I know what you’re thinking.
This insane woman accepted her offer to New York University without ever having been to New York City before.
What an idiot.
Okay, listen. In my defense, I grew up watching shows like Full House, Family Matters, Home Improvement, The Nanny, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But, as I got older, two shows continuously stuck out in my mind. Friends and How I Met Your Mother. Both located in New York City, Friends itself taking place in the Village.
I didn’t know that when I started falling in love with them.
So ha. True love is blind.
Not to mention the fact that I’d done more research on New York City than any paper I’d ever been assigned in high school (not that I ever did much research on those anyway), I’d visited cities like Detroit and Nashville and felt completely at home, and my sister Katie and my parents told me all about their own adventures there. I felt like I knew the city already. It just felt right.
Anyway, I accepted NYU’s offer and watched with bated breath, waiting for my first opportunity to see the city. That opportunity came when NYU announced its Weekend on the Square; a sort of first welcome to the freshmen class.
We RSVP’d and began planning the complicated road trip. The event took place on a Saturday, so my brother Jack and I were forced to skip school Friday to make the twelve-hour drive possible. Mom had to be back for work bright and early Monday morning, and we both had school. But, to top it all off, Katie was working lights for the Wizard of Oz at a local theatre and needed my help Sunday around 2pm. So, our brilliant plan of attack involved staying in a hotel Friday night in Jersey City, going to Manhattan all day Saturday, and then driving through the night so we would make it home by Sunday morning.
Simple, right? Not dangerous at all.
(This is why we call this blog “misadventures”.)
Now Weekend on the Square was a one day deal. You get there at 9am, take a couple of tours, sit through a couple of orientations, and then boom. You’re done. So we planned on touring as much of New York City as we could in one day. That meant Times Square, Broadway, Chinatown, the 9/11 Memorial, and Union Square all had to fit into about six short hours.
It was the Thursday before we were set to leave around 7pm when the very obvious occurred to me. One of my Howell friends, Dawn, has dreamed of seeing New York City for even longer than I have. She and I are obsessed with Broadway, musicals, and celebrities to the point where I question our sanity. I was laying down to take a nap because I wasn’t feeling well (my throat had been acting up for a couple of days), when it struck me that we’d have an extra seat in the car since Katie had to stay home for work. It’s not like it costs money to have an extra body in the vehicle, right?
So why not take Dawn?
Well, that involved a whole other set of communications and issues, including getting to her before my other friends told her about my plan. I showed up at her house and told her to pack her stuff because I couldn’t just go to NYC without her.
Needless to say, she was pretty ecstatic.
And that’s how my best friend Dawn, my little brother Jack, my mother, my father, and I ended up in a minivan on our way to New York City, squished between stuffed animals, suitcases, tissues, and Dayquil.
This is where life began to get interesting.
I woke up for the most exciting trip of my life feeling like death.
About seven days later, I’d go to the ER and get diagnosed with Bronchitis. But no one knew I had that at the time. I was coughing, my throat was barely functional, and by the time we stopped for lunch at Burger King on Friday afternoon, I was attempting to communicate with my family via sign language that Dawn was teaching me as we drove along.
I was miserable. The worst part about having Bronchitis is that, if you manage to fall asleep, you will be one million times more miserable when you wake up than you already were. Your throat is dry, you can hardly breathe, and all you want to do is go back to sleep. So I took a lot of medicine, ate a lot of Saltine crackers, and played a lot of 2048 (I still haven’t beaten that stupid game).
But we kept pushing along. Sometime throughout that day, we reached New Jersey. After discovering that the scenic view at the first rest-stop was “closed” along with the bathrooms and the rest-stop itself (mind you, it wasn’t even 4 in the afternoon), we discovered that New Jersey doesn’t seem like a very nice place.
You know what they say about first impressions though. According to Lemony Snicket, they are “often entirely…wrong”.
I was forcing myself to perk up and have a good time when we reached Jersey City.
Most people feel like a fish out of water in a big city, especially if they’ve never lived in one before. It’s loud and obnoxious, and there are a ton of people, a ton of traffic, and it’s intimidating.
I absolutely love everything about it.
I might have felt horrible, but I was so excited to be in a city again that I almost forgot how sick I was (unless I tried to talk, because then I was pretty well reminded). Dawn and I must have looked like the biggest tourists within a five mile radius. Our eyes were so big, I thought they were going to pop out of our heads.
We checked into our (gorgeous) hotel, and decided to make an attempt to go out for dinner. After all, New York style pizza is supposedly the best thin crust pizza in the world. And, being a pizza addict myself, I had to have it.
One of the valets at the hotel pointed us toward an “authentic” pizza place that was supposed to be about half a mile away.
We must have wandered for an hour until we finally found the right place on a tiny little corner in the middle of an extremely sketchy looking Jersey City neighborhood. The food, however, was completely worth it.
The “misadventure” came when we determined we weren’t willing to walk all the way back to the hotel. So the cashier called us a cab. What actually showed up to get us was in no way marked as a cab. There was a guy in it on his cell phone and the car looked mysteriously like ours. Normal, nothing in it that actually proved he was a cab driver. We were pretty weirded out. We thought it was a mistake until the cashier went, “Hey, that’s your cab out there.”
After practically forcing my mother to get into the van (she may have been the only smart one in the group), we sat awkwardly as the driver made his way through Jersey City, each of us half expecting the car to pull off into some dark side-street where we’d all get killed.
But, luckily, unmarked cabs are apparently a normal thing in the city, because we were dropped off at our hotel without a problem and the driver thanked us profusely (his first words to us throughout the entire car ride) after my dad tipped him $5.
I have to say, that was probably the weirdest experience ever.
The next day, we headed toward Manhattan. I tried so hard to believe that I didn’t feel awful but, the truth was, it was getting worse.
My first glimpse of Manhattan was in complete awe. I think that’s the way everyone should get their first view of the city. Once you’re there, it’s nowhere near as daunting and scary as you thought it would be. You’re part of it. That huge, huge thing only seems small on a postcard. And you’re part of it.
About an hour later, we found ourselves in NYU’s gymnasium, looking around at all of the other incoming freshmen and their parents, extended family, and friends. Everyone I came in touch with that day, whether it was tour guide, a staff member, or a financial aid officer, was incredibly helpful, kind, and understanding of how different NYC really is than my hometown. Weekend on the Square settled all of my doubts about going to school in NYC. I feel like I left, but my heart is still there, waiting for me to catch up.
I spent the morning learning more about my school, and then I spent the afternoon discovering the heart of New York City. We saw the 9/11 Memorial, which arguably has more security than an airport. But, once you actually get in, the waterfalls and the memorial itself are really, really incredible. We also got to see Chinatown (or, rather, hear it, because that’s really what the essence of Chinatown is). And then, finally, we headed off to what Dawn and I considered the most exciting part of the trip.
It was so much smaller than I thought it would be. You see this grand thing on television and you think that that is what it really looks like in person but, you actually don’t feel very small. Times Square wasn’t my favorite thing. It was crowded to the point where large groups have to set a gathering point because there’s no way you’ll all stay together, the shortest wait for a popular restaurant was close to three hours, and merchants are EVERYWHERE.
We finally escaped to the less crowded side-streets that make up the Broadway community. Dawn just about died when she heard Ramin Karimloo singing through the lobby of the Les Miserables theatre. Then we just about died again when my mom said, “Don’t look now, but that’s the Phantom of the Opera in his break room.”
And Christine. She forgot that part when she saw them through the window of the theatre.
That was about where our night ended. We took the subway back to our car, which we were terrified had gotten towed because we actually managed to find free parking (apparently expensive parking is more of a thing in Detroit where there are actually parking lots. I don’t remember seeing a single parking lot in Manhattan).
And then the drive home happened. The staying up all night and keeping my mother awake because she was driving while everyone else slept in the back. Then Dad and Jack would take over, then Mom and I again.
At one point, we went into a gas station and I must have looked pretty rough. I was still really sick and tired (after all, it was 3 in the morning and I had severe Bronchitis, I just didn’t know it). There was a police officer in the gas station where I’d gone in to buy more crackers (the salt supposedly helps keep your throat moist). The cop took one look at me and said, “How are you doing tonight, ma’am?”
I mean, in this completely sympathetic, I-feel-so-sorry-for-you voice. It actually kinda shocked me. But I couldn’t say anything because my throat was so dry, so I just kind of nodded back.
After I bought the crackers and was getting ready to leave, he said, “You have a good night now, ma’am, okay?”
Wow. You know you look bad when an officer feels that bad for you.
Again, I nodded and gave a slight smile (although, really, at the time I thought he was going to ask me if I’d been drinking or something), then walked out the door and back to the car.
All in all, it was an interesting first trip. When we arrived home the next morning, I died until about 1pm just before Katie and I needed to leave for the show.
In my life, you just never stop moving.
UPDATE: After being officially diagnosed with Bronchitis, Cassie was prescribed with a temporary inhaler, medication, and pills. She is alive and well, and still blogging today.