New York: it’s a hell of a town

At this very moment, you all should be congratulating me. Why? Because I temporarily conquered two of my fears: traveling alone and New York City.

It’s not that I can’t travel alone. I’ve done it many, many times before. I just don’t like to. I always feel exposed and vulnerable when I travel alone, and much more likely to get lost. And I don’t loathe New York City with a burning passion that fills every inch of my being with rage. No, I just really don’t like big cities in general. There is something so claustrophobic about the tall buildings lining narrow streets filled with too many people. I get disoriented much too quickly, and must rely upon others to guide me to my destination.

When you combine these two elements of my feardom, you end up with the exact reason why I hate traveling in NYC by myself: navigating the subway system.

I must have been overcome with temporary insanity, because about a month ago I agreed to meet my best friend from grad school in the city for dinner, to travel by myself through the perilous, gaping maw that is New York public transit. Getting there wasn’t a big deal. Hubby drove me to the train station, and a quick trip up the Northeast Corridor brought me to Penn Station. That’s where things got a bit wonky.

One would think that with so many people, among which several of whom are not NYC natives, the subway lines might be more clearly marked. So many trains moving parallel, seemingly going to the same place, only to diverge at the last moment to the other side of town. An intelligent, literate adult, I can overcome that little obstacle after what seems like hours of deciphering the subway map.

Is this the right one?????

The thing that got me, though, was the terminology. Not being a native of the city, I don’t instinctively know what “uptown” and “downtown” mean. I can deal with directions on a compass: north, south, etc. You would be amazed at the number of people who look at you like you’re a complete nitwit when you ask if this platform is the northbound red three.

With the help of a very nice old lady and some intermittent cell phone reception that allowed brief contact with the friend I was trying to meet, I eventually got on the right train and emerged just a block away from where I needed to be. A good thing, considering I could have ended up like that man on the MTA beneath the streets of Boston.

I hadn’t seen my dear friend in almost a year, but she remembered that any time we go anywhere together, food must be sought out. The first time we went to the city together, we started off eating cheese danishes outside Tiffany’s followed by a long hunt for the Soup Nazi. (We eventually found it, but it had been closed for a few months already. Bummer.)

I should also mention that my friend may be the biggest fan of Seinfeld ever. We threw her a Seinfeld-themed birthday party a few years ago, bestowing upon her gifts of tube socks, Junior Mints and ill-fitting brassieres. I mention this because it was no surprise where she brought me for dinner: the Seinfeld diner.

Cue that funky slap bass

In the real world, this place is known as Tom’s Restaurant, and, not surprisingly, it looks nothing like the diner that Jerry and friends hung out in. The booths were cramped and the bathrooms were teeny. But I will tell you this, my friends: that may have been the best bowl of lentil soup I have ever had.


We walked off dinner and made our way across town to The Happiest Place I Never Knew Existed: Magnolia Bakery. Why did I not know about this place? Probably because I don’t watch Sex and the City, wherein this small piece of heaven apparently made an appearance. The richest, creamiest cupcake I have ever tasted sits to the right of this paragraph, and I promise you that the photograph does not do it justice. I cannot even begin to describe the just-sweet-enough taste and the cakey, slightly crumby texture of this culinary masterpiece. What I would not give to have this bakery down the street from me right now. Of course, if that was the case, I would weigh much more.

The moral of this story, gentle readers, is that one must occasionally overcome her fears in order to enjoy an evening with a best friend. You just might get perfect weather, an awesome bowl of soup and the best dessert, too.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sherri
    Nov 27, 2010 @ 11:00:09

    Loved this story! I’m not a big lover of traveling solo either. Those subway signs would confuse me too! So intimidating to the non-NYC ers!



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