As I stood with my backpack slung across one shoulder, black patent leather hightops gleaming in the florescent light, all I could think was, man, I'm underdressed.
The snaking double column of oiled leather bags, sport jackets and Balenciagas spread over the shiny linoleum floor toward two sliding blue doors guarded by an austere-looking black woman in a blue suit. She reached for a microphone mounted on the wall.
“We're going to begin boarding for the Acela Express, train number 2216 en route to New York City.”
At her call, the doors parted, and the Italian leather and tailored wool began shuffling towards her. Each paused as she examined their papers and iPhone screens before permitting them passage through the doors. I reached her expecting three riddles and a Sudoku puzzle, but she merely nodded as I flashed my ticket and followed the dull clicks of the heels before me.
The shiny leather shoulder bags and Louis Vuitton iPhone cases made their way along the long, rectangular platform toward the front of the blue and white tube, where I assumed they seasoned their bacon wrapped filet and canard a l'orange with the powdered bones of unruly proletariat.
I ducked in about halfway down in a nearly empty compartment. Plopping down on a dark blue fabric seat, I set my backpack to my right and stretched out my legs toward the seat in front of me, glad to be off my feet. I glanced down at my phone. 1:57 pm.
Approximately three and a half minutes later, I felt a subtle jolt as we disembarked, electric anchors cast away as we left port and, gathering speed, headed for the Big Apple.
The theory of New York has never really done much for me. The idea of living within easy walking distance of millions of other people brings to mind some kind of steel and glass anthill or beehive – a place where individuality and uniqueness is at the same time stifled and necessary for survival. Certainly, there is something to be said for the world class attractions towering above and spread throughout the honeycomb of the United States' largest and busiest beehive, but at that point the “advantage” of easy accessibility is directly contradicted by gridlock inherent to hundreds of thousands of wandering and oblivious visitor bees commingling with the pointed, focused paths of the millions of worker bees. The hive is, if nothing else, always buzzing.
That was true as I arrived in Penn Station a few hours before a concert at Madison Square Garden. I was seeing Armin Van Buuren – one of the most popular Djs in the world – who had sold out MSG in about fifty minutes about two months ago. My train home was scheduled to depart at 3 am, giving me about ten hours to get my first taste of New York City.
I stepped off the train, made my way through Penn, and ascended the escalator out onto 7th Avenue. My first glimpse of New York was some brownish buildings, wind funneled between the artificial canyon walls buffeting my jacket, and thousands and thousands of people walking the sidewalks or milling about.
Since I had a few hours to kill, I decided to join the buzzing populace. I slipped into the flow headed north up 7th, and then, after staring at my iPhone and twisting it around like a pretzel, broke off from the human current and headed toward the Empire State Building.
Not like it was hard to find. Difficult to miss the giant spire of glass and steel dominating the skyline. That said, my time there was brief. And by brief, I mean I walked through the revolving glass doors, had a guide tell me it was a 90 minutes wait, and revolved right back on outside again.
I rejoined the flow and found myself swept up toward Times Square, where I heard there are some minor festivities every year or so. To be honest, though, I wasn't enthralled by Times Square. Certainly I can see how millions of people find their way there for New Year's Eve, but other than that attraction there wasn't anything that drew me in. Which is odd, considering it seemed to draw everyone else in like a magnet. What with all the towering, flashing screens and electronic billboards and intricately designed fascias and logos, I can see how people spend an entire day there. It seemed a mecca of impulse, entertainment and people watching second only to Las Vegas.
I soaked up the atmosphere for a while before I began to get tired of the cluster and the crowd. The buildings rearing up on every side made me feel almost claustrophobic. On my way back to MSG, I stopped and grabbed a burrito from Chipotle – at about a 16% markup from what it costs in San Diego and DC. I double checked to make sure Chipotle hadn't charged me extra for a bag or for having 3+ people handle my burrito (wouldn't have surprised me if they had) and remembered that people had warned me that NYC was one of the most expensive places in the world. Considering even the Chipotle's were significantly more expensive, I didn't want to find out what other, more expensive things cost.
By the time I got back to MSG, the gates were open for the concert. Unfortunately, there are usually a ton of drugs at electronic music concerts, and considering this was supposed to be one of the biggest shows in North America in 2013, security was extra tight. Or it should have been. I was wearing a backpack with a book, a water bottle, headphones, a jacket, and a notebook. The first security guard searched it, tossed the water bottle without a word, and handed it back to me. The second security guard patted me down and waved a metal detector baton before pointing at a bulge in my pocket. I removed my Burt's Bees chapstick and held it in my hand to indicate that it was indeed not a mini light saber. The guard told me to uncap it. I wondered if his lips were chapped and told him that red really wasn't his color. He grabbed it out of my hand, shook it next to his ear, and handed it back to me.
“Gotta check it for pills,” he said.
“Oh, right,” I said. I hoisted my backpack over my shoulder, causing the bottle of ibuprofen I had in the smaller pouch with all my pencils to rattle. He didn't even glance at me as I walked away. Gotta watch out for that chapstick.
The concert was excellent. It was broadcast around the world to several million computers via Armin's website, and a huge Twitter following stayed tuned in from start to finish. Aesthetically (in terms of lighting and production) it was the best show I'd ever seen. People were standing and dancing throughout the entire arena – in front of their seats or on the cleared out dance floor – for about five solid hours.
The show ended around 1 am, and after scarfing down a sandwich I burned some time walking up and down 7th. There were still thousands of people walking around, talking, laughing and taking pictures. And these people weren't even coming from the concert, they just happened to be out and about at 1:30 am. I suppose the hive never does go to sleep.
After killing a couple hours, I hopped on my train back to Washington. After 4 hours drifting in an out of consciousness, I got back into Union Station at around 7 am, sleep-walked back to my apartment, and crashed for the rest of the morning.
So ended my 10 hour virgin voyage to New York City. Though I was impressed by the major skyscrapers, the energy and the vibrancy of the city, the huge crowds and close proximity didn't do much for me. Obviously with more than half a day of exploration time I'm sure I would find more positives about the Big Apple, and I hope one to day to probe one of the world's premier cities beyond the cliché tourist destinations. If any city has promise for a good time, it's this one.