An unfinished idea on travel as a means of appreciating the different experiences of New York life
In the Art of Travel, the point is made that we are "inundated" with where to go, but now how or why. With no maps and no travel guide, I've found that the best way to adventure the bustling streets of New York City is by not limiting oneself to the advices of others, which usually lead to a long laundry list of must see tourist destinations; of course, I have and will continue to ask where I can catch a late night movie or where the best coffee shop around the square is located. But to seek out a destination in mind, as odd as it may seem, would void my adventure of discovering the finer details of the various neighborhoods and streets - all with their unique history, peoples, and culture.
By exploring without any particular plan in mind, one is forced out of a state of mental autopilot to observe their surroundings and to be much keener to detail. I have noticed the intricate detail and brick laying of old buildings, often wondering the history behind the peoples that built them, or wondering what life would have been like walking the same streets a half century ago. Such details would often go unnoticed or only appreciated in superficial levels by merely going to and from a tourist destination; the travel experience mandates spontaneity, leaving the maps behind. By necessity, one must then pay more attention to not only street signs and traffic lights, crosswalks and detours, but become a traveler truly in and of the city. Thus, less is more.
The less direction one is given, the more possibilities for exploration and adventure arise, so I have found in my second week in the Big Apple. Growing up as a child in Indiana, my only exposure to Manhattan came from television and the movies. I would envision one day seeing line after line of yellow taxis stuck in traffic, business men dressed in fine suits walking to and from work in the financial district, and I must admit, the opportunity to see two of my childhood heroes in real life - Batman and Spiderman. While I have been able to experience many of the sights and sounds I had anticipated hearing and seeing in New York (yes, even Batman and Spiderman who I had the pleasure of befriending in the Times Square McDonalds), many anticipations fell short.
As a lover of baseball, I thought for sure New York would have been a baseball heaven, yet I find only the occasional pickup game played in Central Park, the random Yankees jersey on a fan in the subway, or the once-in-awhile game shown on the television in a bar near Astor Place. Perhaps I am looking in the all the wrong places, or perhaps I am finally coming to terms with my romanticized childhood fantasy of one day playing for the Yankees in the memory of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a baseball obsessed city. And then again, maybe it's just not October yet. Similarly, I had imagined from the movies seeing hotdog vendor after hot dog vendor, lining the streets with your option of an array of fresh condiments. To my surprise, you can find these vendors - they just sell their hotdogs alongside your choice of lamb or chicken with rice at a Halal Cart.
As naïve (or lucky!) as it may sound, I have found the city be much more safe than I had anticipated it being. I had come with the stereotype that I need to have one hand on my wallet at all times and both eyes scanning the streets for potential dangers. Yet, that has surprisingly not been the case. Perhaps my midnight raids to the local frozen yogurt shop at St. Marks are a poor representation of nightlife in the city in general. However, I feel that if I ask where the rough areas of town are, I would be biased against exploring these areas at night time, robbing myself of the rather exhilarating experience of finding myself in situations that I could not possibly wind up in back home in Indiana where I live down the street from an alpaca farm (nothing personal against alpacas, they are indeed cute and fluffy, just boring and all-in-all not that thrilling - and if you in fact find yourself in danger vis-a-vis
an alpaca, well…). The point is not to actively seek out danger, but rather, to become in and of the city by exploring and living it - not avoiding it or restricting myself to the nicer areas - for what it really is. That is the potential danger of not being willing to take risks and exploring the host city in it's entirety. I don't want to look back on my time in New York and only have seen NYU's campus or the upper east side of Manhattan. I know that the New York experience cannot possibly be this part of town, where for the overwhelming majority of those walking the streets, that night's choice of dinner is not where to eat, but what to eat, and not in the sense of taking advantage of the city's amazing nightlife and fantastic restaruants. I want to diversify my experiences and see the rougher areas, to walk through the projects and witness all that I have read and been told about, gang violence and drug deals included. And why not? Why not venture to areas that others are hesitant to visit? Riskless travel is for old executives; what joy or spiritual uplifting or enlightened purpose in life really derives from visiting Rio De Janeiro or New Delhi and staying in the Ritz Carlton? It's inauthentic, superficial, disingenuous, and I feel one is committing a grave disservice to oneself in the process by labeling such experiences as travel, much less it be considered the art of travelling.
Here is to adventure, the breaking out of the bubble, and the many stories to come!