For someone who considers himself a seasoned traveler and informed citizen of the world, I’ve always been a bit embarrassed that New York City wasn’t really on my list of places visited. My parents had taken me a few times when I was a young sprog, but I have no memories of the city, only the stuff I’ve seen in movies or read in books. It seemed crazy to me that I hadn’t visited, until you figure out how expensive it is to fly anywhere in the U.S. from Canada. Though New York is only about an hour’s flight from Toronto, it’s at least a $500 ticket. Since New York is also incredibly expensive in general, I’ve usually saved my dollars for visits to some of my other favourite American cities (Austin, Chicago, San Francisco) instead. But a few months ago, my lovely wife Brooke surprised me with tickets, and we just spent a fantastic three-day weekend in mythical Gotham.
After hearing about New York my entire life, I was happy and relieved to say that within an hour of arriving, I felt like I “got” the city. I felt at home and comfortable, which was unusual. American cities usually feel different to me, and it normally takes me about a day to settle in. I was also surprised that New York actually felt small to me. Not literally, because we only really got to see a small patch of midtown on our trip, but I guess I mean it felt manageable. We found that we could walk almost anywhere we wanted to go in just a few minutes, and if we needed to jump on the subway, we normally only had a ride of a few stops. I’m also a bit proud that I grasped the subway almost right away. Our subway in Toronto is much more basic, but I’m a transit user, so it was fun to figure out a more ambitious system.
Most delightful of all was the feeling that I actually knew people in this vast and hitherto-unexplored metropolis. When Brooke mentioned she’d like to tour the New York Times, I emailed Khoi Vinh, the design director of their web site, to see if any were offered. He graciously offered to show us around, himself, on Friday afternoon. On Saturday, we arranged to meet newly-engaged Dan Budiac and Kathryn Yu for brunch. And then while browsing in the 14th Street Apple Store, we serendipitously bumped into Anil Dash and his wife Alaina Browne. On this weekend, the big, intimidating city felt more like a village to us.
It helped a lot that we stayed at the wonderful Chelsea Lodge, a quiet, comfy and affordable haven on a quiet residential street. We ate two delicious breakfasts at the nearby Empire Diner on Tenth Avenue, where we overheard a number of great conversations, including the subject of a Men’s Vogue cover story reading the story to his group of friends. Our other breakfast was at the wonderful Pastis, in the revitalized Meatpacking District. It’s said to be a celebrity hangout, and we did spot Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange and their daughter having breakfast just before we left. While we’re on the theme of food, we also enjoyed great and unfussy food at Empanada Mama and the “Burger Joint” hidden in the luxe Parker-Meridien Hotel.
Other highlights of our whirlwind trip include:
- Visiting all three of NYC’s Apple Stores
- New York City Ballet‘s production of Balanchine’s Prodigal Son
- the huge Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya
- Nintendo World
- Strand Books
- Touring the United Nations Headquarters
- New York Public Library’s exhibit of Kerouac’s On the Road
By Sunday we were pretty wiped, and the only vaguely stressful things that we encountered were:
- looking for a Starbucks near Times Square that had somewhere to sit down, just after all the theatre matinees let out.
- trying to bring a special bottle of wine back through security in my carry-on bag and being forced to leave it there—no liquids allowed, even in sealed bottles.
For anyone interested, I’ll post a link to our photos when I get them posted to Flickr.
New York, I will be back soon!