canada came through and sent in the Times Square photo!!!
Additional Pictures (Times Square/New Year’s Day Brunch):
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