New York, NY

Spread the news — these vagabond shoes went to New York City! Rather than foolishly driving my car into the city and trying to find parking, I intelligently parked my car a good distance away and took the train in to the city. As it turns out, I could have still found parking a lot closer, but that’s as good as it got for my unresearched trip.

I had originally planned on three days in the city. But we couldn’t line up a host (for some reason my friends in NYC were all not checking their facebooks, and NYC Couchsurfers are booked year-round if they want to be), all the hostels were booked, and without a car as an emergency backup bed, I wasn’t going to venture into the city. I’m risky, but not hobo risky. (T-shirt idea. FRONT: I’m Not Risky; BACK: I’m Hobo Risky)

So the modified plan was just to take a train into the city, stay late seeing all the sights, then head back and sleep in the car. I was not happy with New York. It was not playing nice like all the other towns. It was separating me from my car and equipment. It is known for people being hasty and brusque. What’s to like?

So I arrived, bitterly, at the WTC.

Former site of the twin towers of the WTC, known in newscasting circles (and therefore everywhere) as as Ground Zero.

Well, so much for a pick-me-up once I’m in the city. In our efforts to get downtown, we inadvertently arrived the site of a great tragedy.

But I was determined to make the best of it. No host? No problem! Friends not reading their facebooks? No problem! Witnessing the site of a tragedy? No problem! Bitter? No problem! (If you don’t already know, ask me sometime about a superhero I invented — “No Problem Guy.”) So we set out to see some great NYC landmarks. First, the Statue of Liberty.

It's not 24 hours?  But this is New York!!

Yep, that picture is as close as we got. So much for that. With unsinkable optimism, I decided to give the Empire State building a shot. We set out from Battery Park on foot for a while and saw some fun sights.

NYC doesn't take bull from anyone -- they already have one. Mankind really got to work in this place.  Like little ants, or beavers. These buildings were so cool.  Also, so much bigger than this lens. Now I know how Gimli feels.

Things were starting to look up. Especially me, apparantly. (WARNING: I intend to use that bad pun repeatedly in this post.)

Finally we found a map and realized we would be walking a long time if we intended to walk to the ESB. So we hopped on the subway (that’s how you get on and off, by hopping) and made a shorter trip of it.

There it is in all its splendour.

I had been informed by the interweb that we should wait until late to go in the tower, since the lines would be much shorter and the view by night was just as good as the view by day. So we got some pizza.

JH: Good pizza.
Me: Yes.
Phone: buzz. buzz. Bleedeep!

Suddenly I got a text message from a Couchsurfer who figured there was no way we would still need a host, but was offering just in case. Elated, I promptly called her to confirm. We were finishing up —

Me: Okay, awesome. Thank you so much.
Angie: Of course, I’m awesome so it’s only natural that I do awesome things.
Me: Cool. Bye.

— when suddenly —

Phone: buzz. buzz. buzz. Da da da dumm dummm da da du–
Me: Hello?
Dude on the phone: Hi, this is Josh Homer.

Josh Homer! One of my non-facebook-checking friends finally checked his facebook. So now I had a place to stay and an old friend to meet. Yes, things were definitely looking up.

And heading up. While Josh was en route to rendezvous avec us, we thought we’d better quick hop up to the Empire State Building before he arrove. Unfortunately,

If this is a short line, I don't want to see the long one.

That’s right, I used a picture in a sentence. But I didn’t forget the period.

The line was about like this, except in four separate places. Buying tickets, taking souvenir photos, waiting for the elevator, and waiting for the second elevator. We kept thinking we were free, only to discover another line. But we had fun on the way.

TRUE FACT: The line was so crammed that I went through a turnstile with another person! I started walking through and there was some unusual resistance from the turnstile. I discovered that the cute Latina girl behind me was so close on my heels she got gathered in by the rotating arm of the turnstile. It was the perfect premise for a romantic drama — awkward situational closeness. Until her boyfriend walked up to her and put his arm around her. Make it a romantic comedy.

Peace amid exciting changes!

When we finally got to the top, it was one of those rare moments when everything was looking down and things were still looking up. (Note: for those of you who think I am overusing this pun, I will use it at least one more time in this post.)

No lightning in this one.  It was a beautiful night. The lights, the lights! Back to looking up for a bit. Sweet.

And my personal favorite:

When the moon hits New York, like a big piece of pork, that's... terrible.

Here are some pictures of us so you know we were actually there.

Jong Hun: really there. Me: really there too.

Besides us, there were also other people up there.

A view of people viewing a view.  Ooh, meta!

We were quick up there because Josh was waiting to hang out with us. I hadn’t expected four long lines to wait through. But I did see this on the way out:

It's made from LEGOS!

Then we met up with Josh. He was a bandmate and fellow architecture major when I was back at Wash U. He is now doing architect stuff in NYC. It was great catching up with him. He gave me a mini-tour of the immediate area, including some interesting architectural background of several of the recent and not-so-recent buildings.

Tourist zappers. These are a bunch of giant LCD screens that light up the whole block! I caught it right when the world was scrolling past. Like one of those cell phone advertisements. Fiber optic cables!  Just kidding, actually water.

And now some important “I was in New York with Josh Homer” pictures.

Josh Homer in Times Square! Me in Times Square!

If I may be serious for a second. Seeing sights is great, and I have enjoyed that tremendously on this trip. But as a friend of mine once said, in her second language, “It doesn’t matter where I’m, what I’m doing. The matter is people whom I’m with.” True that. And that’s what I have loved the most about this project. Through Couchsurfing I have met some of the world’s best people, I have been shown the little treasures of the places I visit, not just the grand touristy sites. The major tourist attractions do have some appeal (and obviously, some intrinsic merit), but I feel like tourism is more about self-gratification than self-enrichment. It’s a difference of focus, but a significant one. By staying with locals and asking them about what they like to do and the places they like to go I experience a place on a personal level, through the eyes of another person, and I am the better for it.

For example, we spent a good bit of time chatting with our awesome host Angie Han and some of her fellow CS friends. I got an inside perspective on some of the NYC goings-on that I could never have gotten from a map or a tour guide. They recommended (and took us to) some great local restaurants. When talking with Josh I got the inside scoop on the construction of a lot of buildings (which I still find highly interesting), as well as a lot of information on his church (Times Square Church — over 100 different nationalities represented in their congregation — an amazing, unusual, and commendable achievement for a church). This, my friends, is the way to travel.

Here is a great picture of our host warily eyeing a hamburger about the same size as her head.

Looks like Angie is experiencing genetic vs. societal tension.

INTERESTING TIDBIT: Angie’s Korean name is one vowel away from JH’s name! Compare:
JH: 종훈
Angie: 정훈

Next, morning, we hopped on the train, then hopped over to our car, hopped in, and then the car itself hopped down to New Jersey.

NEXT: I look up and hop to it!

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